Duskull might be the closest thing we have yet to the “floating sheet” ghost (aside from possibly that one non-ghost), but much like their treatment of prehistoric critters, the designers refuse to go with just the basic route as of yet.
That skull mask up front is the central element here, and I’ve always kind of liked the festival-mask aesthetic on this ‘mon. It feels like she’s a little child spirit playing at being something spookier than he really is, which is a different and benign take on the “mischievous specter” that I really dig. Add onto that the playful little curl of “hair” and the crossbones-graphic on her back, and this is definitely a monster taking on a punkish look more than actually being an aggressive punk.
But then there’s the deliberate folds in her cloak-body, which to me look like she’s hunched forward with her hands behind her back. It’s a quintessential “granny” pose in and around anime, and it creates a fun little contrast between old, dying imagery and her more playful elements.
Plus, that creepy little ghost-light eye, moving back and forth – it’s hard to tell in the key art and the pixel art, but there’s only one little light in there, wavering back and forth to stare at you through only one “eye socket” at a time. We’ve covered onibi as ghost lights before, but there are also hitodama in folklore that serve a similar purpose – though without so much fire and aggression attached. Appropriate for a more playful sprout of a ghost.
This thing never quite struck me as “right”, and honestly I’m down for that in a ghost. It has that traditional cyclops look, kinda – that one eye on a chunky body – but after that things get messy. Two elephant-y legs tacked on to an egg-shaped head-and-torso combo? The three skull-mask teeth having fused into her body for the worst overbite of all time? Hands that seem to be attached at the hip joints? And what’s going on with her pigtails?
Dusclops is a visual mess. Turns out, so are tons of haunted creatures and horror monsters; I can deal with one in my Pokémon if it still has this sort of doofy charm about it. I mean, the guy still has that childish cowlick up top, but now it’s developed into a full soft-serve wisp up there. Cute.
The only thing I might even change about her is that a solid eye feels oddly rigid – creepy, sure, but not in the same way that Duskull was. I was prepared for that thing to rattle around in unsettling ways, but maybe that would’ve been too much for the kiddos.
There are plenty of one-eyed yokai floating around, but between the odd horizontal folds on her body and her ovulid shape, I’m choosing to believe that it’s intended to call back to a haunted festival lantern. Well, that and because it follows more cleanly from the hitodama angle, and hey – even Remoraid and Octillery have a thematic through-line to their dramatic evolutionary changes.
This line seems to be low-key based on spectral lighting so far, but in a way that I don’t think non-Japanese players would likely pick up on if they’re not incessantly researching these things for Internet Content reasons. That’s not out of line with the Ghost type in general so far, though; it should be the least surprising thing in the world that a type based on the supernatural would have pretty heavy roots in the designers’ culture. Apologies if I ever get any of these wrong; things by definition get lost in translation when you’re dealing with imported stories.
Well, there goes that.
It’s harder to put a finger on what Dusknoir is supposed to be; maybe an idol used as a spirit medium, given the deliberate markings and its Pokédex entries mentioning it as a conduit for voices from the afterlife. There’s even a golem-like element where Dusknoir commanded to take the souls of the departed, a semi-corporeal body living out the will of the incorporeal. That kind of falls apart on scrutiny, though – few idols or golems would have an apparent face on their torso, fewer still would be related to ghosts and spirits, and none that I can tell that retain their “true” head.
Oh, and we’ve gone from zero, to two, to zero legs again? I appreciate that Dusknoir’s eye is zipping about loose like a Zaku’s, at least, but the change from a lantern-mummy-cyclops monster to a chimeric spirit box doesn’t do it so much for me. Other Pokémon with after-the-fact evolutions can admittedly have a bit of a disconnect across generations, but I think this stands out even among those, despite not adding anything so silly as hot-rod flames and a cannon arm.
The most apparent through-line at a glance is that this family starts basic, with a child playing with a theme, and the results get steadily more derranged as it goes. After the chimeric Dusclops, having two “heads”, one of which emerges from a ring of protrusions that look suspiciously like its younger forms’ “teeth”, is in and of itself pretty wackadoo before you drag in its oddly-cylindrical noggin shape and the inorganic antenna up top. Come to think of it, its main eye socket is placed and shaped oddly like that head’s mouth, which arguably makes her peer out at you from inside of a creepy grin. Man, this ‘mon should hang out with Krumm.
And possibly on a team, too. Her defensive stats are wicked-high to offset low HP, which should make her easy to keep healthy, with great attack (and varied attack options) despite a painful, sluggish speed. The main sticking point here is whether you can evolve her all the way, since getting hold of a Reaper Cloth and a trading partner to evolve her can be such a crapshoot. Luckily Legends Arceus made both easier, but it’s still a bit uphill to get yourself a Dusknoir within the main campaign.
I think the saving thread for this family that keeps them together is buried in the Pokédex entries. After evolving from Duskull, where you can literally see the void inside her cloak, we get Dusclops, said to wander at night and consume souls. Which, sure, tall tales, it’s always a toss-up whether these Pokémon are actually dealing in spectral forces. But it is backed up by the fact that there’s… nothing inside Dusclops.
Like the mummy she poses as, arms outstretched, or the paper lantern yokai she draws from, Dusclops is literally an animated cloth shell, shambling about and consuming things into the void of her body, where they fade and seemingly never return. Then you get Dusknoir from there, who we’re told can use that second mouth on her torso to swallow you whole and spit your soulless corpse back out.
And it’s really cool to have a Pokémon where being literally and spiritually hollow is the main theme, it really is! My hang-up is that it just doesn’t come across at all visually; it’s possible I’ve blanked on the relevant episodes of the anime or chapters of the manga, but without those I don’t think we’re really given a clear enough picture about these guys’ gimmick. I suspect that’s going to happen more over time, since with more critters each can get less screen time, so those whose lore doesn’t shine through in gameplay are at a disadvantage.
It’s a shame, since Mt. Pyre seems like a great place to tell some folklore about Dusclops in particular, but the main time you see them seems to be with Phoebe, divorced of their natural context. Well, all the more reason to pore over those ‘dex entries so we don’t miss things like this.
Duskull may be a cute little perfect plush-doll of a monster – this series’ absolute strike zone – but the family just isn’t clear enough about what it wants to be for me. It might be a lack of the right context, or just being lukewarm on ghosts, but I’d just as easily put them in Reserve, hopefully pulling them back out to tell a story that makes their themes more apparent. Sorry, it’s just hard to get jazzed about mono-type Pokémon without a crystal-clear identity.