The fact that I have found the time to sit down and write an article in between my day job and my tireless hours of Pokémon hunting is cause for a celebration. Like most people, Pokémon GO has quickly replaced Candy Crush and Instagram as the most important app on my phone. As a child of the 1990s, Pokémon played a huge part in my childhood (POKEMON: THE FIRST MOVIE-MEWTWO STRIKES BACK was the first movie to make me cry in a theater) so it’s only logical that Pokémon GO would spark such an immediate obsession. I don’t need to catch ‘em all, but there’s no way in hell I’m stopping until my Haunter has licked the competition and taken over the Taco Bell down the street that doubles as a Pokémon gym.
Pokémon has borrowed a lot of pop culture references as inspiration for their monsters (Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan are fighting Pokémon named after Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, respectively), but in a world of bug, dark, dragon, electric, fairy, fighting, fire, flying, grsss, ground, ice, poison, psychic, rock, steel, water, and ghost types, there are bound to be some real life monsters to inspire these pocket-size companions. Here are ten pretty unsettling inspirations for some of our beloved Pokémon.
This diamond-eyed, mudkip-looking monster’s origins lie in the Kelly-Hopkinsville extra-terrestrial encounter out of Kentucky. Commonly known as the Hopkinsville Goblin, this alien creature was described as having pointy ears, bright glowing eyes, and a slender frame. The Sableye also imitates the swayed hip movements of the Hopkinsville Goblin as reported by “eyewitness” accounts, making it hard to ignore the similarities between the two mythological monsters.
This dark blue ghost type Pokémon can easily be mistaken as a floating head, because that’s precisely what inspired the character. Japanese mythology speaks of a “Nukekubi” which is a female creature with human features that has a detachable head that can fly through the air. The Nukekubi are known to scream throughout the night as a means to frighten those around them. Misdreavus is also a screech Pokémon, leading many to believe that the mythological creature “The Banshee” is also a source for her character development. Additionally, Misdreavus boasts an amulet around the lower half of their body that turns fear into nutrition, meaning, this Pokémon literally feeds on fear.
While based in Japan, Pokémon creators borrowed from other cultures to create their monsters. Zapdos is a legendary Pokémon based on the Native American legend of the thunderbird. The spirit of thunder, lightning, and rain, thunderbirds were believed to be so powerful, that the sound of thunder was merely the sound of their wings flapping in the sky. Zapdos is an extremely large bird with electric powers, almost as if the creature is the true source of storms.
This Pokémon looks a bit like a piñata, but its origins lie in the Japanese creatures known as Chochin-obake’s or “lantern spooks.” The Dusclops is literally a haunted paper lantern. With their all-seeing one eye and protruding tongues, Chochin-obake creatures do not wish to cause harm, simply to cause mischief and scare humans. As they were once a tool, the Chocin-obake are desperate to be used by humans (males in particular) which have some unsettling sexual folklore attached to them. There are some that believe the Chochin-obake created from negative feelings will appear with a faint light, rather than a bright flame like those created with positive feelings. Since the Chochin-obake are so desperate to be used by men, those that aren’t given any attention due to their faint lights will supposedly attack and rape men every night unless they use them to illuminate the darkness.
This doofy looking catfish monster may look friendly, but its origins would shake anyone in California to the core. Whiscash (whiskered catfish) is based on the Edo time-period Japanese legend of the Onamazu. This giant catfish was strong enough to trigger earthquakes. This legend has remained so vital to Japanese culture that even the Earthquake Early Warning signs in Japan depict a giant catfish as the symbol for “take cover, shit’s about to go down.”
This lass of frost is an alluring ice type Pokémon known for her deceptive charms. Froslass’s rounded features make her appear harmless, but her origins lie within the sinister legends of the Yukinko. Much like the sirens of Homer’s Odyssey, the Yukinko are seductive women that lure men to their deaths. She entraps her victims with icy breath or by leading them into inescapable blizzards. The Yukinko are also known to kidnap children and consume the blood of their victims. While Froslass may not be quite so graphic, these macabre origins definitely cause an eye-brow raise before challenging her to battle.
A “sneaky-weasel” as it’s named, this cat-like creature has sickles at the ends of its limbs. In Japan, weasels are believed to be “evil” the same way Western cultures may fear a black cat. This slick monster seems be inspired by the Kamaitachi, a dust devil riding weasel monster with sickles for claws. The mythology states that Kamaitachi come in a trinity – one to take you down, one to cut your flesh, and one to sew you up and hide the evidence. This horrifying trinity is arguably represented by the three feathers on the back of the Sneasel’s body.
Any fan of Naruto is aware of the heavy presence and power of fox type creatures in Japanese mythology. This ghost-like fox with red eyes and nine tails finds its origins in the cat o’ nine tails weapon often used in corporal punishments and the Japanese legend of the Kitsune. Kitsune are shape-shifting spirits able to disguise themselves as humans, or even inhabit a human host while growing a new tail every 100 years. Once the spirit has reached its ninth tail, it is said that they’re red fur will shift to white and they will possess god-like qualities of infinite wisdom. Demon foxes with infinite wisdom? No thanks.
Often presented as some of the less threatening Pokémon, (and one of the most common to find in Pokémon GO) this tapir looking monster is based on the Chinese & Japanese myth of the Baku, a creature that eats the bad dreams of sleeping people. According to legend, the creature was created with all of the leftover parts after the gods were done creating the rest of the animal kingdom. A Baku will come into the room of a sleeping child and devour a bad dream, ensuring a child will have a peaceful night’s sleep. However, if a Baku is still hungry after eating a nightmare, he will continue to feed and eat the hopes and dreams of the child.
This cute little creature may look harmless from the front, but the back of their head boasts a horrifying alligator-like creature ready to rip you to shreds. The combination of “maw” and “wile” translates to “mouth of voracious animal” and a trick intended to deceive or ensare. The Mawile’s name roughly means, “Tricked you! Look at this scary ass mouth on the back of my head!” Edward Mordrake may be the first thing we think of in Western civilizations as an inspiration, but the Japanese have a folklore tale of a Futakuchi-onnna, or a woman with a second mouth hidden on her head. The legend tells of a famer who loved how little his wife ate, but found his grain supply was strangely disappearing. One night, he discovers his wife sound asleep…with her hair acting like tendrils and feeding a second mouth on the back of her head.
And a special shout out to Carnivine — a giant, flying Audrey II from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.
*All Photos: Pokemon USA