#359 – Absol

A crowd favorite, and for good reason. Very wolf-y and panther-like while not clearly being either, visually-striking color contrast, and just a little bit of a hard edge to him via those claws and talons and horn. The strong mane against a more lean face and body is also a nice bit of duality; he’s just a satisfying, well-balanced design on his own.

In fact, let’s just jump ahead to his laundry-list of influences, because the Taijitu ( the family of symbols including the yin-and-yang one you’re likely familiar with ) is just one of a laundry list of omens and chimeras incorporated into this design, including:

  • The Bai Ze, a beast bearing knowledge of how to overcome supernatural creatures.
  • The hakutaku or kutabe, a related creature who supposedly predicted a plague over Toyama in Japan
  • The Sphinx, with all its ties to the afterlife
  • Death’s scythe (see its head-mounted “horn” and its tail)
  • Superstition around black cats and bad luck
  • The third eye, symbolizing perception beyond traditional sight
  • The lamassu, protective deities in-tune with the celestial
    and, in its occasional Mega Evolution form,
  • Traditional depictions of angels

It’s hard not to think highly of a design that’s pulling around so many influences without looking like an absolute cluttered mess. A lot of that speaks to the fact that humans have a lot of convergent ideas around their higher powers and symbolism for death, sure, but it’s still way more than you would expect of a mammal with a traditional body plan and not much in the way of tacked-on extra bits and markings.

And she’s great in the core gameplay, too, with excellent Attack, only sacrificing a bit of speed to get there. That’s the kind of monster you like having around to absolutely tear through opponents headlong, especially considering she has a healthy set of moves to use it with.

The other half of why he’s so beloved – aside from being a well-groomed, appealing mammal – is that she speaks to basically every teen and pre-teen who’s ever played these games. Poor guy is just misunderstood, both in the vaguely-emo way and the very literal way. It turns out, being able to literally predict disasters earns you a permanent association with them, regardless of whether you’re trying to hurt or just warn people – the latter of which is Absol’s core mission in the games.

The oncologist doesn’t give you cancer, but that doesn’t mean you want to see him.

It’s a family-friendly sort of tragedy, and even dovetails nicely with the modern reclamation of “witch” away from theology and historical discrimination and more toward a lifestyle choice – especially prevalent in the Pokédex entries that call it out as a natural pacifist. Even that oblong horn attached to his forehead has a biological purpose – real animals use similar horns to detect oncoming storms – and isn’t just there to make him look a bit like the stereotype of a demon.

Just enough there to put people off at a glance, but a lot to love when you dig in.

But the thing that I love? Its habitats in the games make for a natural, subtle addition to the storytelling. In most games, Absol is found in one specific place, typically either one where the game’s resident villains will appear in force, or one that was previously ravaged by an ecological disaster. Oddly enough, where these environments are usually deliberately picked for a Pokémon’s debut appearance and less emphasized afterward, the games seem to get more conscious of this as the years go on, reinforcing his contribution to worldbuilding. Must be a studio favorite, too.

Almost everybody loves Absol; she’s been naturally-obtainable in every single game since she was introduced – save for Arceus and a couple of remakes- so it stands to reason that she’ll be a regular for some time – the closest thing I think we’ve had this generation to a Must-Have.

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