In fact, if I hadn’t watched Digimon a just a few years before the Hoenn generation came around, this thing would be so alien I wouldn’t know where to place it. That does seem to be more-or-less the point, given that these are certainly meant to be Dogū, a series of buried Japanese artifacts that archeologists still can’t fully place.
Still, I love how its mystery comes across at a glance in how it’s about half of what we expect a humanoid figure to be. Very abstracted arms, a sphere-head with just eyeballs, and anything below the waist gone. In fact, these are one of the species explicitly made by man – a concept that feels bizarre to me, like Pokémon” is a more arbitrary designation in-universe than one based on shared biology. Were early humans trying to create Pokémon explicitly in their own image, then?
Either way, they’re just a little weirdo who looks like they belong in your great-aunt’s curio cabinet, which is honestly a great look for a Psychic-type.
…and Claydol has gone fully off the “bizarre” end of the scale. An entire ring of eyes around a head that looks either like a turnip or an air diffuser. Yet more eyes in the form of false patterns across its body. A pair of arms that rotate around its torso, held aloft by a supernatural power – possibly a reference to how the Dogū are often found with parts broken off. And what are those “beaks” between each of its alternating open-and-closed peepers?
It’s toeing the line between “unfamiliar antiquity” and “straight-up alien”, and that lands it squarely in the “proper enigma” camp. Not quite knowing where to place it gives it that haunted, supernatural quality that might make this a Ghost- as much as a Psychic-type. Of course, things like ESP get conflated with both, so frankly it’s surprising to me that we don’t see more explicit crossover between the two.
Unfortunately, Claydol is a slower, more defensive Pokémon than most – great for stalling for time while you root around for potions, but a little less exciting for plowing through NPCs, even if it does have a ton of utility moves. Except, of course, for the fact that Claydol is weak to some of the most common types in the game. It’s not that Claydol is a mediocre Pokémon by any stretch – it’s just that its style shines in the more tactical competitive and Battle Tower modes as opposed to the main campaign.
So, at lack of any more concrete evidence, let’s look at two of the more prevalent schools of thought around the Dogū and apply them back to Pokémon, because writing headcanon in-line is a big part of what we do here:
Theory 1: Medicine. The prevailing theory is that these are clay effigies of people, used either in shamanistic worship or to “absorb” ill afflictions like reverse-voodoo dolls. It falls in line with how similar idols were used in other countries, and that kind of reverence matches up with how fellow Psychic-type Xatu is treated as something of a soothsayer. A pretty safe bet for how the designers probably intend Baltoy and Claydol to bee interpreted.
Theory 2: Celestial. There’s a counter-theory – charitably described as “crackpot” – linking these figurines to modern astronauts, between their chunkier silhouettes and their bulbous heads that appear to be wearing goggles maybe if you squint a bit. But this series has a vibrant history with the theory that Pokémon are of extraterrestrial origin, and many of Claydol’s Pokédex entries are happy to oblige, supposing that the species was animated by exposure to “a mysterious ray of light”.
I’m not saying space-lasers here, but I’m also not not saying space-lasers, especially after Alola:
The ancient people who made it apparently modeled it after something that descended from the sky.– Pokémon Ultra Moon
And, a last bit of fun: Claydol are based on clay figures – fancy that – but apparently haven’t been baked at any point in their life, which is what lets actual clayware stick together. Instead, it seems to holds itself together with pure psychic power, considering that it has to seek shelter and create a warding barrier around itself at the first sight of rain, lest it should melt away.
Heaven forbid you should let yours get knocked out.
In short, hot dang is this exactly the kind of inventive, oddball design that makes for a compelling creature. I have no idea what these things are, Game Freak seems disinterested in a concrete answer, and that air of mystery is what makes me want to go exploring. It’s a shame that these things are already more-or-less in Reserve given how often they don’t turn up, but they definitely have some mileage in them yet.
Any and all appreciation for Baltoy and Claydol is welcome in the comments!