Well, that’s just downright cute.
All those round shapes and the uniform color scheme – save for a soft patch on his belly and the tufts of his ears – smack of some cuddly Kirby character. Plus, those beady eyes, button-nose, and flippery limbs? Marill is destined to be a plush toy.
The only way that this remotely plays off as an actual creature is by justifying that perfect roundness as a survival tactic. He kind of gets there by chalking all these features up to bouyancy, with that round tail being something of a reverse-anchor, his flippery limbs being apt for paddling, and that round body holding air like a balloon. I kind of wonder what he looks like deflated, and also am afraid to see that fanart.
Especially for a herbivore that hangs out in the shadows, I adore the idea of a scavenging water-rodent that uses its own tail as a bouy in case of strong currents, and that he has something of a built-in diving cable. Great little critter, even if the reverse side of that is that his tail-orb is full of a light, moisture-wicking oil that he coats himself in. He’s secretly a grody little sucker, this one.
He’s kind of plain, but hey, so are a lot of real-world animals, and he’s turned it into something that works for him. Plus, he’s been retconned since to be a Water/Fairy type, which is at least a little more unique. We’ll get to his problems later, but on his face, Marill is a totally passable monster.
I do like the concept of a mouse morphing into a rabbit. If you’re young enough, it follows perfectly well that a common, short-eared mammal should be related to a common, long-eared mammal of slightly larger size and similar color. This doesn’t exactly reflect the real world in a helpful way like, say, the Butterfree or Poliwhirl lines, but you’d be gullible to take Pokémon as a reliable model for real-world biology all the time – it’s a jumping–off point, not an instructive series.
I do like a lot of what Azumarill is doing. That oblong shape will keep his head above water easier, and that pattern on his lower half is a neat halfway point between a “seafoam” motif and an “easter-egg” look, which is a really smart and simple way to reflect Azumarill’s entire “water-rabbit” concept at once.
It’s hard to get past that big, baloonish body, though, which has totally overtaken the tail-anchor; its like he’s grown up and outgrown his need for the thing. The sheer size of this lad does make him look a bit silly, but that body is supposedly great at storing air – not breathing it, mind, he just storing it for reverse-ballast. Or, on occasion, to create air pockets to protect their not-yet-seaworthy young or rescue drowning Pokémon. For an animal-adjacent kingdom, we’re seeing a lot of monsters that love to do benign search-and-rescue, huh?
Anyway, Azumarill is weird in a few places, but he’s a fair follow-up to the fair Marill.
Oh, look, it’s a tiny Marill.
He has all of Marill’s appeal, but made positively diminutive and immediately precious by his missing a pair of limbs and a tail that’s bigger than his entire body. You want to make a monster immediately read as endearing? Make the poor thing look positively helpless and a titch abstract. He’s even forever distraught, what with those white marks on his cheeks, which is a horrible sort of adorable.
There’s not much here, but he’s endearing enough, I suppose. Mostly I just don’t want it to be all-sad-all-the-time. Almost none of its in-game appearances are overtly upset; why did they have to do this to the poor kid in his key artwork?
Azumarill is all over the place as a party member, but she’s positively steadfast if you can tie all her features together; while one of her abilities is redundant, the other gives her solid attack on top of her other mostly-okay stats and great defensive typing (with great offensive coverage, to boot). Plus, if you’re playing in Sword & Shield, it becomes really easy to get moves that totally circumvent its otherwise-subpar speed. He can definitely be made a great anchor in an in-game team.
The real claim to fame for Marill is his being the focus of all manner of playground rumors back in the ’90s. He got some attention for debuting well before he appeared in the games, as part of the franchise’s first movie outing. The anime loves to work in early-bird appearances like that with the promise that new monsters are on their way. And the internet being in its adolescence then, with no precedent yet for a true sequel series, fans caught sight of promo images of Marill without context and immediately jumped to conclusions. Clearly he was a “secret” relative of Pikachu hidden in the existing first-generation titles. “Pikablu”, if you will – and they most certainly did.
(Now, the original design for Marill wasn’t even blue, but that’s neither here nor there.)
To be fair to them, Marill totally passes as being connected to the Pikachu line: both are elemental rodents, and both have that very distinctive zig-zag tail. Seems pretty cut-and-dry at a first glance. But to be less fair to them, this was from a few out-of-context images from a movie that presumably hadn’t even been announced for U.S. release yet, so apparently nobody did the research to learn that the new Pokémon had been loudly announcing itself as “Marill” for the entire short that he appeared in.
On the other hand, this probably wasn’t helped by a first print of official promo cards for the movie using untranslated Japanese names for newly-introduced Pokémon. Snubbull was consistently called “Buru” and Donphan was in one instance written “Donfan”, but Marill (whose Japanese name is just Maril) was referred to as “Pikablu”, playing right into that misconception.
Ah, the joys of pre-release speculation.
That said, Marill is the first of what will eventually be a long tradition of cute little rodent mascots that we’ll be getting like clockwork in each generation from here on out. I guess each set of new games wants its own little “Pikachu-like” counterpart; though, funnily enough, the second generation already has this with a literal pre-evolution to Pikachu.
Speaking of pre-evolutions, Azurill introduced a fascinating quirk to the line. Marill and Azumarill were created with an even 50/50 chance of the game generating a male or female of the species. Very standard. But apparently somebody didn’t check their notes when putting Azurill into the next game, because the pre-evolution was written in with a 25/75 gender split in favor of a female baby. Whoops.
But it gets more interesting, because a Pokémon’s gender in the games wasn’t even an independent bit in the data at that point, but was derived from another personality value. So when some Azurill evolved into Marill, they would spontaneously get a different reading from the same value, and transition from female to male based on their personality rather than their birth sex.
Pokémon says trans rights.
Granted, the creatures’ in-game data models were all rewritten in the 3DS games and onward, so this phenomenon stopped happening altogether. It’s a shame, really; I liked it both as one of those curious quirks of how the games were working under the covers, and as a reflection of how real-world biology can be really weird at times. It would’ve made a nice legacy easter egg if they’d kept it, which is even on-brand for something that evolves into Azumarill.
Quick sidebar: especially now that she doesn’t incur a potential gender transition wen she evolves, Azurill may be one of the Pokémon that I’d most immediately eject from the series given half a chance.
Azurill is yet another one of the many baby Pokémon stapled onto an existing evolutionary line, and one introduced after the absolute litter of them we got in the second generation. That first batch could kind of get away with existing because they were showing off two new mechanics: breeding and friendship.
Azurill has no such excuse.
She’s objectively not useful in the games, and doesn’t show off any new gameplay features outside of a redundant item that was almost certainly introduced just to cover the potential plot hole that you couldn’t breed for one before (ostensibly, you just couldn’t meet the requirements). I get the sneaking suspicion that she was only included so that the one other baby introduced in the third generation wouldn’t be so lonely, and that’s a pretty poor excuse to inflate a roster that was already over 350 at the time.
What’s worse; Azurill isn’t even the elemental type that he obviously looks like he is. Somebody screwed up and made an obvious, blue pre-evolution to known Water-type Marill, but wrote her in as a flat Normal-type (Normal/Fairy now, but still).
Sorry to both of you Azurill fans. He has no business being in this series.
And while we’re on that roll, poor Marill is a Pokémon that has, unfortunately, been outmoded in about seven different ways. He started out as a pure water-type and a rodent, neither of which are remotely rare; he’s a mascot for the second generation of games, which Pichu or Togepi or any of the starters do better; and he doesn’t show off any distinctive gameplay features that can’t be found in some other monster. So what does he bring?
I guess what I’m trying to get at is that the Marill family doesn’t offer much to the series at this point. If we’re looking at Pokémon that Game Freak could objectively Retire and get along without just fine, Marill is unfortunately a poster child for the idea. That said, I still like the little scamp’s design as is, and this family managed to make the pared-down roster in Sword & Shield‘s launch. Maybe his held-over credibility from the series’ marketing in 1999 is enough to keep him in Reserve.
Any and all appreciation for Marill, Azumarill, and Azurill is available in the comments!