I love these designs where everything about them screams a personality. Just look at Sneasel and tell me you don’t already know that she’s an absolute rapscallion.
In contrast to Heracross, where the directive was “accentuate existing features of an animal”, Sneasel is more “capture the feeling of that animal”. Actual weasels don’t look anything like Sneasel – they have more of a Furret body plan – but the way we associate weasels with thieves means that they read well as a dark gremlin. And it’s not like all the features are lost – you still have the claws and the very pointy head that comes with a rodent body plan, so it still all comes together to some extent. And those lithe limbs, odd two-pronged claws, and asymmetrical ears all make her look more than a little off-kilter, really feeding a “chaotic” energy.
Her high-contrast design really works for me visually, too – the red and gold really pop out against dark fur, giving her the appearance of a cocky, flashy thief – almost a fun prankster – rather than just a pest. And who doesn’t love the ol’ “phantom thief” trope? Even the would-be villainous monsters in this series are oh-so charming.
My favorite element, though, is the how the feathers and stones on her body seem like trophies; this little scrapper is flaunting the shiny objects and animal parts she’s stolen like the punk she is, flashing off her ill-gotten goods. The thing that gets me, though, is that she’s clearly lost her ear in a fight and replaced it with a stolen feather, which feels like a delightful middle-finger to “the haters”. Strike her down, she comes back even more fabulous.
Come to think of it, do all Sneasel have just the one ear, or are they born with two? Do we only ever see the mangled ones because losing an ear is some sort of tribal “coming-of-age” or hazing ritual? The latter would make some amount of sense with her occupying the venn diagram space between “stray animal” and “street gangster”, but none of the flavor text ever gives that much to us. Let your imaginations run wild, then.
It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.
Weavile is Sneasel, but more. Sometimes those evolutions are boring, but sometimes – like here – they compound on what was already successful. She’s still got those gangly, impish proportions, but her claws are longer and more accentuated. Most of her asymmetry has been evened out now, from her claws being a more stable three toes to a properly-centered head absolutely kitted out with colorful trophies. She does get a side-smirk with a snaggletooth, though, so that’s something to make up for the loss of her other ear.
Her changing into something more balanced doesn’t absolutely skewer her character, though. She looks more like a seasoned thief, and one with plenty of literal feathers in her cap. It’s less of a “back-alley” vibe and more the air of somebody who’s going to pull a heist on you, which is a neat way to evolve a thief.
Personally, I’ve always loved using Weavile in the games. She’s something of a glass cannon – she crumples if a Fighting-type so much as looks at her – but in a game where knockouts can regularly happen in one or two turns, her overwhelming speed and attack make her great for just tearing through NPCs. Plus, she has some great, varied moves in her arsenal, and translates well to competitive play. What’s not to love?
So, the biggest hook about the Sneasel family is that they’re ice-types, but don’t seem to be especially icy at a glance. Her color palette isn’t big on cold hues, and weasels aren’t exactly known for living specifically in cold regions – they’re found just about everywhere in the world.
To get an explanation, we have to once again go back to yōkai and folklore.
Sneasel is pretty specifically based on the kamaitachi, a weasel-like creature who rides on the wind and cuts into your skin with limbs like sickles. This is apparently one of those folk tales where details vary from region to region, but at least one blames them on the work of some evil god, and another claims that their wounds leave no blood, as it’s being sucked away. Gross.
While kamaitachi ride around on air currents, and most of those moves are associated with the “Flying” type, Sneasel herself isn’t much of a bird – plus, we’ve already got a dark bird, anyway. Instead, Sneasel’s look latches onto the fact that the kamaitachi is especially blamed on the “cutting” effect of freezing winds and the non-bleeding damage left by frostbite, so that turns into an association with blizzards and frigid climates. It happens to line up pretty well with the double-meaning of having a cold disposition, so while it’s a bit of a walk to get there, it works out in the end.
Her name even triples up on this: “Sneasel” contains “sneaky”, “weasel”, “sneeze” (for the Ice type), and – if you want to read very generously – a Scottish word “sneesl” for oncoming rain or snow. Oddly, her original Japanese name (Nyura) is more in reference to painting her as a back-alley critter, from “nyuu” (mewing) and “nora” (stray) – but hey, it’s probably an easier reference to get and communicates the right idea about her nature. The French localizers seem to have missed the boat a bit, though, as their name of leprechaun-ferret is… a very broad interpretation of what this thing actually is, unless I’m misunderstanding non-Hollywood leprechauns.
There are a lot of wonderful things about how Sneasel and Weavile are characterized, from tree-climbing to how they plague breeders, but my favorite might be how they of all monsters get extensive notes on pack behavior. As a pre-evolution, they team up for smash-and-grabs on nests of eggs, but ultimately bicker about who gets to eat the ill-gotten goods. Weavile, on the other hand, is much more organized, staking out prey and moving as small, coordinated strike teams. Even from their first appearance – in a movie well ahead of their game debut – Weavile are almost always seen in at least a pair, and are all the more dangerous for it.
The best example – if a bit grim – comes from Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon, noting that Sneasel will overzealously stalk and ambush Sandshrew on their own and attack so relentlessly that they damage their own claws on the critters’ hard hides. Weavile, on the other hand, will team up to have one attacker flip the Sandshrew over so the other can get at its soft belly, then the two will divide the spoils. Why do we let adolescents travel in these open wilderness again, with or without companions?
The other thing I really wish we’d be shown is Weavile markings. They apparently come in hundreds of regionally-unique patterns, each marking territory for a different pack. This sounds like aggressive behavior – and really impressive, at that, since they’re found marred into boulders – but apparently there are those who catalog and appreciate it. Huh; that sounds a lot like other visual marks that real-life packs get stereotyped for leaving around their territory.
I’ve just gotta know what non-human graffiti looks like.
Sneasel and Weavile are cool as heck. Great look, fun origin story, and tons of personality. Still, pretty much every generation gives us some form of “thief” and “rodent” characters, so while she’s easily among the best of both, it’s not like she’d leave a noticeable gap in the roster if she was replaced. That makes her a strong in-Reserve clutch pick to fill either role in ongoing generations.
I don’t mind Hisuian Sneasel too much. She’s a bit redundant, which is always a strike against you when the roster breaches 900 strong, but that’s not a huge offense. It does seem odd to me that she’s lost both of her types despite having almost the same silhouette, especially when one is Fighting-type. Nothing about her cliff-climbing behavior or venom-focused hunting style implies a Fighting-type.
The best guess I have is that it’s a part of a “balanced duality” theme, since the original form of Sneasel is called out as openly spiteful by the Hisui Pokédex. By comparison, Hisuian Sneasel is of a cleaner spirit, but venomous biology, whereas before Sneasel was of a poisonous mind but well-groomed and sleek body. That said, it’s still called out as a trapping predator, so that spirit isn’t exactly squeaky.
The other option is that the new Fighting-type is tied to her theme as a free-climber, but using “fighting” as a stand-in for “sporty” would be an entirely new trick for them, making it confusing when other sport-focused Pokémon don’t follow it.
Man is that name a strict downgrade from “Weavile”. Even her Japanese name is just “Big Sneasel”, more or less, and the international ones aren’t must better.
Her saving grace on that front is having an actual tie to folklore, namely in the Ōnyūdō. It’s a fun pun on Sneasel’s Nyula, which doesn’t quite translate in other languages. And, outside of being a aometimes-monk-like giant, there are so many different variants of Ōnyūdō story that it doesn’t make for a strong design element. There’s almost nothing else monk-like about her in my eyes, either, so while I appreciate the effort, it really just doesn’t pan out, especially having removed the cutting Ice-type for a Fighting-type that isn’t especially reflected elsewhere.
And the rest of her visual design isn’t especially striking, either. She’s basically Hisuian Sneasel, But Larger, and while some parts of that work – the glamorously-long feather and over-the-top red-and-black claws with the climbing hooks stand out – she’s otherwise not especially inspiring.
Maybe it’s just me, but Sneasler doesn’t feel distinct enough to warrant a regional form – especially not when the existing kamaitachi lore works so well with historic Hisui. The only open niche she might filling – a more solitary rock-climber – feels like a general habitat more than a hole what needs plugging. Plus, she doesn’t even seem to be filling it especially strongly, which makes her a bit wishy-washy as a regional form. Kind of a shame, but Weavile was a tough act to follow, after all.
Any and all appreciation for Sneasel, Weavile, and Sneasler is welcome in the comments!