Sure is a blowfish, innit?
I really want to be cleverer about it, but Qwilfish is kind of one of those monsters that’s very clearly just a transposition of a real animal. That’s clearly the comically-round body of an inflated blowfish, with pouty cartoon lips for the real thing’s pouty lips, and angry-eyes because apparently Poison-types are inherently grouchy and antagonistic.
He does give us a few points of interest, though. For one, his lack of fins is a little ridiculous, but it does put him a little bit closer to the other reference he’s probably drawing from. That pure, spiky ball-shape with just the rudder – and especially his capacity to Self-Destruct – speaks to a naval mine, cleanly linking an animal to a man-made item as a single concept (which speaks to how much of engineering is inspired by nature). His low-impact blue-and-cream color scheme even evoke a seafloor camouflage, mimicking the ocean and its sandy bed.
I’m still not quite sure what the actual rudder-tail is going for here – it could be yet another example of automimicry, if not for his original design – but overall he’s a solid representation of the thing he’s trying to represent.
Unfortunately, while Qwilfish has pretty good Attack and all right Speed and Defense, his health and other stats make him a titch flimsy, which is a shame when he’s so obviously meant to poison and lay down hazardous spikes. Luckily he’s got a ton of type resistances, but his staying power overall is still a little iffy, his typical passive abilities are so-so, and his movepool doesn’t especially play to his on-paper strengths. Instead, he gets lots of flavorful one-off moves like acupressure (playing to his spiky self) and Stockpile/Spit-Up (for blowfishes’ water-inhaling defense mechanism). You could have some fun with Qwilfish, sure; he’s just not exactly the most inspiring teammate.
Overall, I think my biggest disappointment with Qwilfish is that he’s a great base that doesn’t really have enough oomph on his own – like he really needs an evolution to help him stand out. Granted, I love having fun, one-off wierdos that add color to the world; not every real animal is a tiger or a penguin, after all. But the problem with Pokémon is that describes entirely too many species at this point: strong core ideas that nonetheless aren’t strong party members or distinct enough to really stick in memory. But Qwilfish’s relatively simple design gives it some room to build visually – so let’s do that real quick:
On the “naval mine” track, I could see this kiddo evolving into a Water/Steel monster, or better yet: a Water/Fire mine-fish, a unique combination for a common Pokémon with three double-resistances. Think of it like an underwater Voltorb if you must: cast your reel in the wrong spot and get unlucky, and you’ll fish up not just the usual cartoon trash, but a monster that explodes and can counter the Grass-type you likely have at the ready. It could add a nice level of risk-reward to high-level fishing encounters.
Or you could go in a poison-gas-bomb direction to mimic an underwater Koffing of sorts; really go in the grungy, unhealthy-looking direction. Give it a punk look. Maybe even a little hint of “ocean pollution” flavor. Go the whole nine yards. The kicker is that we kind of already have this archetype in a much later evolutionary line, but honestly, I would take a shared niche for this poor fella over being kinda forgotten.
At least the guy gets a fun note or two in the flavor text. For one, he marks a point where the series starts sanitizing itself a bit, with entries noting that his spikes “inject a toxin that causes fainting”. With real-life blowfish notably being enough-to-kill-thirty-men potent, the fact that he can only cause a mostly-harmless loss of consciousness feels like a marker that the series is already pointedly dodging anything remotely resembling fatal violence. For that matter, do competitive Pokémon suffer from concussions or other, related health issues from repeated injury? Surely some fanfiction writer is all over that.
The other nugget is how the games actively acknowledge that Qwilfish would be an absolutely impossible swimmer with no pectoral, dorsal, or ventral fins at all. How does it steer? Incredibly poorly. That must make it either an herbivore or some manner of trapper-hunter, the latter being a great tie to the manmade-trap note. Either way, it’s always a little fun to see Pokémon as a series take a step back, hang a quick lampshade on its own cartoon logic, then keep skipping along while embracing that little bit of silliness.
I personally like the relatively simple appeal of Qwilfish, but he’s yet another monster who doesn’t especially add a lot to the series aside from checking off a real-life animal. With an evolution to breathe some life into him, I could see a real niche for Qwilfish in the series. As-is, I feel like he could easily be put into Reserve, if not outright Retired.
Any and all appreciation for Qwilfish is welcome in the comments!