Torchic, Combusken, Blaziken

#255 – Torchic

Just look at this thing. So perfectly round and soft.

And that’s a real trick to pull off with a character in orange. It’s a bright and aggressive color, and it admittedly doesn’t feel great to look at for too long, but Torchic manages to make it feel fluffy and warm and downright huggable.

She does look a little dopey, with her wide head, spread eyes, and stubby little wings. But hey – actual chicks are the poster child for defenseless baby animals, so it fits. Plus, there’s something endearing about her vulnerability; or maybe that’s a personal fondness for critters that have been simplified down through missing noses and eyes and limbs.

And I do like that while Torchic isn’t literally on fire like her seniors, she still gets a bit of plumage up top that clearly looks like a lil’ cartoony flame. Good compromise to keep the visual theme going.

#256 – Combusken

Get a load of this spicy chicken. She’s got baggy pants, lanky arms, and plenty of sharp points. All the proportions simultaneously yell “be afraid of me!” and point to “this is just a gangly teenager”.

I like how quickly this bird went from “plush” to “pointy” while maintaning like a smooth, sensible transition. She’s still round and orange on the bottom, and her wings are still lighter and frayed. Just changing the proportions from “round” to “long” gives us a way different impression.

Solid middle evolution. Not quite as radical as Grovyle is, but definitely way up there.

#257 – Blaziken

There’s our gal. Powerful legs, dangerous arms, fabulous hair. Even those V-Fins that those cool Gundam kids wear.

I’m biased in her favor, but I still maintain that Blaziken is an excellent Pokémon. Making her so human-shaped lets her feel possibly the most like a “partner” of the starter Pokémon so far as opposed to a powerful pet. Using those scratching claws as her arms lets her use them for wild, sharp swipes while leaving the visual attention on her legs. And just like her Hoenn peers, Blaziken got a signature Blaze Kick to extra-super-for-sure reinforce her motif as a Hot Kickin’ Chicken.

In retrospect, you can kind of get behind the idea that Combusken’s “wings” were just feathery, underdeveloped arms this entire time, and she’s “rolled up” her feathery “sleeves” to better throw fire punches from without singing herself. Then there’s the split feathers about Combusken’s waist, which helps smooth over the transition to Blaziken’s feathery vest.

In that sense, I can buy into how her body has gone from “round” to “basically a human” over the course of three stages. But her face is a total overhaul from how Combusken looked, going from round with a cartoon nib of a beak to a fully angular head with an articulated jaw and wings formed of her hair-feathers.

Ultimately while she’s a very satisfying creature to look at and to see in action, I do wish there was a better visual through-line from Combusken to Blaziken, especially around their head shapes. Maybe Combusken could’ve had a more aggressive, split crest of feathers hinting at Blaziken’s eventual… hair? Though that would’ve taken a bit away from Combusken’s “adorably threatening” look. Maybe pull back Blaziken’s hair into a more rooster-y, flaming comb? It’s a hard problem to solve, and while it’s an imperfect transition, the design team hardly did a poor job here.

Blaziken herself is still an ace.

And that stands for the games, too. Her attack stats are both solidly above average, and she’s got a signature move and a fun secondary type to use it with. She’s also got tons of type advantage – though she needs it to keep up against Hoenn’s Water-heavy environment. Heck, she even holds up remarkably well as a straightforward attacker in competitive play. A lot to love about Blaziken mechanically.

…granted, she is a wholesale bit of visual wordplay on “cockfighting” – her Japanese name Bursyamo even references it explicitly. Blaziken herself leans into the idea hard, being something of a Muay Thai sport-fighter to the point that her official art has her in a flying knee pose. She’s an embodiment of the counter-argument that “Pokémon are consenting participants in sparring matches” – how much that holds up is going to seriously vary from person to person.

She’s also, as a curiosity, an offshoot of an early design that never made it to the final cut of Ruby and Sapphire. Considering what else would eventually take cues from that concept art – as well as an early iteration of Torchic with more obvious “wings” on her head – you start to see various creatures like Horus and Tengu in Blaziken’s bird-man noggin. It’s odd to think of her as an offshoot of a legendary monster, but ultimately that seems to be how she got her start. No wonder she gets preferential treatment in advertising and though smaller cuts like a Mega Evolution.

As a parting observation, Torchic may have the pettiest instance of sexual dimorphism in the series, being a single pixel present on a male’s butt, but not a female’s. This is an actual thing in livestock and egg farming – one of the standard ways to sort chicks by sex is to squeeze each one until they poop just a little, then investigating their butt. The guy chicks will have a little bump, where the chick chicks generally don’t.

By extension, graphic designers have apparently decided that most Torchic you see in the games have just taken a poop, or are otherwise happy flaunting their buttholes at you.

I was made to learn this, and now you have been cursed with this knowledge as well.

…but for a bit of the ol’ Brain Bleach, read one of its old Pokédex entries:

Inside its body is a place where it keeps a small flame. Hug it! It will be as warm as a hot-water bottle.

– Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver

The whole Torchic line is great, and there’s a good reason why Blaziken seems to get some extra-favorite attention from people. I don’t see this line ever going away, but I also get the notion of leaving older starter lines on the bench in new games for the sake of variety. I’d still like to see this set in Reserve on a regular rotation; they’re just too good not to revisit.

Any and all appreciation for Torchic, Combusken, and Blaziken is welcome in the comments!

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