Tuesday, November 6, 2012

58. Growlithe


Pokemon is loaded with dogs. Gen II alone introduced five new ones (Houndours, Snubbulls, and Smeargle) and it was a relatively small generation. Poochyena and Mightyena made the total 9 (hyenas are more closely related to felines, but come on, one's got “pooch” right in the name), and the Lillipup line made it 12. That's not even counting Riolu and Lucario (jackals), Buizel and Floatzel (weasels, otters), Vulpix and Zorua (foxes), and the Eeveelutions and legendary beast trio (ambiguous). Include all those, and you might break 30. Meanwhile, there have only been 8 straight-up cat pokemon. I guess it makes sense, given that dogs are so familiar as companions, that they should see use in a game about superpowered pets. But, while I'm not taking sides as a cat-or-dog person, Game Freak should get its act together and pay more attention to the cat's cultural dominance.

Growlithe is an original, though. And with that feline fur pattern, it bridges the aisle. I think we can all agree that Growlithe is a lovely, well-designed dog-lion-tiger-fire thing, even those of us who begrudge having to train it to level 45 to get Flare Blitz on an Arcanine. Given that it's pretty much the pokemon spokesmodel for animal loyalty, holding out that long is the least a trainer can do. It has good enough stats and battles in style; it's even got a beard and a mohawk, like James Harden.


If you're wondering where Growlithe's cool hybridity comes from, it's based on shisa and shishi and komainu, guardian dog and lion statues that are placed in and around temples and homes. The practice started when the Silk Road introduced Han dynasty China to Asiatic lions from southwest Asia, which came to be used as symbols of power and nobility. At one point in Japan, the lion statue, shishi, would always be paired with a dog statue, komainu, protecting the home in tandem. Eventually the two statues changed until they resembled each other, and were both called komainu. Shisa are another variant of lion-dog originating in Okinawa. The Chinese didn't incorporate dogs, but they did engineer several dog breeds to resemble shishi, and their lions are known as “foo dogs” in the West due to confusion and probably racism. At any rate, it's all very complicated and historical and the thing to take away from this is Growlithe is basically the official pokemon of human cultural evolution.

So, where did the tiger part come from? Well... Bulbapedia asserts the statues look like tigers, which they don't particularly, so I'm guessing it's a case of Game Freak going “What's another cool thing we can work into this pokemon? Tigers??” And they were right to do so, because tigers are better than lions anyway. If I have one complaint about Growlithe, it's that its shiny form is the same gold as 95% of shiny forms, and not white like a Bengal tiger. But they can make it up to me with a Fire/Ice type tiger in the next games. Incidentally, the odds of a Bengal tiger being born with the white colouration is apparently 1 in 15,000, unless you breed them selectively. Are you getting this? It's a real-life shiny pokemon.

Growlithe's sprites all render it very capable looking and fierce, or at least stoic. Action worthy sprites are a thing I appreciate. But I also like a lot of Growlithe's TCG artwork, which in contrast, seems to be trying very hard to convince us that Growlithe is a cutie baby.


I'm especially noticing a predilection for placing it atop or beneath breakfast tables. Look, we get it: Growlithe is domestic as fuck. Personally, I prefer this person's interpretation:


It appears to have a pit bull head as its base, but still looks lithe and feline, with sweet head tufts. Of course, the crazed eyes don't hurt in endearing it to me.

In the anime, most people probably remember Growlithe as Officer Jenny's pokemon, which I want to say is a good thing, Jenny being a good role model for young girls interested in law enforcement and whatnot. But looking back, Jenny is also kind of a ditz (is it just the 4kids voice acting?), endlessly replicated, who can't tell the difference between a Growlithe and an Arcanine. Also I'm not sure why a police officer's uniform needs to include heels and a skirt.

So the best Growlithe appearance was actually in the episode Holy Matrimony!, where it was revealed that James was best friends with a Growlithe in his past. He became estranged from his ultra-rich family for refusing to marry Jessibelle, the beard his parents set him up with. When he's tricked into coming home, Growlie remembers him, escapes his bourgeois prison, saves the day, and howls into the sunset as James departs to continue his criminal career.


The episode was successful because it dealt with real people issues and the emotional bonds we form with animals. Also it proves once again the Pokemon anime would be better if it starred any character besides Ash.

All-around, Growlithe is just a well-done pokemon. I'm glad they brought it back for BW2, and people genuinely seem to like it. It definitely has the highest Google images furry porn quotient of any pokemon I've searched so far. In case you're keeping score at home.

The Winner:
Black and White

It's hard to choose just one, because most of these are good in different ways. Gold and Silver are definitely the scariest looking and have the best mohawks. HG/SS is the most dignified, and FR/LG looks game for anything. The original Gameboy sprites are weirdly smooth and well-shaded, like they're laminated, or actual statues. I like the more realistic take on their eyes: small, dark, and neutral.

But they dial the cuteness up for B/W. It gets a polished cartoon character treatment: big round eyes, proportionately short limbs and a large head. Looks kind of like a dachshund, actually. Maybe that's not the ideal depiction of Growlithe, but I'm feeling victim to my human brain today, which finds round shapes to be friendly and appealing. Side by side, other sprites look kind of crude. You win this time, cute Growlithe. Though I'm not sure I'm a fan of how you're animated.

I know you need to look lively, but I'm pretty sure dogs don't buck in place like horses.

9 comments:

  1. I'm glad to see your updating a little more frequently.

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  2. Not to be a spoilsport, but weasels and otters are definitely NOT canines.

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    1. They're not canines, but Buizel and Floatzel might look like dogs to some people, so I wanted to emphasize their not-dogness.

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  3. I wouldn't count Buizel line (otters/weasels are not dogs. Period.) And only suicune actually looks like a dog xP I'm not a huge fan of this pokemon but whatever :P

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  4. In generation 1 there was only one dog Pokemon. Well, 2, if you count both Growlithe and Arcanine.

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  5. does anyone else hate the back animation of growlithe when you are battling with it on bw2 the tail doesn't move right

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  6. It's worth noting that "shiny" tigers IRL are genetically very bad for the population. They are bred, often with inbreeding/incest and malformations, poor quality of life for the animal, solely for human enjoyment. http://advocacy.britannica.com/blog/advocacy/2010/02/white-tigers-conserving-misery/ Worse, the subspecies of tiger that lives in the snow- the Bengal- is not the species that has this gene, and it doesn't live in year round snow anyway, and the coloration does not change to suit the environmental seasons the way an arctic fox or rabbit does. There is literally no niche for these creatures, and they are taking up resources that would otherwise go to healthy breeding stock. Just because they have a different coat color.

    It would be responsible of you to include this caveat in your article, as "shiny" pokemon have no ill effect, but the underlying attitude towards tigers does!

    In cases like a melanistic (black) jaguars, there is a chance for the animals to survive and breed in the wild, if they are in the deep jungle. But that doesn't mean that we should push the population to exhibit that trait just because we like it, either.

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    Replies
    1. That is very worth noting. Obviously I don't condone breeding endangered animals for luxury, but I wasn't really considering the realities of that when talking about alternate colors in pokemon. I don't edit posts here because I would just want to rewrite the entire blog, but I hope people see your comment.

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