Snubbull, Granbull

#209 – Snubbull

Snubbull is threading a very particular needle: she’s obviously a bulldog, but a particularly pink one who looks to be done up in a dress. My impression of her is that Snubbull was always meant to be a play on a companion dog, specifically about how certain owners will dress toy breeds up in cute outfits and carry them around in little purses for show. That friction between “literally evolved for protection” and “a cosmetic accessory” has always felt odd to me, and Snubbull just exemplifies the idea.

To that end, playing off a bulldog in particular is a great choice, as they’re exactly the kind of dog that’s often played off as “ugly-cute”. Those jowly cheeks and snappy jaw feel odd on a dancing, pink dog (who’s often shown in pink bows in the anime), but that just reinforces the weird juxtaposition that she’s based on.

Not my personal favorite, but hey – neither are bulldogs, so I’m pretty sure Snubbull is hitting exactly what she’s going for.

#210 – Granbull

…and here’s you’re more traditional, angry guard dog. The Growlithe family wasn’t quite a direct translation of a domestic canine despite the series regularly casting it in that role, so it’s nice that the first explicit dog-monster we get covers multiple sides of how domestic breeds come across to people.

The fact that she’s so explicitly a chained-up-in-your-yard, bark-at-the-mailman dog is also probably the only reason Granbull gets away with having a built-in collar. At this stage, Pokémon had already hit the mainstream (and so naturally had a lot of eyes on its morally-greyish premise), so you’d think that GameFreak would already be leaning away from references to real-world animal restraints. Here, at least, the inclusion of “wristbands” means you could just as easily play it off as a punk look to fit her tough-gal demeanor.

Otherwise, Granbull is a sleek design. The collar is a surprisingly smooth transition from Snubbull’s frilly ruff (zero points for that pun), and the dull purple is probably the best “serious” color they could shift to from a pale pink without going for a gaudy red. Plus, those fangs and underbite are so delightfully obnoxious that he’d look right at home next to Hector with the Looney Tunes.

She does a great overall job of capturing the feel of a stout, powerful pup, which is always the thing that matters when they’re designed with both animation and low-resolution pixel art in mind. The real drawback with Granbull is that she arguably isn’t adding much on top of that impression at first glance. She’s a good dog, but she’s kind of… just a dog, and monsters under that banner are rarely my favorites.

Granbull is at least kind of fun in the main games nowadays – she used to be just a slow and powerful Normal-type, but the change to Fairy has made her a little more unique. Now she can power through some notable monsters like Dragons and handily counter the two types she’s weak to, albeit her awful speed and iffy defenses means she’ll always need a top-up afterwards. A little risky, but she puts on a good show.

Snubbull is another one of those monsters who benefits from early-appearance oddness; she showed up in the series’ first movie outing over a year before she turned up in Gold & Silver (resulting in some promo materials misspelling her name as “Snubble” or just punting with the Japanese name).

This happened pretty consistently early on, and it’s worth noting that over time, the series backed off from the practice of sneak-peeking new Pokémon through the anime before their main-series-game debuts. Those Pokémon who showed up early from the sixth generation did so only three months before the game released (and internationally only weeks before), and after that only new forms of existing monsters have gotten that treatment. The current generation has – so far – been exclusively a games-first affair.

It makes some sense to keep all the designs under wraps until they’re production-ready, especially given how few monsters were even shown in trailers ahead of Sword & Shield‘s release. Nintendo is famously tight-lipped about internal development and aggressive around information leaks, to boot. That said, I do miss the practice of having baby forms be fun little show-only oddities before they’d finally be thrown in as playable. On the other hand, apparently there was a lot of mud thrown over fences about whether Snubbull as a concept was cute or disgusting before Gold & Silver ever came out, and I’m perfectly happy to not deal with that in The Twitter Age.

After all that, though, Snubbull and Granbull turned out to be as-expected from the text around them. They’re affectionate dogs monsters despite their scowly appearance, they’re popular with women owners trainers for exactly that reason, sleep a lot, and they’re meant to be playful little things.

The bigger gotcha is that, contrary to bulldogs’ popular image, they’re not especially brave or tough in the end; rather, they tend to be the ones who get bullied by their playmates. I don’t know real bulldog owners who can speak to that one way or the other, but it’s still a cute note to leave about a monster with a fang-baring underbite – while owners love the strong-looking, mis-sized mandibles, Granbull literally developed her massive jaw to prevent confrontation in the first place.

You could make an argument that’s why they were chosen to be the Fairy type to begin with – they’re soft and kind, which is a very Fairy-like demeanor, but that whole elemental type in Pokémon seems to as often refer to mythology as a whole, from star-dwellers to yokai to imps to even moon-rabbits. Dogs do certainly have their paws all over folklore, though none really seem to reference bulldogs (it’s almost always hounds like the Cu Sith or Orthrus, or wolves like Fenrir).

There’s also the idea that these two look a little like orcs or goblins, especially with Granbull’s absolute tusks, but that’s perhaps just another reflection of how more brutish dogs can come across. Ultimately, these seem like two of the less mythological canines the series will give us, but hey – they still do have some air of cuteness, at least.

The flip-side of that is, as with another Fairy, that Snubbull is implicitly a little horrifying. Consider for a moment that her “dress” is almost certainly part of her flesh, rolling down in folds just like her cheeks to form a facsimile of human clothing. Hitmonchan gets some plausible deniability, but the unbroken pink from this snooty pup’s neck to her forepaws and rump strongly suggest that over time the species has evolved their very bodies to appease humans. Sneaking one’s way into a human’s life is a very trickster-spirit thing to do, and while I hadn’t considered it before writing this, now I’m pretty sure I’ll never not consider it.

Granbull and Snubbull are fun in how they show off a contrast even within their own family, but Granbull doesn’t have an abundance of personality outside of her inherent dog-y-ness. A shift to the Fairy-type certainly made them more intriguing, and Snubbull does have the advantage of some early popularity, but it remains that there are plenty of dogs yet to go in the series. Repeat animals should be re-visited on occasion at best, which puts these two in Reserve.

Any and all appreciation for Snubbull and Granbull is welcome in the comments!

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