Wooper, Quagsire

#194 – Wooper

Wooper is something of a fan-favorite: and for good reason. She’s just so flippin’ adorable.

She’s based on a critter that most folks don’t see on their nature walks and that won’t headline any zoo. Rather, she’s most commonly found as a curiosity or as an exotic pet, giving her this sort of oddball charm. She’s ridiculously simple, one of those “eyes-and-a-mouth-on-a-sphere” designs with cartoonish proportions. And, best of all, she’s missing arms, which gives her this dopey, helpless look that’s super-endearing to many. She even used to have a dorsal ridge like her evolution, but that got taken away early on to make her as simple and round as possible.

Plus, that soothing baby-blue color and body made almost entirely of round edges? Love ’em. And doubling the animal’s neck-frills with swampy detritus is a great way to work in a little whimsical hint of her actual nature.

This thing captures all the charm of the baby Pokémon trend without feeling like a tacked-on design that only exists to serve its evolutions. It turns out, that’s what happens when you design a Pokémon around an actual infant form of an animal.

#195 – Quagsire

And Quagsire is every bit as lovable in her own way. Look at her smile and wave; she’s just so happy to be here! Who doesn’t love a Quaggy?

I deeply appreciate that while the rest of her has gotten more complex – flippery limbs with digits, a dorsal ridge, and a more continuous body – she still has this dorky simplicity to her. If anything, I think her eyes got smaller where her mouth got bigger, which gives her the same childlike innocence as Wooper. That harmless look plays so nicely into her being something of a trickster design – which we’ll get to in a moment. It’s just a package that works really well as a whole.

If there’s one thing I’m not thrilled about with these two, it’s how the markings on their body completely shift around during evolution. It’s not a huge deal, but the inconsistency of one having stomach markings and the other a blotchy patch on its back does bug me.

Either way, excellent monsters, the both of them. High marks.

Quagsire isn’t the most exciting Pokémon stat-wise – fine physical stats and HP, but awful speed and lackluster special defenses. But she shines in a lot of other ways, from a surprisingly wide move-pool to a great passive ability that can ignore all stat-changes to some really stellar advantages. She’s a surprisingly solid pick!

In fact, let’s get into her elemental typing right now, because that kind of drives a lot of what makes Quagsire so interesting.

Back in the first generation, the developers didn’t play too much with people’s expectations for type matchups – except for small moments like robbing Gyarados of the Dragon type. So, coming into Gold & Silver, players felt pretty secure in their understanding of how things worked.

Then little Wooper comes strolling along. She’s kind of a dope, but she’s blue and inhabits a riverside area in the game. Seems like a pretty cut-and-dry “use Thunderbolt” situation, especially since you likely just caught a Mareep at that point.

No sell – this critter lives in the mud. She’s a slimy-skinned Ground-type, and immune to the main thing that the show has taught kids to do against every Water-type. In fact, the only thing she is weak to is Grass (which, to be fair, is pretty common).

Gold & Silver gave us a lot of these curveballs – another notable example being Sudowoodo, the series’ first Rock-type that both wasn’t part-Ground and didn’t have any other obvious secondary type. So, at the time, a lot of players didn’t know that Electric-types had an even match-up against Rock-types.

The games would keep on playing increasingly-elaborate tricks like this up to this very day, sure. But as a monster that you could encounter by the second gym in the second set of games, just after players had their expectations set, Wooper feels like the series’ first real “gotcha” moment, and she’s all the more special for it.

As a side-note, the games would keep leaning into this by giving Wooper and Quagsire a passive ability in the next generation that also made them immune to Water. That’s two situations where these monsters can switch in and eat an attack for free – or even recover from it. Fun stuff!

Speaking of fun switcheroos, Wooper often gets pegged as being the Pokémon interpretation of the fun-to-say-out-loud axlotl. While axlotls are related within the same order of animals, this isn’t quite right; axlotls never outgrow the frills on their neck, and never leave the water where they’re born.

Rather, this family is based on the hefty Japanese Giant Salamander, which (aside from the cartoony aesthetic) isn’t too different in size and appearance from a Quagsire. This thing looks kind of like a Looney Tune, sure, but every once and a while you do run into an equally-goofy animal in real life.

Now, we may have had a salamander before, but that’s more an odd quirk of naming. “Salamander” is a name with two distinct flavors: mythical, folklore-derived salamanders are lizard-like spirits that are capable of withstanding fire. Real-world salamanders are amphibians with permeable skin and natural regenerative abilities that live their infancy underwater. They look a bit the same, but they’re of opposite elements – and Pokémon gives them wildly different appearances, to boot.

Salamanders are a bit odd in their being very fish-like lizards, being born entirely underwater before coming up to the ground. As a result, salamander children are something like undeveloped larvae, with frilly gills, fewer and flipper-y-er limbs, and a more pronounced tail. It’s the perfect monster to reflect a multi-stage evolution, from egg to an aquatic toady to a damp lizard.

That said, a lot of internet denizens have a mild obsession with the axlotl in particular, which translates into a mild obsession with this Pokémon. There’s even some reason to believe that The Pokémon Company is aware of this; in one season of the anime, a Wooper was given a recurring role and part of the regular spotlight. He never joined a main character’s team or anything, and the Johto-based games weren’t part of the new rotation at the time, so he’s kind of an odd choice for a recurring guest-star in a vacuum. It’s nice to take that minor evidence and read from it some meta-awareness that fans love them a Wooper and the anime was willing to provide – whether or not this is the case.

And all of this is without getting into some of the weirder functions of The Wooper. Did you know that they’re nocturnal? Or naturally toxic? How about that Quagsire slowly and absent-mindedly crashes into fishing boats while swimming, making it The Dumbest Sea Monster? Or that it feeds by leaving its mouth open and hoping that food just swims right in? These two just have so much personality that it’s unfair to its peers.

Functionally, Wooper has peers that accomplish the same thing that she does nowadays, which would usually put these guys under some scrutiny for being benched to Reserve or even Retired. But you just can’t replicate fans’ natural enthusiasm for a mascot, and the series would be doing itself a disservice to exclude these two. I’m as biased as everyone else, but they really are a Must-Have if the series’ goal is to hold their audience as long and strong as possible.

Any and all appreciation for Wooper and Quagsire is welcome in the comments!

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