Deer were one of the more obvious mammals that the first generation didn’t cover, so much like spiders were inevitable, Stantler is a shoo-in concept.
That said, he’s very much on Seel’s level as “so close to a real-world animal they didn’t even change its color”. He does have a few embellishments, like a ridiculously-round tail and a droopy, jowl-y face, but those are just there to make him extra-adorable. On the whole, if you asked a ten-year-old to draw you a deer (or elk, or caribou), this is roughly what you’d get.
The exception here is clearly the antlers, which do have a fun bit of automimicry going on. Giant eyeballs, and not placed to distract, but to give the illusion that the head is much larger and less solid than it is. I don’t know that it’s particularly effective, but hey – he’s trying.
In fact, Stantler is mechanically just a plain normal-type with around-or-below-average stats, no evolutions, and not much of a niche to fill. He learns a lot of very diverse moves, sure; but he’s not especially great at using any of them, and he’s only even been available as a post-credits curiosity outside of his native Johto. There’s just not a lot of reason to use Stantler in the main games, I’m afraid.
So everything from this monster’s epithet “the Big Horn” to its anime appearances revolve around its horns. Big, illusion-generating organs that supposedly “bend air” to trick onlookers in the same way that heat mirages work – or even how proposed “invisibility” technology would work by bending light.
A more mundane explanation for tricking the senses would be a combination of their size, shape, and scent. Those “balls” centered in his antlers are something of a natural medicine, used as a sleep aid but particularly notable for their bewildering odor. It even pairs up with the assertion that you’ll “feel quite strange” and “be unable to stand” by staring at them too hard, which is the G-rated pink-elephants version of a trip if I’ve ever heard it.
But the visual of a giant pair of eyes staring at you from the forest, giving you hallucinations? That’s some grade-A spooky-bedtime-story material. Great way of making a cartoon stag match the intimidation factor of a real animal of its size. But if supernatural power is the crux of his identity… why isn’t Stantler a Psychic monster, or possibly even a Ghost? Though I appreciate the notion of even a Normal-type having that sort of inner power, for the purposes of a game, I’d expect that power to reflected mechanically.
Of course, this also means that female Stantler have full antlers by necessity, which is an especially nitpicky thing knowing that the series didn’t touch sexual dimorphism until seven years after Stantler first showed up.
It’s kind of retroactively made Stantler a little weird, though, since his whole core concept only works if you ignore the notion of a “female stag”. Why was this monster not just made male-only again?
Okay, so the antlers are ripe for nitpicking. But he does have plenty of redeeming factors – let’s go over them to cheer our deer-boy up!
His location! Johto is pretty plainly based on Kansai in Japan, which among other cultural centers contains the city of Nara. This city in particular has a reputation for its Sika deer population being remarkably tame, making them something of a tourist attraction. And where do you think Stantler is found? Yup, right outside Violet City, the Pokémon town based on the real Nara. The designers love weaving more recognizable landmarks into the series’ maps, but it’s delightful to see them doing it with the region’s ecology.
They’re a victim of over-hunting, which is arguably untrue of real deer given their population size, but hey. They’re the go-to mark for hunters, so I’m counting it as another tie into actual deer ecology.
His name! Odoshishi is pretty obviously a play on shishi-odoshi, those bamboo deer-scaring devices found in some Japanese front yards. In his way, Stantler works as a full-animal pun, because rather than a deer scare, you shuffle the syllables around and get a scary deer who gives you night-terrors. Excellent.
Unfortunately, Stantler still has the basic problem of being a bit plain. We’ll eventually see a different monster give us a more unique take on deer, and I kind of wish we could just roll Stantler’s more redeeming factors into that second pass at a “deer Pokémon” – or even an evolution to push him into “terrifying giant moose” territory. As it is, though, he’s not a strong-enough design to justify keeping around when we’re bursting at the seams with 900 critters already. I personally don’t mind him at all, but he’s objectively a design the series could Retire and not be too much worse off for it.
Bigger. Cleverer. More antler-y.
Wyrdeer still isn’t a moose – I’ll get mine someday – but a wizened old lord of the forest is the next best thing.
I’m a big fan of his whole look. Exaggerating deer’s natural neck-ruff into a full beard. The bushy eyebrows. The greying pelt and ragged forelimbs. He’s basically just old man Stantler, but in a way that feels just distinct enough that it’s the improvement he always deserved.
Speaking of, great call-out me-from-a-year-ago. A Normal-and-Psychic combo is a great fit for a supernatural deer, co-opting Girafarig‘s type for a more straightforward appeal. He even gets a handy signature move that doubles as offensive and defensive, giving him that air of balance that stories try to impart to sage characters. He even gets two type resistances and two weaknesses, largely neutral compared to most Pokémon. Solid story-and-mechanics integration.
The lower-key element of his design is that Wyrdeer is a greyer, thicker take on Stantler – much like how the Yiko breed of Sika deer are a bit greyer, and with much thicker pelts than the common variety. The Yiko, naturally, are a variant native to Hokkaido – the northern island of Japan that Sinnoh and, by extension, Hisui is based on.
I kind of like the idea of a natively Johto Pokémon becoming older and wiser as it gains experience through broad travel. It ties in especially well with the series’ whole concept, what with sending adolescents off to see the world and hone themselves. Not a perfect match, mind you – it’s hard to imagine even Poké-deer migrating over 20 miles of a straight (if not more), more or less the Pokémon universe’s warped sense of scale. And elective travel is much different than sending not-yet-adults on cross-country road trips through territory teeming with hostile monsters.
But hey, in a world of rose-tinted-glasses, it’s all the same lesson of personal growth, right?
Wyrdeer definitely kicks this line further up the ranks into one of those Pokémon that’s a personal favorite, even if deer aren’t a slam-dunk gotta-have-it creature. All the same, I can see these Pokémon slotting very naturally into any setting with a woodland – that is to say, most of them – and it’s easy to see them now as a regular rotation from Reserve into any game’s roster.
Any and all appreciation for Stantler and Wyrdeer is welcome in the comments!