Chimchar feels the most “normal” of the Fire-type starters so far, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Maybe it’s because the red-body-orange-belly has become routine at this point, or that we’re just now doubling up on mammal-fire-starters and tripling-up on primate lines, or that the fire-tail is almost explicitly a visual successor to Charmander’s.
Most of my problems with her ultimately boil down to the existence of other monsters, though, because in isolation she’s not that bad. The cheeky nose-grin is cute, the big ears are endearing, and the lanky hunched-over stance sets her apart from other first-forms as they all toddle around. I especially love that cowlick on top of her head, waving upward to give her entire head the silhouette of a will-o-wisp. Good stuff.
Plus, the fire-tail makes for a great G-rated version of her picking something from her butt to throw at baddies, which is honestly a pretty great little bit to have in a kids’ game. The Pokédex claims it to be gas, but c’mon, we all know what we’re thinking of here. I’m not sure how much of the Flaming Dookie Fling we actually saw in the show or games, but it’s certainly how I imagine the fight going, and that’s enough to make me happy with her.
I’m a big fan of the mandrill elements and thick arms that give Monferno a strong element of “chunky, punk-y monkey”. I can too-easily imagine this critter hopping through the jungle, forming monkey gangs and picking fights with things twice her size. You’ve even got a sort of fingerless “biker glove” look to the forearms and hands to help sell that interpretation.
She’s a nice way of bulking Chimchar up a bit, and I personally like her, but compared to the rest of the line I can see why some folks don’t think of her as especially memorable. Epecially considering that Combusken recently had a similar “thick-armed second fighting-fire form” design, Monferno can feel a bit follow-the-leader.
And I do miss the flaming farts already.
Infernape definitely has the strongest theme of the lot, being very definitively a burning-hot martial-arts monkey. That torch on top of her head is what really pushes the line into feeling punchy and unique to me, giving it a much stronger visual identity apart from just “orange monkey with ecoutrements”.
A shame that Monferno couldn’t transition us from the fire-tail to torch-head more gracefully, but I guess it’s hard to incorporate a firey core into a visual design, and a fire-collar may have been a bit much. For that matter, as much as the tail-flame was a sticking point, it’s a shame to lose that element for something so plain. It could really stand to be a bit more rough-and-tumble like the rest of the body, with frayed, agitated fur. As-is, a rounded tail feels a bit tacked-on.
The last note I have is on the contrast between her youthful face and white fur – the latter wants me to think of her as a wizened old monkey-master, but that cheeky face and strong brow are a lot more picking-a-fight. It’s almost like she’s a young monkey trying to imitate a much older and more skilled one, and I don’t know if that’s the intent here, but it does make for an interesting “too big for their britches” character.
She’s a really fun glass cannon in the games, too; great speed, balanced attacks, a strong movepool, and a surprising range of type coverage and resistance. Really the limitation on this gal is that the standard four-move limit isn’t enough to cover everything great in her toolkit. If you can muscle past the first gym – easier in the remakes than ever – then she’ll set you up for a comfortable run of the campaign.
Between her supposed mountainous habitat, the gold embellishments on her hands and joints, and the whole fighting-type-monkey gimmick, it’s hard to see this as anything other than a whole-animal reference to Sun Wukong, the Monkey King of Journey to the West. We’ve seen a lot of mythological inspiration so far, but much less from literature, especially less directly.
The edge of that comes off a bit when you consider that Sun Wukong is, in turn, inspired by Hóu Quán (Monkey Kung Fu) and folk legends surrounding mountainous gibbons. Add onto that the Vanara – a race of monkey-folk in Hindu mythology – and we start to see a theme emerging when you place him next to the simiarly Chinese-Hindu-inspired world-turtle Torterra.
Hopefully that follows through to a fun mythically-inspired Water-type starter!
These three make a fun fire-type starter line, and while we’re starting to get into a comfortable groove with how they’re packaged and presented, the whole Chimchar family is a pretty solid entry. Not enough to bust them out to premier status, but certainly enough that they sit comfortably in Reserve until the series circles back to Sinnoh.
Any and all appreciation for Chimchar, Monferno, and Infernape is welcome in the comments!