Yanma, Yanmega

#193 – Yanma

Yanma is one of my favorite buggoes so far; he’s not as wildly interesting as Parasect or intimidating like Scyther or Pinsir, but I love him all the same. Actual dragonflies are on the larger side as far as insects go, so they really pull at the imagination for “bug monsters” in the same way as spiders and tarantulas – except dragonflies don’t feel done to death in the same way.

The most notable remark on Yanma’s coloration and wing patterns to me is that while it is bright and cartoony-looking, it’s also the color of an honest-to-goodness dragonfly species; Yanma is arguably even more subdued than the real thing. Just goes to show once again that actual nature is its own kind of vivid fun.

But my favorite feature of this creature is his “flight goggles”. Those big, wrap-around lenses (paired with the “V” crest on his head) give Yanma the air of a flyer who moves fast and hard, coming at you with sharp turns and high-speed dives that require natural protection. Plus, the green color brings to mind a mad scientist’s goggles, or one of Dragon Ball‘s scouters. Not only is he dangerously quick, he’s dangerously calculating.

Oh, and bonus points to him and his evolution for having a correct number of insectoid legs, a feature that Bug-types have struggled with so far. Really, Yanma as a whole is one of the more “anatomically-correct” Pokémon, just reconstructed into a kid-friendly series of shapes and given a rudder on his tail. It turns out that dragonflies are cool enough that Pokémon doesn’t need to gussy them up much, though Yanma would still have a few years before the series went back and gave him an evolution that truly shines:

#469 – Yanmega

On evolution, Yanma turns into something quintessentially prehistoric, and I love every bit of him. He has rudder-like plates down his back, a flatter and chunkier body, and eyes completely encircle his head for maximum visibility. No hiding from this sucker.

In fact, now that I’m looking at them, the three segments on each of Yanmega’s eyes (or, on each side of a single eye?) seem divided in a very deliberate way. Can he turn the back two “off” to switch from a scanning monocular vision to a predatory binocular vision, giving him two biological “modes”? The games’ text doesn’t say one way or the other, so that’s absolutely my headcannon for this sucker now.

And for even more eye-based fun? Intentional or not, his green body paired with his false red “eyes” strongly evoke an Ohmu, the lesser-kaiju-sized arthropod with an eerily terrifying screen presence from the fantastic Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. As if Yanmega needed another point of reference for “terrifying insectoid”.

In another victory for this line and being properly bug-like, I love the detail of Yanmega having the appropriate hairs on its forelegs. With an insect of this size, you could easily interpret those as barbs, which is sure to be a shredding weapon at the speed that he goes. I appreciate that other Bug-types try to look cute and appealing, but lest we forget, a lot of insects are carnivorous, it’s fair that some should look the part – or, in the case of the Yanma line, cover both bases.

I could go on and on about Yanmega’s radical, jagged edges and ever-so-slightly-alien features that just ooze with a menacing air. Suffice it to say, Yanmega is one of the coolest-looking Bug-types the series ever put out, and a contender for one of the gnarliest-looking Pokémon in general by my reckoning.

Yanmega’s stats aren’t quite what the game text would suggest, though, with just slightly-above-average speed and more Special Attack than Physical. That said, Yanmega has a pretty broad moveset and a couple of great passive abilities – one that raises his Speed every turn, rapidly making him the quickest thing on the field, and one that basically lets him deal normal damage when it would normally be “Not Very Effective”. Unfortunately, he’s plagued by type weaknesses and awful Special Defense, but he’ll take you a long way if you can get around that.

The idea of a “prehistoric dragonfly” is knocking on a very particular door, and one that you’ve probably seen referenced before. Any time a movie or TV show needs to show “dinosaur times” and add in non-saurian animals, it tends to go for one of two things: a peek at bizarre aquatic life, or a proto-dragonfly buzzing across the screen.

And not just any dragonfly.

A member of the biggest danged insect species to ever grace this planet: Meganeura monyi,, a species within the order of griffinflies.

This flier had wingspans of well over two feet, and with four wings total and an even longer body, these have an absolutely massive presence if you ever see a to-scale model of one (like the one at the Denver Museum of Natural History).

Of course, an insect of that size falls under that least favorite argument of giant-monster fans: “square cube” law. The problem is, basically, that big enough creatures will basically collapse under their own weight, especially for insects that rely on an exoskeleton. And this is another one of those wonderful blind spots for science: we simply don’t know how Meganeura got to be as colossal as they did.

More oxygen in the prehistoric atmosphere? It probably contributed, but we have evidence both for and against that theory. No natural predators? Sure helped, but that still doesn’t explain the physics of it.

Luckily, Pokémon doesn’t have to put up with real-world constraints in the same way, so it can happily have six-foot-long insects flying around a world where it’s culturally-accepted to let adolescents go on cross-country hikes.

And it’s not like Yanma’s and Yanmega’s other biographical information is any better. They’re both known for shattering windows and uprooting plants with their wingbeats – definitely not wanted anywhere near civilization – and Yanmega in particular is characterized in the following way:

It prefers to battle by biting apart foes’ heads instantly while flying by at high speed.

Actual text written by Game Freak.

Gory decapitations in the kids’ series? Sure, just be sure to bury them in the field guide.

I do appreciate that they’ve given Yanmega a bit of redemption as a noted cargo courier and personal transport; you have to imagine a dragonfly’s ability to hover and pivot in place must make them great at precision aerial movement. And honestly, being traveling by air using one of these guys is way more awesome than riding astride any of the other bird Pokémon so far. Less majestic, perhaps, but a hell of an intimidation move.

And one more note on the Yanma’s line’s delightful buggy-ness: its reproduction is biologically accurate, in a sense. In the second generation, the series had pulled back from on the “larva/nymph” and “cocoon” stages that Butterfree and Beedrill codified, instead letting insect Pokémon hatch fully-formed. You’d think that they’d choose insects with similar “straight-from-the-egg” lifecycles to match, but in reality they were… hit-and-miss. Spiders sure are cute lil’ tiny spiders from the second they breathe fresh air, but ladybugs do have larval stage that the series skipped over here. Dragonflies are… both.

While modern dragonflies absolutely have a water-dwelling nymph stage, which resembles something between a mosquito and a browned-out bee, that baby stage and partial metamorphosis is a feature that came into the dragonfly family tree sometime after the Permian period. As far as we can tell, the Meganeura of about 300 million years ago laid eggs that could hatch directly into fully-formed, self-defending offspring due to their sheer size. Cheers to Yanmega for retroactively making this line that little bit more true-to-(ancient)-life!

A quick visit to the naming corner: Yanma is a literal Japanese name for a darner dragonfly – or just any large dragonfly or damselfly – and it’s this creature’s name in nearly every language. The Japanese name twists this into Yanyanma, but surely it’s a little weird for every other region to just be calling your fantasy dragonfly “dragonfly”.

The most unfortunate part of the Yanmega line is that its dragonfly-ness is often conflated with another fan-favorite Pokémon, which can lead to him being seen as redundant. The full extent of that will come in another article, but needless to say, Yanmega has a ton of its own personality as a whopping proto-insect. Who doesn’t love a Pokémon that evolves through gameplay in the opposite direction that Darwinian evolution took in our world?

With all that tasty flavor around him and – let us not forget – a killer visual design, Yanma and especially Yanmega are really strong entries for the series. I’d personally almost put this sucker on a Must-Have list, but Sword & Shield‘s actual roster unfortunately argues differently. Still, I’d love to see him come off the Reserve bench from time to time and take another swing at a presence in the games.

Any and all appreciation for Yanma and Yanmega is available in the comments!

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