Once you separate it from Rock-type, the Ground-type has given us all sorts of colorful first-evolution scamps who like to play in dirt and sand. Phanpy, Numel, even Diglett – for every bundle of boulders, we seem to get a messy little kiddo.
Trapinch carries this through to the point of being a plush doll, with a head twice the size of its body, a warm orange carapace, and twinkly eyes that won’t stop starting back. He’s solidly cartoony, and honestly a pretty far cry visually from the antlion larvae that he’s based on. And antlion larvae are pretty far removed from the grubs that we usually associate with baby insects, to boot, so he’s all sorts of abstracted.
But honestly, this gets the point across just as well without feeling like another pincer beetle. The whole structure of baby antlions is that they’re about 80% head, with a little stub-legged body to hold it in place while they wait to trap food. Soften up the “insect” designation, and that’s pretty spot-on for Trapinch, a.k.a. “an orange Chain Chomp with a torso”.
Vibrava looks like a wild mutation at first, like it has no business evolving from the round, grounded Trapinch. And yet, that’s exactly what happens with most actual antlion species; they eventually grow into something that looks more like a mayfly or even a dragonfly than the burrowing bugger you might remember from Half-Life 2.
This also doesn’t quite look like a bog-standard dragonfly, either – the bendy legs, eye lenses, and long, segmented body sure do it, but the main feature here is the double-set of kite-like wings, seemingly built more for gliding than flapping. In fact, they mostly look like they’d just make noise – which is his key feature and namesake, so I guess the design is working considering that he’s not formally a Bug-type to begin with.
And I like where that almost-but-not-quite-a-bug idea ends up! The sockets on his back (which presumably fold for “flight mode” and backwards to prevent it from catching wind while perched) are an excellent touch, to be sure. But its thicker feelers and split-digit “hands” feel a little off and almost alien to me, like this is some close relative mimicking an insect. These middle evolutions can get dorky, but there’s a certain charm to that.
Maybe the whole theme of this line is just “unexpected evolution”, given where it ends up. I mean, we didn’t get a literal Dragon out of the other dragonfly Pokémon, so I guess this is their shot at it. And the final stage is where that idea really takes off:
Flygon is one of my favorite Dragons in the series.
He’s kind of got the same body plan as a Charizard, but in a way that feels much less blunt about it, which I generally appreciate. Then he’s got all sorts of fun stripey patterns across his body, fun red outlines on his papery “wings”, and a pair of rear-facing feeler-horns that feel like they’ve been blown back via a speedy dive. He’s less heavy-set, too, and has a fan-shaped “rudder” at the end of his tail that makes him feel much more flightworthy.
And what cinches the deal are his eyes – Flygon definitely has eyeballs in the same way that most animals of that size would, but he also has insect-lenses left over from his pre-evolution. It gives us the impression that he’s wearing organic flight goggles to protect him from desert sand, which is absolutely perfect considering the tradition established by Pokémon like Meowth.
That said, there are some bits on him that are a bit confusing. He’s ditched the insect-legs entirely, but the trade is for two divergent sets of legs. The rear hind-quarters feel like they’re from a rabbit, where the front are clearly raptor-talons – and the two are a bit of a mis-match. I like the heavy back legs for pouncing into a takeoff, but maybe they could get some claws to match what he has up front? Maybe his hands could have a clearer rear-facing digit while we’re at it, to mimic how sand lizards get around.
I don’t so much mind that he has silly feet, though – as cool as it is that this cartoon world puts enough thought into its ecology that I can write essays about it, it’s still ultimately a cartoon world. Sometimes you just get goofy kangaroo legs on a literal-dragonfly (or “sand dragon”, as some species re nicknamed).
And for his goofiness Flygon makes for a swell team member! He’s flat-out immune to two types and has no fewer weaknesses than your average Dragon, plus a well-rounded set of stats including a light emphasis on speed and power. Couple that with a pretty wide offensive movepool, and you’ve got yourself a fighter ready for just about anything the game will throw at it.
Fun thing about those “flight goggles”, though? That’s something that kind of takes place in actual bugs – mostly mantises – where compound eyes reflect and focus light in such a way that they have a dark spot that just looks like a pupil. It’s not quite automimicry, since it doesn’t seem to be deliberate, and nor is it functional. But repurposing an oddity like that purely for thematic purposes sure is square in this series’ strike zone.
Speaking of, Flygon is all about repurposing bits and bobs of bugs, up to and including how many of them “sing” with their wings as a mating call, especially cicadas. This is more or less its moniker – the “Desert Spirit”, so-named for sounding like a sandy siren. And, in turn, that kind of carries on Trapinch’s original design, since its song is used not to attract other Flygon, but to draw in prey and trap them in a sandstorm. Hey, we’ve kinda come full circle!
But that “Desert Spirit” nickname gets warped and twisted until the Pokédex calls it the “Mystic Pokémon”, which it absolutely isn’t – in fact, the only Psychic move he can learn is Rest, and the closest its natural movepool gets to “mystic” is the fact that he’s a dragon. Maybe there’s a stronger folklore connection in there, but if there is, I’m not aware of it.
That said, I’d sure pay good money for an in-universe book of folklore and fairy-tales. You just know this setting has some real humdingers in it, considering just the slight taste we get from places like the Canalave Library.
There’s a very sensible argument that this entire line ought to be Bug-type – what with being inspired by bugs and all – but that puts Flygon in the awkward position where he’d make sense as any of Dragon, Flying, Ground, or Bug-types, and that’s hard to represent from a mechanical perspective. It sure speaks highly of just how much Flygon is doing inside of just one monster.
It also kind of speaks of how broadly the “Flying” type is used – there was some early evidence for it being the “Bird” type in the same way that “Grass” types were sometimes referred to as “Plant” types early on, but even in the first Generation, both were always very broad interpretations. At least there’s a passive ability in Levitate now that gives the idea of flying without tacking on a third type to every Pokémon with the capacity to stay airborne.
But if you want to work your way backwards toward Trapinch and the Naming Corner, its Japanese name is Nuckrar, which is a bit out of left-field until you dig into your draconic lore. It’s likely a play on the Knucker dragon. That one’s admittedly more of a sea-serpent (which we’ve already had at least once), but the more on-message takeaway is that it primarily lives in a bottomless pool, which you can kind of tie back to an antlion-trap. Of course, this being an English dragon, it also flew out and actively stormed the countryside rather than waiting and trapping, but hey – Western dragons aren’t really known in folklore for being passive.
I’m a big fan of these Dragons that aren’t traditional Dragons, and Flygon is just a great example of that on top of feeling very tied to its specific ecosystem. He’s one of the stronger designs of this generation for me personally, and nothing else really feels like he meets the niche; at the very least, he’s much more unique than the headline Dragon from this generation. I’d go so far as to say he’s a Must-Have for any game with a desert environment – though, granted, not all of them have those, so I could see cases where he’s left in Reserve.
Any and all appreciation for Trapinch, Vibrava, and Flygon is welcome in the comments!