Mismagius feels more like the stereotypical cartoon ghost than her only kin up until this point – it didn’t take the series long to get to that fluttery, “wearing a sheet” imagery. But that also seems like one of the lesser influences on her design, which is something of a hot-pot of spooky creatures.
The will-o-wispy, light-tipped hair, dark appearance, and yellowed eyes make me immediately think of a hag – the predatory Hansel and Gretel kind, not the cranky ol’ lady down the street. But she also looks a bit young, which taken with the cloak-y body (and her Pokédex entries) screams “banshee”. And still, the disproportionately-large noggin coupled with her levitation makes her something of a “floating head” from various folklore.
She’s a fantastic middle ground between a bunch of haunted spirits, and even does that endearing thing where she doesn’t have any real limbs. Spirits have no need for typical body plans! Or any body conformity at all; “she” and the “her” evolution may have feminine features, but they’re equally-likely to be male in the wild. Gender norms are nothing to ghosts (and they needn’t be to you, either).
I think my favorite element here is that string of ruby “pearls” around her neck. Especially in the key art, it lights her face from below, which gives her a very “campfire stories” vibe. The fact that they glow like that at all is hella creepy, and you better believe that has its own backstory. Coupling the bio-luminescent “ghost lights” with the light tips on her trailing “hair” even gives her a hint of fire, which pairs very nicely with the how spirits are invoked in the real world through smoky seances and burning pyres.
Misdreavus is a great little ghost. More “five ideas in a blender” than the distinct Gastly, but that sticks her leagues above the more straightforward designs we’ve seen, and leaves us only a little less starved for Ghost-types. Seriously, this type had as few species as Dragon-types for nearly the first decade of the franchise. It’s a shame that Misdreavus wasn’t available in Gold & Silver until the absolute last area of the game – the new Ghost-type gym didn’t even feature one! – because the series really needed some ghostly variety.
Mismagius is a little more direct, and I like her less for it, which is a shame since she was notably an after-the-fact addition to the standalone Misdreavus. Luckily, there’s still a lot to love here. She’s kind of taken over Murkrow‘s position of “resident witch-creature” with the very obvious hat and robe, which she continues from Misdreavus in mixing with a few more Halloween-y specters.
The obvious ones – a banshee and a ghost – come straight from her prior evolution, but are exaggerated here to majestic effect. Just look at that long, flowing robe – complete with folds and a couple of dangling will-o-the-wisp ends that she uses in the show as makeshift “hands”. I appreciate that the outer layer is more elegant here, half-concealing a more jagged inner layer (which I wish was a bit more ragged and uneven).
The secret spice here is cat, though, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Cats are known familiars to witches, and that’s reflected throughout the design from the tufts on her brim placed to evoke triangular ears to the chatroom-emoticon, cat-grin face to her pupils being a titch more vertical post-evolution. And yet she never makes anybody’s lists of feline Pokémon – maybe she’s just being too sneaky about it.
Now, could those tufts just be wear on a weathered ghost-hat? Sure. Is that smile tied into a jack o’ lantern grin? You bet. But The fact that there’s so much to read into such a simple design delights me. Heck, you could even read into her more purple coloration, if you like.
The two things that don’t get me are the bulge about her throat and the gems embedded into her body. The former kind of works as a collar to her “cloak”, but it’s very much a football shape pointing forward-to-back, which leaves some ambiguity as to what it’s doing there. And those rubies just plain looked better on Misdreavus than embedded in a cloak-torso, sorry to say.
There’s more to pick out of Mismagius, but ultimately she feels less dense with ideas than Misdreavus somehow. Maybe it’s just the very overt hat-brim making her seem more one-note at a glance than she really is. Still, not a bad evolution.
For their complexity, these two look deceptively boring on paper. They’ve got evenly subpar physical and pretty great special stats across the board, and are Ghosts who Levitate. That does give them three type immunities and some oomph on offense, but it doesn’t make them feel unique. What does is their crazy-wide movepool, which can cover just about anything the game will throw at you. She might be a bit frail in the multiplayer, but in single-player she’s something of a spectral Swiss army knife, which is super-useful to have around and nicely reflects the many conceptual influences these two have.
Much of Misdreavus’ backstory unfortunately reads just like Gengar’s, but a little more “spiteful school-child” than “immature prankster”. She does jump-scares behind corners, she shrieks from behind you to startle you, she pulls your hair, even bites… and all explicitly to get a reaction. Jerk.
Much like Gastly’s choice of habitat, though, this isn’t just in the spirit of mirroring real-world spirits. It’s go gather and store human emotions – particularly fear – as energy and consume that for sustenance Monsters Inc. style (but predating that film by a couple years). That’ll be the sinister purpose of the orbs about Misdreavus’ neck, filled to a glowing sheen with the literal terror of her victims. If you put your ear up to them, you can even hear the imprisoned shrieks like you can hear the ocean from a conch-shell, which makes her great at parties.
How does this remotely work beyond a conceptual level? Don’t think too hard about it; the Pokémon universe kinda zig-zags around whether Ghost-types are merely ghost-like or the literal spirits of the deceased to begin with. On the other hand, this would turn haunted houses into a win-win situation – food for Misdreavus, a thrill for humans – so while it’s never called out, we could tentatively add Misdreavus to the “gainfully–employed” list.
The games even reflected her uniquely predatory nature a bit with her natural moveset in the first games, which contained almost no damaging moves at all. Misdreavus can’t collect any terror-juice from you if you’re dead or unconscious, after all. Most of her natural moves were built around making the player scream in frustration between status effects, blocking escape routes, reducing your move options, and ultimately Perish Song, an appropriately sound-based move that would cause all parties to keel over shortly after hearing it, Misdreavus included. A properly haunted melody? Now that’s a spooky story.
It sounds like Mismagius has given up on a bit of that life, though. While she does chant off incantations to hex and befuddle victims, that’s not her exclusive domain. These “may rarely” instead be, apparently, happiness-producing screams, which feels a titch counter-intuitive. I guess witches have gotten much better PR in the 21st century as a whole, and it helps the designers to differentiate Ghost-type trickster Pokémon from the more properly malevolent Dark-types that were then surging in prevalence.
On the other hand, this somehow feels even more tricksy. Mismagius helping only some of the time leads to all sorts of fun fables where foolhardy people seek to obtain a boon from the spirit living in a forest, only to suffer its wrath instead. That’ll teach the kids to stay wary of strangers.
Amusingly, more than half of Mismagius’ names across the globe reference sleep or nightmares – English is a notable exception – despite the species being largely disconnected from sleep-inducing both in the lore and in its moveset. The monster could still learn Dream Eater, at least – but could never learn any moves to put the opponent to sleep on her own. Oh, how half-commitments can spoil a good idea; it’d do well to see something of a malevolent dream-weaver in the roster (which we would get in the same generation – just not as a normally-available monster).
Misdreavus was a great value-add back when we had few Ghost-types, and we needed one who could basically spin all the plates. Nowadays, various Ghost-types have gotten more specialized, which makes this line a bit less appealing by comparison. Still, she makes for a fine banshee with a ton of fun layers, and I’d be happy to see her rotate in and out of Reserve.
Any and all appreciation for Misdreavus and Mismagius is welcome in the comments!