Ralts, Kirlia, Gardevoir, Gallade

#280 – Ralts

Cute kid.

It’s a little hard to get a hold on what Ralts is doing – he looks a bit abstract at a glance, to be honest. Which is fine; the series has done “ambiguous mammal” designs in the past, and Psychic is hardly the worst type to get a little weird with.

After looking at him for something like nineteen years now, though, the impression I get is just a nerdy little elementary-school boy. He’s got that permanently-shy expression, the dorky “bowl cut” permanently over his eyes, and even clothes entirely too big for him. The big, red bump on his head may even be a point of embarrassment for the poor tyke.

Don’t worry, bud. It’ll pay off later.

Then again, considering that his green adornment isn’t necessarily hair, I also get a little bit of a “Cerebro” impression from it. Does that bit of body naturally amplify or focus psychic waves toward Ralts’ brain in the same way that a horn or shell can naturally amplify sound, or how a concave lens focuses light?

Fascinating, and rampant speculation based in almost no evidence whatsoever! Which is the name of the game, here, really.

Moving on!

#281 – Kirlia

Kirlia has grown up a bit, and found a bit of footing. He’s clearly a dancer now – specifically a ballerina – with much better posture and a body that seems to at least be the right size for him. He’s even looking us dead in the eye!

Nothing like a growth spurt and finding a creative outlet to give a kid some confidence. I have the weakest opinion of Kirlia of any of his family; she just kind of is what she is to me. But Kirlia makes an ideal stepping-stone to:

#282 – Gardevoir

It’s a long way for Ralts to go, from a little pointdexter up to the big, wispy, graceful creature that lands in a lot of people’s top-ten lists.

And, despite my feelings about other humanoid Pokémon, I’m kind of a fan, too. He’s more on the “Mr. Mime” side of things, where he’s a clear facsimile of a human rather than a badger made to stand upright like one, which makes the design feel a bit more intentional. It even makes sense to give Gardevoir that humanlike shape to help key in on his core theme: “empathy”.

…let’s sidestep the politics of deliberately associating empathy with a more feminine body shape, shall we?

Gardevoir himself just makes for a really satisfying silhouette. It’s almost purely curvy – no, not in that way; look at how his round head leads into draped shoulders and all the way down to the tips of his “ballroom gown” – he just feels light and effortless. His bob cut is more a happy medium between Ralts’ bowl cut and Kirlia’s pigtails, the green inside his dress creates a nice bit of depth, and that red “fin” – seriously, what is that? – leaves him feeling a bit off-kilter. All manner of fey and faeries have odd features like missing limbs or animal parts. From where I sit, the extra bit through his chest just helps solidify him as “not quite human”.

Oh, and let’s double-down on that, beyond how he either elegantly or creepily floats along the ground (we know, and have seen, that Gardevoir has legs folded back into his skirt). Pokémon don’t just wear clothes (well, for the most part) right? Gardevoir’s dress is, of course, made up of his own flesh, dangling down in a horrible facsimile of human clothes, hoping to enthrall others.

…and it’s clearly worked on an awful lot of people. Agruably too well, but hey – you do you.

Anyway, taken in a horror direction or not, Gardevoir is a fun look for a Psychic-Fairy; I see why people are gung-ho about him.

#475 – Gallade

…Gallade, on the other hand, is… okay?

I get what they’re going for here – a “knight” to Gardevoir’s “maiden” (which Gardevoir doesn’t need, anyway; more on that later) – but he just doesn’t have as clear of a through-line for me. Sure, you can liken fencing to ballet or a dance of its own or what have you. He just feels like an unnecessary addition to an already-solid line.

Take his legs, for example. Ralts’ baggy pants turned into a broad tutu and then out into a full gown. For Gallade, that tutu turns into… bellbottoms? This design in general feels clearly retrofitted from a second stage that wasn’t designed to evolve this way. Maybe I’d be more receptive to Gallade if he came with a more sensible middle evolution, but that’s not the world we live in.

And even then, just try and tell me what’s up with his pelvis. Is our guy trying to poop out a flying saucer, here?

I’m taking some pot-shots, but really, I don’t entirely mind Gallade. A Pokémon growing up and physically evolving to mimic human warriors is a neat concept! I just don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense tacked on to Ralts and Kirlia.

Gardevoir and Gallade both have their places – Gardevoir has great Special Attack and okayish speed, where Gallade plays the same game with Physical Attack. Neither are too great at type resistances, and can be a little frail at actually taking hits, but both have solid movepools that open way wide once you have access to some TMs. Surprisingly straightforward for Psychic Fairies, but that’s makes them always welcome on an in-game team.

The big thing about the Ralts line (as it pertains to Gardevoir, at least), is that you get to evolve from a “sensitive” (read: soft-spoken) tyke into a force so emotionally-sensitive that it borders on supernatural. And that’s put to great use as an actual empath, from a preternatural “spidey sense” to sympathetic reactions to Good Vibes passing Bad Vibes onto his opponents. He even opens up to you as you spend time together (“leveling up”), from a lil’ Ralts prone to fleeing to a Gardevoir’s troublingly-stalwart loyalty. We even see a Gardevoir happily tending to a hospital in Twilight Wings – how incredibly useful would it be to have a reliable sensor of how much pain a given patient was feeling?

Oh! Hey! How long has it been since we’ve traveled to The Naming Corner? This time we’re not even going foreign; Kirlia in every language seems to refer to Kirlian Photography.

Kirlian Photography is something of a happy accident, in that electromagnetism interacts in a fun way with the glass-and-silver plates that were used before modern camera film. It’s more-or-less like leaving a leaf or other debris on a glass pane in winter – frost naturally starts to form around the object’s edge, and if you remove the object later, it leaves an imprint in the same general shape, including veins and contours that made contact with the pane. It turns out, small electromagnetic fields can have the same effect on conductive materials like silver. Neat!

And, of course, it’s been interpreted by some as a way to read an object’s “aura” – more or less reproducible spirit photography. Considering how auras are typically depicted in illustration – forming the outline of a person or creature – it’s a pretty natural parallel to draw. A wild extrapolation from something where we know exactly how and why it works, sure, but parapsychologists love it.

But we do get to peck at foreign names with Gardevoir, or Sirnight. Literally “Sir Knight” (or possibly saa / “come”, knight ) – which gives a slightly more masculine edge to the dress-rocking original third stage here. It also makes for a subtler (and, arguably, better for it) take on the “knight Pokémon” schtick that Gallade would later make explicit.

A Pokémon bonded to you, ready to take a hit and serve you as long as he stands? Sounds like a “knight in shining armor” if I’ve ever heard of one. Actual armor or swords be darned; it’s the chivalry and loyalty that makes the theme here.

…arguably. Non-fictional accounts of knights paint them as more so-so. But still! A knight in spirit, as Pokémon tries to paint all trainers’ partners to be.

Definitely a troubling picture to paint, though – whether Pokémon are perfectly willing to fight in captivity is already an uphill argument. Gardevoir – and the similarly-characterized Gallade – adds the ambiguity of a creature that habitually bonds to a “master” and becomes protective to the point of self-destruction. Psychic Pokémon are generally characterized as smart cookies, sure, but I’m not convinced that the panel will buy “Gardevoir actively chooses servitude to humans” as vindicating lore for your monster-fighting game.

The “cute anime creature who loves you very much” trope also gets a lot worse when it’s being attributed to something humanoid rather than, say, a ferret. So, y’know, he’s got that going against him.

…yikes, let’s get out of here before I start to get properly negative about a fan-favorite.

The Gardevoir line has shown up in the wild in darned near every game since they’ve been introduced – aside from being a major feature in everything from Pokken to the trading-card game. The series will almost certainly never get rid of them, and while I think they’ll pop in more often than most, we’ve already seen an instance or two where this family was either hard-to-get or left out of the rotation. As close as he is to a Must-Have, the series itself has asserted that even Gardevoir can stand to be rotated out to the Reserve roster now and again.

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