What a perfectly-round child.
Lil’ acorn kid, bumbling around on legless feet and staring up with round, vacant eyes.
She’s functionally a Kirby character, really.
I just adore her as character despite – and because – she’s not really doing a whole lot. The yellow, brown, and grey color scheme gives her a great “earthy” tone, but doesn’t shout “ground-type” at me the way the latter two colors usually do. The feet give her just enough “fantasy critter” energy while letting her still feel like an animated acorn. And having no other facial features or arms lets that intriguing little blank stare stand out all the better.
She’s just a fun little thing to have ambling about the forest floor, and this setting can always do with more of those.
Standout feature: the pointy little nub on her butt. That’s the kind of all-ages joke feature I’m here for.
I don’t know why, but Nuzleaf always looked a bit like a carved wooden doll to me. Maybe it’s the obvious, sketchy proportions – an overly-round head, a simple square body, and mitten-hands, because what lunatic wants to draw individual fingers?
But mostly what it gives us is just “tree kid”, and while she’s not bad, it’s not super-inspiring for me. Still, I think it’s a few details that save her. That long nose on a wooden child? Obviously we’ve got a dash of Pinnochio in there. The “shorts”? Pretty cute, especially with how they balloon out. And the “bandit mask” around her eyes? Another solid lead on this line’s trajectory.
Standout feature: The nipples. Sorry, there’s no way getting around it – this tyke has less business than Val Kilmer making those such a prominent feature. Obviously, body positivity is great – but in this case, it’s getting away from the theme a little bit.
I personally don’t care for Shiftry – she’s just not my style.
But what she has going on is objectively pretty rad.
It’s a pretty seamless integration of a lot of traditional Japanese elements into one critter design, all coming in Tree Flavor. Those leafy hands? Big ol’ fans to hold and wave around with every move. The protrusions under her feet? Wooden geta, built right into her very body. Even her hair brings to mind a long robe, flowing behind her.
And then there’s the mythology element, which I’ll get into in a hot second. But, suffice to say, Shiftry is successfully spinning half a dozen plates here, which you absolutely have to commend.
Standout feature: that chin. THAT CHIN.
Pokémon that evolve from Evolutionary Stones tend to be, at minimum, solidly okay. Shiftry makes good company for them, then – solid attack stats and health, but with okayish speed and not-great defenses. She’s like a glass cannon who doesn’t commit to the “glass” bit enough to be crippled by it, so she also doesn’t exactly get the “cannon” moniker. At least she’s flush with moveset options, making her a solid backup to pick up type advantages your team is otherwise missing.
So, the big inspiration behind Shiftry?
She’s a tengu. Just… not in the way they’re normally shown.
Usually, Tengu are associated with birds – crows in particular – taking a beaked, humanlike form garbed in traditional clothing. And we all know that crows are bad omens.
So what’s a Japanese-coded Dark-type with a long, pointy nose and flappy arms?
Pokémon has always had designs inspired by Yokai, but it’s potentially more blatant here than it’s ever been. Still, by putting the characteristics of a Tengu on an entirely different plant-or-animal base, they’ve arrived at something new that works just as well. Re-interpretation is a great tool for making the familiar feel novel, and one that this series thrives on from cover to cover. Shiftry’s tengu and Ludicolo‘s kappa are shining examples of how far they can take that design tactic.
Side note: most animals – especially herbivores and insects – use camouflage to avoid confrontation entirely. Which Seedot totally does! But it also uses it as a prank, masquerading as a particularly-large acorn until it can jump down and scare passersby. Hubris for such a puntable little goober? Yes. In-character for something that will evolve into a Dark-type? Absolutely.
Also, note that Seedot doesn’t have any mouth. Of course it ingests nutrients from trees using its stem – y’know, like a real acorn seed would – but then it goes on to completely change its digestive system to something humanoid on evolution. It’s not individually weird for Seedot or for Nuzleaf, but can you imagine having to change the mechanics of how you eat food when you turn twelve years old? It’s almost like these creature concepts are built for visual appeal more than for making logical sense.
I think Shiftry is pretty cool in concept. Unfortunately, I personally don’t find her look very appealing, and the series will end up doing both “living tree” and “ninja” archetypes much better in other places. I could see her in Reserve, but with the benefit of hindsight, I’d personally Retire her to make room for some fresh ideas.
Any and all appreciation for Seedot, Nuzleaf, and Shiftry is welcome in the comments!