Y’know, it’s kind of nice to have a first-stage monster who doesn’t fit the “sweet, precious baby” template. Sometimes you just come out angry.
That said, the more I look at him, the more well-balanced Carvanha comes across. That very round body shape almost puts him in the same space as a Cheep Cheep or a Kine for me, just… gnarlier. And those bright, cartoonish colors (including most of his “teeth”?) are just as good at being “preschool crayon colors” as they are vibrant warning signs.
Obviously he’s got the sharp fins and Anime-Patented Angry Triangle Eyes™ to offset this, but without any bulk to back it up, he comes across looking too big for his britches. Yes, actual piranhas are pretty short by fishy standards, but they’re not just a skull short. And with his eyebrows being the same height as his entire head, Carvanha is clearly compensating for his lack of size here.
Which is pretty cute in its own way. Not a sugary-sweet, but a “sure you’re threatening, kiddo” sweet, which I can get behind. And hey – a fish treated as permanently-bloodlusted in cartoons makes perfect sense for both our first Dark-type fish, and for something that evolves into…
If Carvanha is a Cheep Cheep, Sharpedo is a Bullet Bill.
Once again, I’m totally down with this interpretation.
Pokémon was inevitably going to do a shark analogue if it went on long enough, but that’s a double-edged sword – especially since Jaws, people have such a strong mental idea of what a shark looks like that it’s hard to make one too accurate without it feeling obligatory. Just look at how Persian and the Rapidash family are… just a big cat and some horses with embellishments. You can surprise people easily enough with a pangolin or a water-strider; put some stripes on a Great White, though, and it feels obvious.
( As a side note, I’m pretty sure this is why we didn’t get a T-Rex or Velociraptor Pokémon for ages, which I can appreciate. )
What we get instead is a mash-up of everyone’s favorite sea-predator with a submarine torpedo, taking after how naval crews would supposedly paint their ordinance to look like sharks in a bit of fun.
Chopping off the back half of the animal gives it a whole new look; he’s stubby and dense, taking Carvanha’s “short stack” impression and turning it into “tight ball of muscle and cartilage”. Then you have those sleek ballasts on the side of his head with sunken “headlamp” eyes, shaping him up with almost airplane-like fins jutting out the side. Plus, those chunks taken out of his rear fins look a bit too deliberate, like he can bend his otherwise-stiff rudder in specific ways to steer at high speed.
It’s cool and threatening enough – his toothy maw is a dramatic half his entire size – but it doesn’t make him look especially fast despite that being one of his core features. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy the lore that he jets along by essentially farting pressurized gas and water; his body plan just doesn’t have the space for complex organs not devoted to chomping. But hey, despite the occasional Good Zoology, we’re largely operating on cartoon logic here. If the game says this thing will pounce me at highway speeds, I’ll stay clear of that toothy bullet.
Oddly enough, Sharpedo’s tall body shape seems to have a dash of ocean sunfish in it, which notably also have the sandpapery hide common to sharks. That’s mostly a story for another time, but still a fun little connection to a less famous, more mid-tier predator.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sharpedo is explicitly built up as a glass cannon. And since you can deploy your party members very freely in the main game, it can be pretty easy for Sharpedo to punch a hole straight through a type-weak opponent before they can fire back. He doesn’t have the most diverse skills, or a useful passive ability, but gosh-darnit he’s a hammer, and hammers are good at one thing. It sure made him threatening enough in the hands of the mob-boss-pirate Archie.
My favorite bit of favoritism this guy gets, though? In most games, the default animation for traveling across water uses a dark, generic “fish shape” to indicate the player riding astride one of their party members. There are a few exceptions – the Gold, Silver, & Crystal modeling the imagery after Lapras, or a few games having a special model for a Surfing Pikachu, but this is entirely cosmetic.
If you Surf on a Sharpedo in Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, the game actively speeds you up to move at a snappy double-time. A friendly NPC calls this “speed-surfing”, and the game mechanically reflects this by refusing to let you fish off a Sharpedo since “It’s too risky to let go now!”. I’d like to think that this is a direct response to how the original games got flack for over a quarter of its traversable paths being water-based – while keeping the actual map intact, the designers gave players a sneaky way to blast through areas that they might find boring. I love that they tied the solution back into the ecology of the world rather than, say, giving the player a Water Bicycle and calling it a day; it feels like the right way to go for a series that revolves around its creatures.
Speaking of, this line has a really weird lifecycle considering its bases. Piranhas are native to Amazon rivers in real life, whereas sharks are entirely sea-dwelling. Sure enough, the series reflects that both in the text and in the gameplay, with Carvanha found primarily by fishing in rivers and Sharpedo found almost entirely in the open ocean. We even get a sense for the exact river that dumps them out into the ocean in Hoenn. That implies that Carvanha goes from a freshwater fish in adolescence to a saltwater fish when it evolves, which sounds like a shock until you remember that the Lanturn you caught out at sea is perfectly happy to fight for you in a lake or an indoor pool. I guess part of Pokémon’s inherent resilience is that there’s no real divide between freshwater and saltwater species?
Eh, it’s not the biggest leap in evolutionary logic we’ve yet seen, even just for a Water type.
On the one hand, Pokémon is filled to the brim with Water-types already, and it’s hard to think of niches he wouldn’t share with other families. Pokémon even established a default seaborne predator from day one – and a pretty unique one, at that.
On the other: SHARK.
Sharpedo is a solid example of a very popular real-world animal, carries a bit of his own flavor, and even boasts some notable screen-time in the hands of a major series villain. That is to say: he’s on the upper side of middle-of-the-road, and while I think we have more creative monsters working in the same space, I doubt the series would want to totally take him out of Reserve.
Any and all appreciation for Carvanha and Sharpedo is welcome in the comments!