Ledyba is about as cute as you’re gonna make a bug. Big ol’ round eyes, a pleasingly roly-poly shape, vibrant-but-not-aggressive colors… he’s even got little mittens at the end of his six limbs! How charming is that?
I like the choice of giving him a segmented head here; it kind of gives the impression that he has an overbite in addition to a chubby face, which makes for a very childlike combination. That said, he does look like a child’s approximation of a ladybug; the thick antennae and especially those stubby arms on such a big body come across as a bit crude. Then again, waving his stubby little arms about has a babyish look to it, and ladybugs have a different body-to-limb ratio than most bugs to begin with.
Either way, Ledyba looks kinda ineffective, but that’s fine for a first-stager. There’s something to be said for the idea of an infant bug Pokémon that isn’t on the early side of a metamorphosis. He’s all right, but I wouldn’t want to be stuck with him.
Now we’re talking.
Ledian looks more like a creature capable of fending for himself, even if that humanoid body shape isn’t exactly natural for a bug. I don’t really mind the choice, though – and we’ll get to why in a bit.
That smooth, bike-helmet-like head is a nice play off an insect’s carapace, those folded-back antennae look classically cool, and while his limbs still lack reach and his feet lack definition, those four punching arms have a different, fun look on a bug as opposed to Machamp‘s physique. It’s like the little guy is punching above his weight class, and boy if we can’t all support an underdog. Plus, it’s a neat trick that Ledian is still recognizably a ladybug despite not especially being shaped like one any more or having the telltale black spots visible from his front.
The fold down the center of the chest that splits both his and Ledyba’s carapaces in two kind of gets me, though. Surely their armor would be more effective in just one piece? I get that it helps their bodies not look like one big blob of color, but the end result looks more “turtle” than “insect” to me.
Gameplay is unfortunately where Ledian really bites it. Most of his stats are significantly below the average, with okayish speed and his one good-adjacent stat being… Special Defense? There are just too many factors dragging Ledian down, between his many elemental weaknesses, the bounty of other buggy Pokémon, and an offensive movepool that he just can’t make use of. Poor guy.
Being kind of a harmless-looking lil’ bug, Ledian has to put some other mechanisms in place to defend itself. The key one he’s given by the text is a scent expelled from their feet (hands?) that smells sweet when attracting other Ledyba for safety and warmth, and turns sour when it’s afraid or angry.
This is, of course, yet another window into Wile & Wacky Animal Behaviors.
Actual ladybugs will do the same thing, secreting a smelly odor from their leg joints to warn predators to back off (you probably smelled it when trying to pick one up as a kid). So where does this come from? Special “scent-venom” organs in their legs? Sweat leaking out of specialized pores?
How about blood.
Well, insects don’t really have blood in the same way that vertebrates do. But the closest thing they do have – hemolymph – is what gives ladybugs excrete to give off that repellant odor. This sort of “reflexive bleeding” as a defense is famously done by horned lizards from their eyes, but overall the feature is more common to bugs (albeit they’re less graphic about it and, therefore, generally less fun to talk about). Luckily, Ledyba is much more friendly about how it produces its scent, so we can choose to live in the reality where Pokémon don’t deliberately hemorrhage as a defense mechanism.
The idea of ladybugs binding together in a swarm has its own charms, even and especially considering that it doesn’t happen in nature. Aside from their purportedly unique spot patterns (one of the ever-present visual variants not present in the mainline games), imagine having a whole mess of spotted Ledyba moving around each other, creating a dizzying swirl of black dots on a red field. That seems like a fantastic herd defensive tactic for such an unassuming beetle, much in the same way that snakes’ capes or butterflies’ wings are a visual deterrent, but on a larger, community scale. No wonder the little things always cluster together.
Their herding out of a sensitivity to cold may also be why Ledyba appear exclusively during the day in the games. While there are a few Pokémon that are purely nocturnal, making it either a fun feature or frustrating requirement to schedule your playtime depending on your outlook, very few species are made exclusively available during the day. Most people will gravitate toward playing during those hours, anyway, so they tend to go unnoticed. I kind of wish the games would commit to phasing monsters in and out with the day-night cycles a bit more instead of just throwing Hoothoot into the mix after 9PM, but I totally appreciate the balance reasons as to why they don’t.
Pit-stop to the alternate naming corner: while almost all Ledyba’s and Ledian’s international names are the same as the English names – a concatenation of “Ladybug” – French once again stands out as a clear winner. It concatenates the scientific name for the ladybug genus, Coccinella, into the adorable Coxy and, on evolution, Coxyclaque (roughly “Coxy-slap”). It feels like a kid nicknaming dinosaurs because their proper names are too hard to say, which is a pretty charming way to arrive at a monster name.
Where Ledyba has some cool features underneath a kind of charming-but-unimpressive exterior , Ledian feels like a messy mix of themes when you start looking at him too hard. He’s pegged as “The Five Star Pokémon”, and has now gone from a daylight-only schedule to a nocturnal one. Okay, fun transition, sure.
But then you get to the fact that the star patterns on his back supposedly get bigger when there are more stars in the night sky. First and most obvious problem with this: his back still has spot patterns on its carapace. Unless you’re going for literal “balls of burning gas” stars as the pattern – not the default assumption – he’s already down one. The least we can manage is internal consistency within the same creature, guys.
Anyway, the stars themselves are largely unchanging, so the only way you get more or fewer to show in the sky is with less light pollution. Even if this were untrue, it’s not exactly surprising that bugs thrive further away from civilization, is it? Then there’s the wing-dust they spread about, reflecting the moon’s glow and supposedly granting good fortune according to in-universe folklore.
The folktale around its dust makes it sound a bit like the cause and effect may be reversed here; perhaps people saw a nocturnal bug produce a shiny, glittery, stardust-like substance, and subsequently associated it with the stars? The more literal reading seems to make less sense; any energy that Ledian absorbs from the stars, it should be able to absorb from sunlight tenfold, and yet when the sun is up (the sun being, let us remember, the most potent star from any planet’s perspective), it curls up in the grass and sleeps like a baby.
A final parting shot at Ledian: even the Pokédex mentions that Ledian is kind of awful in a fight, calling its punches “piddly” and mentioning that its primary tactic is to just throw enough and hope its aggressors back off rather than fight properly. Poor, poor, Ledian; a bona fide, in-canon loser.
That makes for a surprising amount to say about Ledyba and Ledian, but let’s take a detour to shoot the breeze about Kamen Rider for a bit.
Kamen Rider is one of the headline tokusatsu series in Japan – tokusatsu being the genre of stunt-actors-in-bodysuits-fighting-rubber-monsters TV shows popularized in the west by Power Rangers. The whole genre is as much hokey as it is a touchstone for the idea of a “masked hero” in Japan, similar to how comic books codify masked and caped superheroes in the United States while also giving us Wonder Twins.
Not only is Kamen Rider a primary face of fight-for-justice superheroes on Japanese TV, the original Kamen Rider’s outfit is modeled after a a cross between a motorcyclist’s suit and a “grasshopper” theme, with many subsequent Kamen Rider series drawing equal inspiration from insects. Bugs and especially beetles have long been seen as somewhat heroic in Japanese pop culture (you can see this even further back with Mothra, the best kaiju), and Kamen Rider really plays this up and underscores it.
Likewise, Ledian plays up and underscores a connection to the “masked hero” ideal, with its shapely helmet, big eyes, and pale mouthpiece making it the spitting image of a classic Kamen Rider hero. His v-shaped, backwards-facing antennae even mirror those on the original Kamen Rider’s helmet, and those white gloves and stated penchant for punching (one of its passive abilities explicitly powers up “punching” moves) are more than a little action-figure-y. It’s a shame that his miserable attack prowess doesn’t really do much in turn, but having a bug-type play into that archetype is still pretty rad.
So, if you ever needed some reasoning or a mental hook to internalize why Bug-types are somehow strong against Dark-types, remember this:
Who stands against evil for the sake of all humanity?
Kamen Rider! Bug-type Pokémon!
Ladybugs were one of the more obvious insects that the first generation didn’t pick up on, so it makes sense to have one kicking about early on. Unfortunately, I don’t think these two are winners for the series long-term, and (as with others), we’ll see more compelling monsters filling Ledian’s niches down the line. I enjoy these two well enough, but they’re just not bringing enough to the table, and I could see them being Retired given time.
Any and all appreciation for Ledyba and Ledian is welcome in the comments!