Wednesday, February 20, 2013

61. Poliwhirl


So many Polies! Poliwhirl is one of the few pokemon to get a different sprite in Emerald than it had in Ruby and Sapphire, and as you can see, it's due to the design shift from fingered gloves to mittens.


D'you ever wonder why Poliwhirl is always like... wearing gloves...? It's a cartoon tradition, from Mickey Mouse and Looney Toons characters, to Itchy & Scratchy and the Animaniacs. Originally they were meant to catch the eye and stand out from the characters' bodies in black and white cartoons. Video game characters don them for largely promotional reasons: Sonic the Hedgehog was consciously designed as a cartoon mascot that would appeal to Americans; Mario wore them in box art, but his sprites didn't have the palette for distinctly white gloves until Super Mario World. With Poliwhirl, though, you could argue the purpose is practical: its gameboy sprites were, after all, black and white. Their hands wouldn't come across quite as well without those gloves.
...Actually those look kind of cool!

As for the Great Mittening: like most abrupt changes in pokemon design, the anime is to blame. Anime Poliwhirl always wore boxing gloves, also seen in its Yellow sprite—I'm guessing because they're easier to draw, help distinguish Poliwhirl from the visually similar Poliwrath, and hint at its near future as a fighting type. Interestingly, Poliwrath has always had fingers, probably because they're more menacing, when you think about it. Cartoon boxing gloves are cute and round! Fingers can grab you! Plus, it's easier to see mittens “evolving” into a more complex shape, than vice-versa.

If you want to reconcile Poliwhirl's old depictions with its new ones in the pokemon world, I suggest that all Poliwhirls in fact have fingers, and some just prefer wearing mittens! It's a free country. Though this raises the issue of pokemon wearing clothing—where does Poliwhirl get the gloves? Does Tyrogue just hatch out of its egg with pants and bandages? Are Sylveon's bows made of flesh? Let us think on this.

Surprisingly, this isn't the first time Poliwhirl's design has been tweaked, as we can see from its concept art:


Now, it's easy to see why they didn't run with the idea of Poliwhirl's skeleton being visible through its skin. It would have been very difficult to depict with gameboy graphics, for instance. That being said, oh my god. Its skeleton could have been visible through its skin. You have no idea how much I've always wanted a skeletal or undead pokemon – they have pokemon described as actual ghosts, they have pokemon that wear and wield bones, so why not? Poliwhirl could have been the Skeleton Frog pokemon. And it would have made perfect sense – Poliwag has guts showing through its skin, so as the tadpole develops Poliwhirl would display skeletal structure and Poliwrath would display musculature! The anatomy pokemon!

But it wasn't to be. They at least left us with some very cool and descriptive Pokedex entries, like this one from Gold which has become the entry à la mode: “The spiral pattern on its belly subtly undulates. Staring at it gradually causes drowsiness.” First of all, it's cool how the Poliwhirl family really learns Hypnosis in-game; Game Freak is good about actually looking at their own designs for move set inspiration. Second of all, let's appreciate how Poliwhirl's body is constantly undulating and will make you feel funny just for looking at it. It's the original Hypnotoad.

And it's hard to say modern Poliwhirl has done poorly for its opaque self. It's a fantastically successful design, really. All circles and swirls! For a while it may have had a shot at being the de facto pokemon mascot; it was Red's signature pokemon in the manga, and a team member for Gold as well. It had a spot on the logo for Pokemon Center Tokyo. And then there was this, one of my favourite images in pokemon history:


This is Poliwhirl's defining moment. The star of the show, framed by a cosmic aura, with its hypnotic spiral and expressionless eyes, jumping off the page in magazine stands in every town in America! No wonder the cover line expresses threat and alarm! How could a child not be corrupted by pokemon, after seeing this?

It was a wise editorial decision on TIME's part, as Poliwhirl has the most eye-catching stomach in the universe, and its central positioning on that cover takes advantage of that. Sadly, Poliwhirl's star has faded these days, while Pikachu is still on top. Personally, I blame oral bias; Poliwhirl doesn't have a mouth, while Pikachu does, and that gives the mouse more opportunity to look like a happy mugging doofus. Y'know, something we relate to.

That's not to say Poliwhirl can't be expressive! It gives fistbumps! Adorns babies! Looks contemplative! Has ideas! Inspires costumes and eye-makeup! Takes punches! Invents poses! And holds unpopular opinions about music! But it's not part of the anime anymore, and BW2 buried it underwater (when c'mon, it's like the amphibious pokemon). Froakie is set to overshadow it as the first frog starter. So it's seemingly doomed to be appreciated by only us old-timers. And that's okay. If you're discussing favourite pokemon with someone and Poliwhirl comes up, you know to give that person props!

The Winner:
Red and Blue

I like this one for its loose and stylish lines. It looks like a Rayman character. And it's got that clenched fist of determination.

Gold through Crystal are really good too, well posed and shaded as usual. I like whatever D/P is doing. But both it and the B/W sprite look kind of flat. B/W is one of the ones that looks better animated, though, where it's allowed to get all squishy. There's even squash and stretch on its feet!

Until next time!

41 comments:

  1. FINALLY! I check like... daily for updates @_@

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  2. I do too! I'd hate to forget about these posts.

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  3. Welcome back! The change to gloves from fingers blew my mind.

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  4. I can honestly say that I'm one of the people who comes here EVERY day to check for a new post. When I saw this two days ago I was ecstatic. Keep it up!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I worry that having comment screening turned off will make spam a regular thing here, but this one's too poetic to delete

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  6. This is my favourite post of yours, haha. I can't believe I'm agreeing on all your points, for as much as I love this blog, I often favour the Red/Blue/Green sprites and despise the newer ones.

    I hope you keep updating, I can't wait for the next post. =] Do you plan on doing the first 151 or all of them?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Can't wait for the next one ^.^

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  8. i'm wondering if you'll keep doing this on generation 2 pokemon, and generation 3 pokemon, and generation 4 pokemon and so on. maybe once you get to the next generations you should show gender differences!!! :D or something.

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  9. I know that in the beginning you said you were only doing Kanto (the origninal 151). However, Jotho had a few asthetic masterpieces, such as Piloswine, Wooper, and Magcargo. You've still got almost 100 pokemon to go for your original goal, so obviously you have a while to make the decision, but if you don't want to do another generation, can you at least pick out some of the more interesting ones (such as the aforementioned wonders)? I realize that the person above me said essentially the same thing, but they weren't as clear. Plus, they wanted you you to go into Hoenn and Sinnoh, which would probably be the end of your sanity and enthusiasm as we know it.
    No Weedles on the BED!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm very open to continuing into the Johto dex, since Gold and Silver were my favorite games and they provided a lot of original sprites, which still have an old-timey appeal. But at my current pace I will literally not live long enough to get there, so first thing's first.

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    2. The problem is you'll have fewer and fewer sprites to compare, until there aren't any more! Well, maybe they'll do another sprite-based game for retro appeal someday.

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  10. Baby come back... You can blame it all on me..

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    1. I was wrong and I just can't live without you...

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  11. Nooooo, the dreaded day finally arrived! I started reading this blog a month or so ago, and now I finally reached its last post.

    Great blog. I had the best time reading it. Keep up the good work!

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  16. What I don't get is that poliwhirl's sprite for Crystal is based off Silver's, but in a different color pallet GET YOUR COLORS STRIGHT NINTENDO! I also liked the poliwirl with no gloves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I ment different color pallet. Get...

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    2. The third versions seem to like adjusting the color palettes. Personally I like how they dialed it back to a murkier shade of blue for that one. I also like how they made its body a little larger, except that makes its hand appear not to stick out as far.

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  17. The only water type Pokémon better than the polis is this evolutionary family:
    Shiny Polis.
    You are most likely thinking: "those ARE the Polis!" Yes, that's correct, but these are shiny.
    There was suspossed to be imiges of turquise polis, but there can't be imiges in comments for some reason.

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  18. Is this blog dead? 0.o

    ReplyDelete
  19. Please post more :(

    ReplyDelete
  20. Give it up everyone, he isn't coming back.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Aw, c'mon man! Don't abandon this blog! A lot of people like reading it!

    ReplyDelete
  22. He's always updated this blog very sporadically guys.

    I'm pretty sure this isn't even his longest hiatus.

    ReplyDelete
  23. You know, eventually everyone is just gonna stop checking for updates. :/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True true! Come back!!!

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  24. C'mon, man, don't kill your blog ; A;

    ReplyDelete
  25. Come back!!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Still no return :(

    ReplyDelete
  27. I sent him an email and he said he's just too swamped with real world stuff to update the blog right now.

    He plans to resume updating sometime in the future, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well then I, for one, will be waiting eagerly!

      Delete
    2. I hope so. I miss this blog. :(

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  28. One day, I will load this page and be greeted with the hard gaze of a Poliwrath. Until that day...'till all are one

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Some year we will load this page and be greeted with the hard squint of an Abra.

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