Torkoal is such a great example of what Pokémon does best: combine three or four vaguely-related ideas into one lovable, somewhat-bizarre creature.
In this case, ceramic tortoises are a staple feature of thrift shops and your great-aunt’s china cabinet. Those ceramics, often of a red clay, need to be baked in a glowing-hot kiln, smoking out all their moisture. And that same technique has been used for ages – like how tortoises are famously long-lived.
Roll that all together, and you have an earthy-red tortoise with her own steaming furnace inside her shell, bearing the eyes of a Shakōkidogū figurine.
Look, I know that single-evolution lines aren’t especially exciting, especially when they’re only of one elemental type. But gosh-darnit, I really like the look of Torkoal. She has a sort of “wise old elder” vibe about her, but more the warm type that spends their days honing a trade or craft than a cranky hermit. Call it a classic, rustic charm, brought on by a color palette that’s muted without feeling boing and those warm, hearth-like indents in her shell.
Whatever it is, I’m here for her.
She’s a bit odd of an odd one in the games, though. No Speed to speak of and average-ish Special Defense and Health means that this tanky tort can get hit surprisingly hard. She’s got a strong arm to hit back with, at least, but without a recovery move, she’s best saved until her chunky Defense can be put to use. Luckily, the main game lets you do that pretty freely, so for most players, she’ll make for a fine Fire-type anchor.
Pokémon has given us a few cases of pure-elemental diets – raw electricity and stray rocks – and those that are almost certainly obscured by folklore, like the Dream Eaters. But Torkoal explicitly fuels its body by burning coal – not eating it, but nigh-constantly combusting it to directly produce energy as heat. While we’ve definitely seen inorganic monsters before, this isn’t one of them; somehow, a creature that (as far as we know) pumps blood is powered by thermodynamics rather than traditional biology.
It’s a delightful curiosity, and one that I can imagine making for either a lovely living hearth or a whole heap of trouble as a house-pet. Then again, if a geriatric couple can have a living puddle of molten goo in their home, it seems like folks have got this well figured out.
That lifestyle also would make Torkoal a naturally-occurring contributor to the global climate crisis, at least in theory. Granted, so are cows and rice in the real world, but Torkoal seems like an egregious example given how he carries a tiny coal-fired power plant with him. Luckily, the Pokémon universe is explicitly eco-conscious, and it seems like they either already solved that problem or never even had it. Yet another reason to dream of living there, I suppose.
I just went over this last week, but it’s kind of hard to justify keeping around yet another member of the “slow, mountain-dwelling fire-type” niche, lovable as Torkoal is. She logically feels like she should trade shifts with Magcargo, though honestly I love to see either when they do pop up. Even when Pokémon is playing the hits, some of them really do need to be in Reserve through no real fault of their own.
Any and all appreciation for Torkoal is welcome in the comments!