Combee, Vespiquen

#415 – Combee

We’ve had a fair few monsters so far that turn inorganic objects into living monsters – we were due for a good switcheroo.

And I do love how Combee captures the sense of bees as a collective organism while also keeping up as such a cute lil’ buggeroo. The single antennae in the middle of those upper faces just delight me so; good on them for taking from the Rolie Polie Olie design book.

There’s just something about the very regular, mathematical shape of a beecomb that also feels absolutely natural that somehow translates incredibly well to being made a cartoon, and so this weird oblong creature with no right to be airborne just looks endearing and misshappen like a toddler rather than awkward and out-of-place. I really dig them.

I keep forgetting they have a thorax, though. Somehow I feel like I might prefer this design without one, making them really look like a Exeggcute-style trio of larva conjoined in their insectoid crib and set free with wings. That little butt sticking out the back both lopsides the design back-to-front and introduces the question of how mature this form is supposed to be. Removing that is the only real constructive feedback I might have, and it’s easy enough not to see that bee-butt from the angles presented in most games, anyway, so no real biggie.

#416 – Vespiquen

Everybody loves Beedrill for great reasons – he’s just a cool design. But if we’re going to keep building an ecology for this world and aim for efficiency in communicating purpose, behavior patterns, lifecycles, and links back to real-world biology? Vespiquen has him beat on every front.

There’s just so much going on. The high abdomen above the giant, beehive / hoop-dress thorax gives off not only a big presence, but also the impression of a regal figure hunched over, scheming on how to manipulate their resources. Especially combined with the giant jewel-centered (and historically-based) headpiece, bright red eyes, and even the mandibles that double as giant sideburns, she just seems like the kind of insect that would usurp a throne or cause a citizen’s uprising with their corruption. And yet her dainty little wings sprouting up from her back seem almost comical, like she’s slapped on a little backpack as an angelic accessory to save her image.

And then you get into her beehive bottom, designed not with a stinger, but with a veritable missle pode of beehive-chambers so you might imagine her firing out underlings as a form fo attack. She doesn’t even need to get at you with those two-clawed, grabby paws on her arms – staring you down and sicking other people on you will keep her own wretched hands clean. Just a great royal bastard, this one.

And a shame she can’t lord it over folk more; what with the rarity of female Combee who might even evolve – not a terrible representation of the colony structure – she really deserves to get a bit more oomph behind her. Unfortunately, Bug/Flying is a known terrible type combination, and between her abysmal speed and subpar health, even her high defenses and unique healing move can’t save her. It’s a shame, since her signature move is strictly one of the better Bug-type attacks in the game, but she just doesn’t really have the typing, stat spread, or passive abilities to make any of her potential “good points” work particuarly well, even in the single-player campaign.

One thing that Vespiquen does give us, however, is another look at inconsistent Pokémon reproduction, considering that two of the major pillars of the franchise – the Adventures manga and the games’ text – both call Vespiquen out as storing young Combee grubs in her massive behive dress.

Which, that’s not that wild – it’s not even the first time we’ve seen the Pokédex explicitly born in non-egg-like ways. But it does stick out all the more when the anime, cards, and manga all double down on the notion that every naturally-occurring Pocket Monster hatches from a uniform sort of avian egg, directly into their most basic evolution. As a video game abstraction, great, we can overlook how weird and divergent animal growth cycles can be. But even with the series’ ridiculously-shaky “nobody’s actually seen a Pokémon lay an egg” dodge of the birds-and-bees topic, that doesn’t solve how Combee grubs exist in a world where Vespiquen lay functional chicken eggs containing a fully-formed brood member.

The other possible take on this is that both are true; that Vespiquen contains multiple ways of reproducing into new Combee – and this isn’t even that far-fetched, as plenty of fungi, plants, and even a few animals – mostly sea invertebrates, a handful of reptiles, and absolutely other colony insects like ants and wasps – are fully capable of both producing young with and without a partner. If we stick with this track, it’s possible that Vespiquen is producing plenty of “worker” Combee on her own, but still reserves the option to lay eggs with partners in the interest of maintaining a diverse genetic pool in the wild, which would be another great way of reinforcing her heirarchy and dominion over Combee.

…or the writers aren’t particualry bugged about sticking to pure internal consistency rather than inventing insteresting scenarios. Take your pick.

I love Combee and Vespiquen as a concept, and they’re even getting more usable with how much easier it is to spot female Combee in the wild for new trainers. It’s just a shame that she can’t back that up with a battle presence; there have been a few fun combinations in the trading-card game featuring Vespiquen that “wield” Combee for attacks, but the core games haven’t capitalized on that in the same way, which make it hard to argue for her as anything more than part of the Pokédex’s Reserve roster.

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