Chinchou, Lanturn

#170 – Chinchou

Look at this lil’ guy. He’s such a round ball of curiosity, looking like he’s all distracted by his own lures. What a charming tyke.

Chinchou sounds like a creepy mish-mash of a bunch of things when you write it all out. His eyes have those disturbing, ineffective, cross-shaped pupils. His limbs put him halfway between a mudskipper and a real fish. He’s not even really built for swimming, being wider than he is tall.

But put all together, you have this roly-poly aquatic creature who’s so appealing because of all his little oddities. I think keeping his profile to simple shapes – while not making him an overly simple design – helps him stray on the “cute” side of “creepy-cute”. It’s a good choice for a first-stage monster, since you kind of can’t avoid “creepy” with an anglerfish without being disingenuous.

His profile doesn’t resemble that of an anglerfish much at all, to be fair, but those lures are so distinctive that they make the association clear, anyway. So instead of the rest of him being a large-jawed wierdo, instead they can make him squat and round and so obviously meant to be a plushy-soft toy. I’m not against aggressive romanticizing of animals in my monster designs, so this is a thumbs-up.

#171 – Lanturn

Lanturn is, unfortunately, less successful for me.

I know I just got off of talking about how Chinchou’s simplicity is his strength, but Lanturn almost takes it too far in the other direction. Chinchou at least had texture – ribbed fins, unique eyes, and antennae that taper naturally into bio-luminescent lights. Lanturn, by comparison, is… very blobby. Almost dolphin-like? Which absolutely doesn’t mix with anglerfish on a conceptual level.

There’s a lot that doesn’t exactly make sense about him in a purely visual sense, either. Putting a bright-yellow domino mask on a trapping fish doesn’t logically follow, that yellow rudder on his tail doesn’t save what’s otherwise a more a flipper than a fin, and his lures look less organic and more like someone’s attached an IKEA lamp to his head.

I do kind of wish they’d stuck with Chinchou’s visual direction and gone for more of a “weirdly-charming” vibe. Instead, Lanturn ends up as kind of a blobbly nothing-fish, save for the elements that distinctly don’t make sense. He’s generically appealing, sure, but that fails to strike you in a cast of hundreds, especially considering that Lanturn is based on such a desperately interesting animal.

Lanturn is in a more interesting spot gameplay-wise, at least. Electric & Water is a wild type combination with a lot of very common resistances, he has passive abilities that will outright absorb either Electric or Water attacks, and plenty of HP. The rest of his stats are pretty iffy, though, and while she has some fun status-inducing attacks, she doesn’t have the necessary oomph to do much damage. He’s kind of a grab bag of things that do and don’t work, really.

Deep-sea creatures are some particularly hyper-specialized oddballs – and the anglerfish’s bio-luminescent lure is just the tip of that particular iceberg. It’d take paragraphs to discuss all the cool features that just the footballfish has that Chinchou and Lanturn lack, but just for a start, look into the dimorphism between male and female deep-sea anglerfish. That’s a whole rabbit-hole on its own.

That dimorphism also makes for something that Gold & Silver could’ve done to further underscore the split introduced in those games, where individual Pokémon could be gendered male or female (or neither). Later Pokémon games would do a great job of underscoring their new features by way of new character design, introducing Pokémon that revolved around two-on-two matches, for example, or interacted uniquely with a particular game’s mechanics.

Lanturn feels like they missed a trick by comparison, since the male and female variants of an anglerfish are so strikingly different. Even the first generation, with no explicit gender divide, arguably had monsters that capitalized on gender better. We wouldn’t start really seeing gender-specific evolutions for another couple of generations of games, but some of the more obtuse evolutionary methods even in Gold & Silver suggest to me that this wasn’t a technical restriction, more a blind spot.

While we’re on missing features, Lanturn doesn’t even really have teeth, for that matter. The in-game text mentions that he swallows prey whole after luring the meal in, but just scroll back up and look at that face. His mouth is so tiny, and he’s got so few teeth, that I absolutely do not buy him being a predator, let alone taking the “eat-you-in-one-bite” track. There isn’t even a defined jaw on that creature, just a little gabby mouth below his bright-yellow mask.

At least they throw us the bone of him preying on Starmie, which we know regenerates quickly enough that it hardly even notices being eaten away at. Perfectly sedentary prey for Lanturn to take a whole limb off. Lucky thing for Lanturn, since I’d argue he’s designed to be terrible at his job. I mean, look at his lure placement! One is directly over his head, in a total blind spot! Yeesh!

One thing Chinchou does get over his real-life inspiration, though, is the ability to walk on land with those little feet of his, trawling beaches for prey that walk up to his antennae. Chinchou shouldn’t be very effective at that, either, to be fair – his mouth is even smaller, and he’s not built to do much more than waddle, so he must be chasing after beached Staryu or something. I don’t know why I feel more willing to forgive Chinchou of his design flaws – maybe because he’s pre-evolution, so he should still have some time to fix the gaps in his hunting strategy, or his design flaws are more cute than disappointing?

He definitely has an advantage that he loses on evolution, though – those cross-hatch eyes. Personally, I find them properly unsettling. Objectively, they’re a great adaptation to underwater life, if one taken a step too far. Animals with slit pupils (most notably cats) widen and narrow them to adjust the light they take in on-the-fly and move quickly from dark areas to lit ones. Guess when this would be super-useful? When you live in an environment with no natural light, but have a shining beacon hanging mere inches from your face. Of course Chinchou should develop adjustable pupils so as not to blind itself! Then again, having pupils split both horizontally and vertically is a little silly, and wouldn’t really fly in the real world. But hey, we’re in a cartoony setting here, and it makes for nice imagery, so it holds water.

The other interesting thing Chinchou does is maintain a polarity difference between its two tentacle-feeler-whisker-antennae; one is charged positively, and the other negatively. So rather than just flinging thunderbolts around – not a great idea in salt water – it maintains a closest-path between its own limbs so that it’s only discharging electricity directly in front of itself and through anything between.

In short: Chinchou is designed to be a stun gun that tricks prey into walking right into it.

Clever bugger.

They also use their blinking head-lamps to communicate and signal among their school in an otherwise-bleak environment, sure. Coordinate swimming patterns, declare their territory, and so on. The obvious use of bio-luminescence. But, y’know, stun gun.

Those lures didn’t originate from whiskers, though. Nor antennae, nor a dorsal fin. In one of those lucky instances we get of Darwinian evolution laid out for a monster, we’re told that Chinchou evolved away their tail fin in order to get those danglers. And, sure enough, if you look at their backside while using one on your team in the games, you’ll see that those antennae loop all the way around Chinchou’s body and connect about his butt. Doesn’t make a lick of sense for a fish to evolve away its main propeller, and Lanturn will immediately walk it back. But it’s fun and weird enough that I couldn’t just let it swim by without pointing it out.

And while we’re being kind, why not a word for Lanturn’s better qualities? While he doesn’t look to be an effective hunter, its light is an aesthetic wonder. Schools of Lanturn are known to swim up near the surface at night, with the point-lights of their lures collecting together to emulate a starry sky. This just reeks of the start of some sailor’s “ghost light” tale where all of a sudden they can’t tell up from down and end up mooring their ship. That makes for a pretty fun use of an otherwise-aggressive animal adaptation, which is a nice encapsulation of what’s nice about Pokémon design in a nutshell. Not everything has to exist to serve battling and the gameplay; not exclusively, at least.

Chinchou’s name doesn’t make much sense in English, which is because it’s a rare Pikachu-like situation where the name is based on Japanese wordplay: “chincho” is a verlan, or syllable-reversal, of “chochin”, the word for lantern – this doubled up with footballfish being literally named “lantern-angler” in Japanese. Interestingly, though, it’s not a Pikachu situation in that it’s not a copy-and-paste of the Japanese name (Chonchie). So why base a monster’s English name on foreign-language wordplay?

I dunno, but it’s a fun name to say. Chinchou, Chinchou, Chinchou.

I adore Chinchou – he’s such a charming little well-concieved critter – but Lanturn really lets him down by not living up to how interesting and strange an anglerfish can be. On one hand, he fills a couple of unique niches, but on the other hand he doesn’t fill either especially well. Unless the designers are wish-granters and are fixing to give Chinchou an alternate, toothier (and/or gender-split) evolution, I’m not going to jump in front of these being Retired. Of course, these two still appear in Sword & Shield, so someone at the studio must have faith in Lanturn.

Any and all appreciation for Chinchou and Lanturn is available in the comments!

One reply to “Chinchou, Lanturn

  1. I always thought Chinchou was cool, but I definitely appreciate the eyes and various lure uses a lot more now. I’d be interested in a regional evolution or Lanturn variant, if the Pokéverse were willing.

    Also, if you thought I would both notice and approve of the use of a French slang term to describe the English usage of a Japanese word, you were correct.

    Liked by 1 person

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