Yes, sometimes Pokémon hands us colorful goober, but sometimes you get a startlingly direct translation of an existing animal.
And yet… Heracross doesn’t feel like it suffers from its directness in the same way that, say, Seel or Ledyba do. He’s not trying to be cutesied-up at all – even his yellow eyes feel understated and almost vacant. Instead, what you see is what you get: a quadruped beetle, ready to rock.
Maybe it’s his stance that does it for me. His biology almost requires him to have this wide, “come-at-me” pose that feels just the right amount of confident. Plus, the jagged edges on his thighs and forearms give him that classic “cool” factor despite not being something any artist came up with for embellishment. There’s even the point that the beetle body plan isn’t as obviously-segmented as most other insects, which leaves our boy Heracross looking more contiguous and oh-so-satisfyingly sturdy.
There’s only one conclusion here: somebody on the art team really liked rhinoceros beetles, and rather than gussy them up with some fancy flames or racing-stripes, they just accentuated all the parts of the real-life beetle that are already rad as hell. And you know what? It works. Embrace that passion.
You know what else? He’s super-fun to use in the games, too – high attack, perfectly fine in his other stats (well, the ones that matter), and plenty of fun offensive move options. He’s even competitive in multiplayer if you play your cards right; nothing wrong with a good battering ram… er, horn.
And rhinoceros beetles aren’t just for Pokémon battling – they’re for real-world battling, too! They and stag beetles in particular are – or, at least, used to be – common subjects for insect fighting, an honest-to-goodness hobby that can be anywhere from amusing to abhorrent depending on your outlook. The proof is in the pudding – Heracross is part fighting-type, playing into the rhino beetle’s popular role as the champion of the buggy arena.
For better or for worse, you absolutely can’t say in good conscience that’s not part of the inspiration for the Pokémon games as a whole, too. For one thing, beetle-fighting is notedly popular in Japan; and for another, designer Tajiri cites bug-collecting as an influence and “bugs walking along a link cable” as a key image driving the game’s concept. They’ve tried to walk back the “fighting pets” angle year over year, of course, but parts of that DNA are always going to stick around.
Getting away from that a bit, one funny thing we get with Heracross is a neat overlap of Fighting and Bug: the two original types that are super-effective against Dark (which, yes, is roughly “Evil Type” in Japanese).
Fighting’s type advantage you can get to pretty easily – pro wrestlers fighters famously have their own dramatic story arcs, so Pokémon like Machamp take that cue to fight against (or become) a villainous “heel”. Plus, there’s that play on “fighting against evil”, if you like.
Bugs vanquishing Darkness, however, is a more local reference.
Beetles in general – the Japanese Rhinoceros Beetle in particular – are a popular, powerful-looking animal in Japanese culture in the same way that bears and T-Rexes are more generally popular animals to rambunctious boys. And never does that show up more clearly and nerd-ily than in pop culture:
- Kamen Rider, the masked tokusatsu hero? Originally modeled on a grasshopper, and on beetles in at least ten seasons since.
- Megalon, a kaiju potent enough to force Godzilla into a two-on-one team-up? Totally a giant beetle (with drill-arms!).
- Beetleborgs? You’d better believe that pulls from a sentai series starring a Rhino Beetle Hero.
- Medabots? Absolutely not a coincidence that the series’ mascot has a head shaped like a rhino beetle’s, and his rival’s head has stag-beetle horns.
…and so on until the horse is well and properly beaten past death. Point being: rhino beetles are basically a real-life action figure, depending on where your action figures are being made. Just look at a random Pokédex entry – you’ve got better-than-half chances that it’s just gushing about Heracross’ cool horn feature or powerful build or the sharp claw details on his feet.
It’s an interesting switch from how insects are commonly framed as gross pests – and, to be clear, it’s not like they’re free from that stigma anywhere. But giving them that extra side makes them feel like real-life antiheroes; repulsive to some, beloved by others. Not the hero we deserve, et cetera.
The other thing about rhinoceros beetles in particular is that they’re commonly framed as rivals to the Stag Beetle. Oh, hey! We’ve got one of those! But he already gets paired up with Scyther because those two were introduced at the same time, where Heracross was fashionably late to the Bug Party. Guess who’s third-wheeling it?
Well, retroactively, it’s Scyther, who gets an evolution this generation, while Pinsir and Heracross stay self-sufficient, single-stage lines. They also show up as version counterparts from here on out, with Pinsir being available in Pokémon Sword when Heracross shows up in Shield, for example. Luckily they’ve both been in the series long enough that the two feel more natural as a set nowadays, but The Original 151 getting preferential treatment in cases like Let’s Go keep making it obvious that this is a wee bit of a retcon.
It’s even more noticeable when they try to pull the same thing with another stag-beetle Pokémon introduced seventeen years later, but we’ll get to that when we get to it.
Heracross somehow feels like a quintessential Bug Pokémon to me, almost as much as Butterfree – probably due in no small part to a no-frills design and how well he lines up with the series’ core concept. He’s just a very pure boy. That said, there are other beetles about, and Sword & Shield did fine without him initially present, so he makes for a strong Reserve.
Any and all appreciation for Heracross is welcome in the comments.