After entirely too long of a hiatus, I'm back doing these out of boredom. I'm not sure, but I think this might be the longest yet.
#227 Houndour & #228 Houndoom This is a fine example of an origin of a Pokemon not being too difficult to tell. The Houndoom family is based on the common fantasy trope of a hellhound. Neat and simple, right? Well, this is one of those cases with fantasy monsters, similar to dragons and cockatrices, that, while everyone knows they are from the Medieval period, very few people could cite specific examples. Sometimes you'll see people cite generic “bestiaries”, but due to the few of those that survive, and the rarity of those that do survive, that can be a tad difficult to verify. However, wonderful inventions such as the internet make this sort of research much more possible. So, without further adieu, let us delve in to the history of this perennial fantasy monster.
The most obvious forefathers of the 'hellhound' can be found in Greek mythology. This particular mutt, spawn of the mother of all monsters Echidna, is Cerberus, or, to use the Greek, Kerberos. Cerberus is the three-headed hound that guards the gates of Hades, Tartarus or whatever word you wish to ascribe to the Greek underworld. Cerberus is described as a large hound with three heads, which either represent the past, present and future or birth, youth and old age. The beast preferred live meat to dead, explaining how it could let the souls of the dead be. But once you wandered through the gates, and were 'alive' again.... chomp.
Cerberus was part of the Final Labor of Hercules to redeem himself for the (accidental) murder of his wife. In particular, his final task was too overpower the Cerberus without using weapons. Hercules just straight up went to the owner of Cerberus, his uncle Hades, and asked if he could use it for the task. Hades said sure, as long as Herc could beat it up unarmed. Hercules, being the meat head he is in the original myths, proceeded to do so. The king who ordered Herc to do the tasks was so surprised and scared when Herc dragged the big mutt back to the palace he proceeded to jump into a big water jug, all comedy style.
One other example of a hellhound of that sort can be found readily in mythology, this time Norse. The goddess Hel, goddess of the underworld, has a bloodstained hellhound named Garm or Garmr that stands guard at her gates. It is said that during Ragnarok, the end times, Garm's chains will break and he will fight Tyr, god of war.
However, most of our concept of 'hell hounds' come not from ancient myth but from folklore that is not quite as ancient. In particular, a mostly British folkloric creature called a Black Dog. If you've read the third Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, you'll probably remember this uniquely English sort of spook.
Black Dogs generally have the same description across the various tellings: Big, black dog with glowing eyes that haunts crossroads, ancient pathways or places of execution. They are generally held as portents of death. In other words, if you're unlucky enough to see one, you're doomed. In general, the dogs are assumed to be explicitly malevolent. In short, they are pretty bad guys.
The sheer amount of Black Dogs the British Isles hold are rather impressive and they go way, way back. The oldest written accounts of them are believed to be Walter Map's De Nugis Curianium (1190) and the Welsh myth cycle of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi (ca. 10th–13th century). The latter holds an account of the Cŵn Annwn, which reads like a prototype of Black Dogs. Big, black hounds that serve the underworld of Annwn. They were said to escort the souls of the dead to their resting place, although other myths say that their howls foretold death to anyone unlucky enough to hear them. This particular dog may also be the origin of the term Hellhound, as early Christians dubbed them Hell's Hounds.
Another major Black Dog is the Black Shuck. This particular beastie hails from Great Britain, and in particular is said to roam Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex coastlines. It has the familiar physique of a Black Dog, save for its saucer sized green eyes and the intereting note that some accounts have it as big as a horse. Its unusual name may come from either an ancient local term for shaggy or the Old English scucca, meaning demon.
Unlike other Black Dogs, the Shuck is outright well documented. Sightings of it continue to this day, though it's became more of a Cryptid than a Psychopomp at this point. One particularly insane account, wrote down by the Reverend Abraham Fleming in 1577, holds that it broke into a churches of of Bungay and Blythburgh in Suffolk, outright murdered the parishioners inside and, upon leaving, left scorch marks on the doors. In what little research I did for this, this was the only real example of a hellhound with fire I could find. This seems to be a well remembered 'event', however, as it was commemorated in verse:
All down the church in midst of fire, the hellish monster flew, and, passing onward to the quire, he many people slew. In short, hellhounds have a long, long history amongst Europe, even though they aren't exactly what we think of when we come across one in our myriad RPGs.
In addition to the hellhound connection, both Houndour and Houndoom seem to be based on two types of dog breeds.
Houndour seems to be somewhat based off of Rottweiler. Rottweilers are a strikingly ancient breed, dating back to the Roman Empire, where they were created as herders. However, that's not exactly what they are known for. They've became somewhat infamous in the past few decades as vicious dogs prone to violence. Perhaps because of this, they do have a reputation amongst dog fighters and other types that would encourage this. But when properly raised, Rottweilers really aren't especially dangerous, though their herding instincts and associated strength can lead to problems.
Houndoom seems to be based on a Doberman Pinscher, a type of guard breed that dates back to 1890. Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann bred them to assist him in his surprisingly, or not, perilous job as a tax collector. I suppose it makes since that a hellhound is based off of a tax collector's dog.
I've got a few more planned to do, including a water family from gen 1 and a legendary trio from a later generation. The latter has a fuckton of research to do, though, so I might do a few simpler ones during that too.
Hope you don't mind the double post, but the first I've done in a while are done:
#333 Swablu & #334 Altaria Anyone who has played much of Generation III will remember this family and its odd quirk- the final stage, Altaria, is a large, cloudy bird that is oddly part dragon. We'll find out why here, but first, we'll delve into another inspiration for this family. They are one of the few Pokemon that derive some influence not just from mythology and biology, but literature as well.
First, I suppose it goes without saying that Swablu is based on some sort of Bluebirds. Bluebirds are a group rather than a single species. They are a brilliantly blue type of Thrush bird and are native to the Americas. Interestingly, they are well liked by gardeners because they are voracious eaters. They keep gardens relatively free of harmful insects.
Swablu's Japanese name, Tyltto, betrays its dual origins. First and most obvious, Tyl is the name of a star. In particular, it is the traditional name of what is currently named Epsilon Draconis and is located in the constellation Draco. The star is a fourth magnitude star, meaning in a perfect night sky, it's roughly half as bright as the brightest sky in the night sky, Sirius, and as such, is possible to see with the naked eye. Somewhat amusingly, the Ancient Chinese referred to the constellation Draco as the Celestial Kitchen, part of their constellation sytem known as the Purple Forbidden Enclosure. Fittingly, it symbolized general officers and the Imperial kitchen.
Now, Tyl has another meaning. In the 1908 French play L'Oiseau bleu (The Blue Bird) by Belgian author Maurice Maeterlinck, two siblings- the sister Mytyl and the brother Tytyl- embark on an allegorical quest for happiness as represented by the Blue Bird of Happieness. Along with the way, the siblings are helped by a fairy named Bérylune.
The play has a much older literary basis, the French fairy tale of the same title, recorded by Madame d'Aulnoy, a sort of 18th century Brothers Grimm. (Though I suppose Charles Perrault is a more accurate, if obscure, comparison.) Bluebirds were likely used as a symbol even before that, however.
Regardless of the genesis of the symbol, the Bluebird of Happiness was definently long established by the time the play came about, and was likely further spread through the play's success. In 1919, the French composer Albert Wolff created an opera based on the play; a novelization followed. It was likely the inspiration for the 1934 American song “The Bluebird of Happieness” as well. Said song went on to become one of the best selling records recolored by a opera or concert singer ever, in this case by Jan Peerce.
What's arguably most interesting, however, is the ubiquitous of the Bluebird in Japan. The list of Japanese words featuring the symbol is astonishing: Eureka Seven, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and other well known anime. A television drama adaptation. A light novel. An appearance in numerous games, including the recent Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. There was even an episode of Pokemon featuring siblings named Lytl and Mytl! Sadly, that episode didn't feature our subjects of the day.
A possible origin point for this is the Osamu Tezuka manga Birds in the Future, which featured a chapter based on the play. I have no real evidence of this, aside from it being the earliest Japanese example of an allusion to the play. However, to say that Tezuka is influential would be a gross understatement. He is regarded in the same esteem Westerners have for Walt Disney, so it would not at all be surprising if the surprising amount of love this play gets in Japan can be traced back to him.
Moving on to Altaria, we first dissect its English name. In Italian, Alto is high, and in Latin, Aria is air. They both have musical connotations as well- Aria is a type of music, whereas Alto is a designation for instruments. For example, an alto saxophone. This is fitting, as Altaria does indeed have some singing prowess according to various Pokedexes and can learn Sing naturally. In addition, Altair has similar stellar connotations as Tyl; in this case, Altair (roughly Arabic for the Eagle) is the brightest star in the Aquilla constellation. Fittingly, Aquilla is another eagle. It's Japanese name is Tyltalis, drawing more inspiration from the aforementioned play.
The last bit of the origin of these curious birds comes from Altair's odd dragon type. It doesn't look much like any other dragon type, or, indeed, any dragon. This is because, simply put, its likely inspiration isn't exactly a dragon.
Altaria likely draws some inspiration from the Peng, a mythological bird from Chinese mytholgy. The Peng is a giant bird that can transform into a giant fish called the Kun and vice versa. The oldest record of the Peng myth is found in the Daoists classic Zhuangzi, named after its alleged author. According to the text, the Peng is many thousand li (an Ancient Chinese unit of measurement regarded as being roughly a third of a mile) long. Its wings are said to be like clouds across the sky as it flies. That poetic language could be the source for the fluffy nature of Altaria. The bird's goal is to fly the nintety thousand li to reach the Lake of Heaven for shadowy reasons.
I won't go much more into the text because its surprisingly long and meandering in that sort of poetic way. If you wish to read it, it should be easy enough to find. The exact meaning of the story has been debated for the past seventeen centuries. Some regard it to be an example of the equality theory put forth by Guo Xiang- which is to say, that though the quail is many hundred times smaller than the Peng, they are fundamentally the same. They both fly to and from their destinations and the like. Others say it is an example of the highest possible goal for the Daoist to attain.
As for the dragon typing, some depictions of the Peng give it a dragon's face and whiskers, though I have yet to find any. All in all, these two Pokemon have an interesting, rewarding inspiration. Not bad for a mostly overlooked family from the third generation.
In honor of today's holiday, have the first Generation VI PokeOrigin! By far the longest I've done to date. #710 Pumpkaboo & #711 Gourgeist As of Generation VI, we have yet to have every possible type combination, even if you accept reciprocals as the same as the reverse; fire/rock and rock/stone, for instance. Out of those type combinations we hadn't had prior to this generation was grass/fire. While we still don't have one of those, the frequent suggestion of a jack o' lantern was finally made this generation as ghost/grass, another previously unused type. Indeed, that type proved so nice, they used it twice here! Well, four times between two families, but you get what I'm saying.
What the Gourgeist family is is rather obvious. The two are Jack O' Lanterns. Indeed, I'd even go as far as to say the history of Jack O' Lanterns aren't as obscure as some of the things I've covered in these. I've even touched upon them in the Chandelure family history. But it's always worth touching upon these things, as even history you know can prove interesting.
For starters, let's touch upon the history of Halloween. First and foremost, the basics. It's a Christian holiday, and has been traced to 835. Well, sort of. Halloween, or more accurately, Hallowe'en, is the day before All Saints Day. Hence the name- Hallowe'en is an archaic way of saying Hallow's Eve, as All Hallow's Day is an equally archaic way of referring to All Saints Day. The purpose of All Saints Day, as originally consecrated in either 609 or 610 by Pope Boniface IV was to honor all of the saints as well as the Virgin Mary. From what little has survived through the almost fifteen centuries, we can discern that it was originally celebrated on May 13th. Note that both of the dates are Pagan holidays- May 13th was one of the feast days of Lemuria, wherein the Romans attempted to exorcise “Lemures” or “Larvae”, unlikable spirits of the restless dead. October 31st, on the other hand, is the more important of the too. That day is the Gaelic (Ancient Irish) holiday of Samhain (Pronounced Sah-win). This day, which occurs roughly halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice, was the day the Gaelic chose to mark the coming of Winter. In the ancient days, Winter was a big deal because of how inhospitable it could make things- crops won't grow, livestock have to be taken special care of and the cold can prove dangerous. Samhain was the day they celebrated, in a way, the coming of the “Dark Half” of the year and brought the cattle in from the fields. Bonfires were lit to protect them from the 'Aos Si', who are for all intents and purposes from the same mythological cloth as fairies. Indeed, Aos Si can be written Aes Sidhe- the Sidhe are from where we get modern fairies through mythology telephone.
The Gaelics believed that the Aos Si were a bit malevolent, as most mythological creatuers were, and as such, tried to placate them by leaving offerings of food and drink for them. One of the more interesting features of the festival was what was known as 'guising', wherein people in costume would go from house to house and recite rhymes, usually in exchange for food. If this sounds familiar, it should. Guising is the origin of what is known now as trick-or-treating. However, in traditional guising, the child is encouraged to do more than just simple rhyming- card tricks and other simple talents are more than acceptable. Guising was first documented only recently, around 1895. However, from what I can tell its believed to be older. It had definite precursors- for instance, Christmas wassailing, where people would essentially do the same thing, but on Christmas. The costume aspect of modern trick-or-treating was Celtic, not Gaelic, and consisted of darkening your face and wearing dark clothes to confuse the spirits of the dead.
Modern trick-or-treating dates back to around the 1930s. The first American usage of the term has been dated to 1934,in a Portland, Oregon newspaper. By the last year in the decade, the practice had gone national, as it appeared in a national publication, The American Home. It was slowed by sugar rational during the second World War, but began to take off again at the end of the '40s. It was slow to become popular in other countries, though- in the UK, trick-or-treating did not take off until the last quarter of the century. I'm not sure what any of this has to do with the Gourgeist family's signature move, which is Trick-Or-Treat in English. Everywhere else, it's Halloween, which is still baffling.
Back to Halloween, by the end of the 12th century, it had became a required mass for Catholics to observe. The chruch bells would be rang out in honor of the departed souls. Wearing costumes for Halloween can be traced to this era as well, as it was believed that the dead wandered the Earth between their death and All Hallows Day. Wearing costumes allowed people to confuse the potentially vengeful spirits, proving that the dead can be pretty stupid at times. Another fun belief of the Middle Ages was that the dead arose on Halloween for a wild party known as the Dance of the Dead, or the Danse Macabre. It was a common artistic theme in the Middle Ages with strong allegorical components.
Following the Protestant Reformation, Halloween fell out of favor among certain groups. It was berated as a “Popish” holiday that wasn't compatible with the hardline predestined apsects of Protestantism. As such, the holiday didn't catch on in many countries, including North America, until Catholic immigration later on. In the case of North America, towards the end of the 19th Century.
Now, let's get to the other aspects of Pumpkaboo. Namely, Pumpkins and Jack O' Lanterns. Pumpkins are gourds native to the Americas. They've apparently been here for a while- they're believed to have shown up somewhere between 7000 and 5500 BC. Most weigh between 6 to 18 pounds, but there are some prize pumpkins that can weigh over 75 pounds. That's just the normal species, Cucurbita pepo, though- the Atlantic Giant species can grow up to the mind boggling 2000 pounds, though most are under five hundred pounds. That's right- pumpkins can grow up to a ton.
Jack O' Lanterns are perhaps what most people associate with pumpkins, though. They've been a common shorthand for Halloween for over half a century. But what's their story? Simply put, uncertain. Gourds have been used to make lanterns- by the Maori, for instance-, but pumpkins were definently not used. It's commonly believed that the Irish used turnips to make them. From what I can tell, that's true. According to one historian, Ronald Hutton, the Irish and Scottish carved turnips with the faces of goblins for Halloween. Some believe they were used to guide the aforementioned guisers; others that they were designed to honor souls in purgatory for All Souls Day. They don't, however, seem to be all that old. Robert Burns, legendary Scottish poet, doesn't mention them in his poem “Halloween”, an early, 1785 account of the holiday in verse. Nor are they mentioned in 1910's Folklore of Clare, an old but at one point definitive history by Thomas Johnson Westropp.
One possible precursor, though, is the Hoberdy's Lantern. Young pranksters of the 18th century would carve them from turnips, insert a candle then leave 'em to frighten travelers. The 'traditional' Jack O' Lantern was recorded by 1834. By 1850, it was immortalized in the poem The Pumpkin by John Greenleaf Whittier. The term was also used around this period in the following rhyme by Cornish folklorist Dr. Thomas Quiller Couch:
Jack o' the lantern! Joan the wad, Who tickled the maid and made her mad Light me home, the weather's bad. Joan the Wad is a Cornish equivalent to the Will-O-Wisp, whom we talked about in the Chandelure feature. This gets to the folkloric origins of the Jack O' Lantern. Namely, a fellow known as Stingy Jack, also Jack the Smith, Drunk Jack and Jack of the Lantern. Jack was not a very nice person. As you can tell from his aliases, he was a bit of a drunk and all around not a nice person. No less than Satan himself decided to see how bad Jack was, so he took him out drinking. Wily Jack decided to get Old Scratch to pay the tab, so he metamorphosed into a silver coin to pay it. Jack then pocketed the silver coin in the same pocket as a crucifix, trapping Satan. In exchange for his freedom, Satan agreed to give Jack ten more years on his life. Ten years later, Satan came to take Jack to Hell. Jack, ever so clever, asked if he could have one last apple. Satan agreed, only to be foiled by Jack as he climbed the tree to get Jack an apple and ringed it with crucifixes. Jack agreed to take the crucifixes away in exchange for never being taken to Hell. This proved disastrous for him, as when he died and was refused entry to Heaven, he was equally refused entrance to Hell. Satan gave him an ember to mark his citizenship in Hell, but turned him away. As such, Jack wanders the land, ember in turnip in hand, forever alone.
I'm not sure if it's every been discussed here, but a month or two ago I learned about a creature known as the Raijū. According to Wikipedia, it takes the forms of a cat, fox, weasel, or wolf, while TV Tropes mentioned a dog, a monkey, and a tanuki as well. The Raijū is a creature of lightning, and so, anyof these could have some inspiration from it, and especiallythese seem to be based heavily on the concept.
EDIT: Just noticed something in your post.
I'm not sure what any of this has to do with the Gourgeist family's signature move, which is Trick-Or-Treat in English. Everywhere else, it's Halloween, which is still baffling.
This is actually really easy. When you go trick-or-treating on Halloween, you dress like a ghost. When Gourgeist uses Trick-or-Treat, otherwise known as Halloween, the target gains a Ghost type.
The Staryu family as well as a revamped Gyrados family, to include the Mega Evolution: #120 Staryu & #121 Starmie A lot of Pokemon, especially in earlier generations, are rather obvious in what they are. You look at Pidgey, and understand. You look at Spearow, and you're like, “Oh hey. It's just a sparrow.” The Staryu family is a lot like this. Indeed, I'd go as far as to say it's worse. What you see is what you get, and that's a starfish. But as with a lot of animals, there are hidden depths.
We should probably start with a simple description of starfish. First and foremost, they aren't fish. Seastars are echinoderms, a phylum of marine animals. Echinoderms are a fairly large phylum- the second largest phylum under the superphylum deutorostomes. Other Echinoderms include sea cucumbers and sea urchins.
On a side note, what deutorostomes are is hilarious. The definition is related to embryonic development and means two mouths. The two mouths in question? The cellular structures that eventually become the mouth and anus. One of the mouths is a butt.
Back to echinoderms, their definition is much less funny to first graders. They're found at every level of the ocean, from tidal zones all the way down to the abyssal zones. The name comes from the Greek echinos, meaning hedgehog, and derm, meaning skin. Most echinoderms have spines on their skin, or at the least, feel not unlike a Brillo pad. That's exactly what a seastar feels like- their quite rough to the touch. Echinoderms also have an internal skeleton of sorts made from calcium carbonate. Most notably, echinoderms are, by definition, radially symmetrical, meaning that they are symmetrical from the center. Note that in sea-stars, this is often a species characteristic rather than what they all look like, due to the way they develop. It's not unusual to find starfish with extra limbs. Not sure about other echinoderms and extra appendages, though.
The unique skin of starfish is made of calcium carbonate, the same substance that makes up shells in most animals, including snails and seashells. The exoskeleton is called an ossicles. The ossicles are a honeycomb structure made of the aforementioned carbonate. The body of a starfish is covered in an astonishing number of parts with specific names, like the madroparite, an orifice that opens into the water vascular system, and Pedicellariae, which apparently are basically tiny jaws made of ossicles that remove debris from the body and sort of nip at prey. I guess very unique animals like starfish would have a number of parts that don't appear on many other animals.
The aforementioned water vascular system is basically the system through which starfish move. Similar to our circulatory system, the WVS consists of canals throughout the body. Water enters through the aforementioned madroparite and is forced into an elaborate system of canals to the tube feet, the appendages of the animal. When muscles in the canals contract, water is forced into tube feet, which in turn extends the appendages. Rather than actually gripping things, starfish arms are coated in an adhesive substance. You'd think they use suction cups, but the truth is much less Loony Toons. The arms also have eyespots on the tips consisting of hundreds of photo receptive cells. This is how starfish see, albeit primitively.
Of note, the WVS makes moves like water gun actually make sense. That's probably incidental, though.
Starfish radiate from a central disc, aptly called the central disc. Said disc is the only part of a starfish that really matters, as any other damage can be regenerated. The central disc protects the important internal organs, such as dual stomachs starfish possess, and the mouth. The mouth feeds directly into the stomach on most starfish and the species primary method of attack makes... interesting use of this: one of the two stomachs exists solely to be expelled from the starfish's mouth and consume the prey whole. They can open bivalves and digest them inside their shell. They can straight up digest prey bigger than them outside of their body. It's a pretty crazy thing.
I mentioned earlier that starfish can regenerate. Technically, it's a form of asexual reproduction. When a starfish is sufficiently damaged, it can regenerate as long as the central disc is OK. Essentially, it recreates itself as a separate starfish. Sometimes this takes days. However, in some species this can take years. This aspect of starfish has been well represented in the Staryu family, dating back to Generation 1 where Staryu was one of only five Pokemon to learn the move Recover, the others being Kadabra, Alakazam, Porygon and Mewtwo. One can easily view the move as a trademark for the family, considering its mentioned in the Silver Pokedex entry for Staryu. The Pokedex even mentions the core has to be OK for it to regenerate.
Another aspect of Starfish present in the family is camouflage. It isn't as grand as the color shifting present in cepholopods, but starfish use simple camouflage to hide from predators. Their hard, bumpy flesh and colors hide them well on rocks on the sea floor where they live. Fitting Staryu can learn Camouflage, which straight up was a Signature Move from its introduction in Generation III until Generation IV, where Mothrim could learn it. I suppose it's a bit odd Octillery couldn't learn it, but Pokemon is full of move omissions like this. One last aspect the family has is Starmie's appearance. It bears a resemblance to the Crown of Thorns starfish, one of the largest species of sea stars on the planet. The species has several distinctive traits, including many more arms than a typical sea star, radiating like spokes on a wheel, as well as being covered in venomous thorns. While Starmie is obviously lacking the latter, it does indeed have the former. There have even been purple Crown of Thorns found, though I would chalk this up to coincidence, as their coloration is usually much duller. All in all, I'd say this is likely an influence on Starmie, if just for the distinctive appearance.
#129 Magikarp & #130 Gyrados
Magikarp. The Pokemon every smart trainer passes over. Gyrados. The secret weapon every smarter trainer picks up early in Generation One. These two odd Pokemon have long gripped the generation that played Pokemon Red and Blue when they first came out. And why not? It's an odd Pokemon- a nigh useless Pokemon that evolves into a first disc nuke- if you have the perseverance to train it. And by train it, I mean take advantage of the fact that switching out gives the switched out Pokemon experience. And this isn't even getting into the fact that, the evolution makes no sense....
…because it does. Magikarp and Gyrados are based on a Chinese myth slash proverb. I'll be getting into that in just a bit, as I always do. But first, Magikarp. Did you know its based on a carp!? Crazy, I know! In particular, it's based on the Asian carp. Well, one species of Asian carp- the term is an umbrella term for several species of carp. One in particular, the Silver Carp (Hypophthalmichthys harmandi) is of particular note. This fish is a scaredy fish. It is quite easily frightened, by boats and the like, and can jump high into the air. And when I say jump, I mean some Michael Jordan stuff here- they have been recorded as jumping as high as ten feet into the air. These are hefty fish too- they can grow as big as 100 lbs/45 kgs. People have been cut by their fins, had bones broken and received concussions. From a fish no less. How embarrassing, eh? This explains Magikarp's infamous Splash move, and it learning Tackle as well.
Now, that leaves Gyrados. Many of my people have wondered exactly how a little fish evolves into a big dragon. Well, I'm going to tell you after I school you on the prerequisite stuff about Asian Dragons, Chinese in particular.
There are two major divides in Dragonology, a term I just made up: Western and Eastern. Western is the kind you are perhaps most familiar with- overgrown lizards, on four legs, wings, breathing fire, sleeping on a trove of treasure, sewing babies from their teeth. The Eastern dragon is quite a bit different. Rather than being a malevolent force, it is a benevolent force. It is traditionally associated with water, rain good luck. The Dragon has been associated with the Emperor historically, although three and four clawed Dragons have been associated with commoners (The five clawed with the emperor.) The Dragons are usually simplified as looking like long snakes with draconian faces, but there is actually a ridiculously complex design for them, as recorded by the Han Dynasty scholar Wang Fu: “The people paint the dragon's shape with a horse's head and a snake's tail. Further, there are expressions as 'three joints' and 'nine resemblances' (of the dragon), to wit: from head to shoulder, from shoulder to breast, from breast to tail. These are the joints; as to the nine resemblances, they are the following: his horns resemble those of a stag, his head that of a camel, his eyes those of a demon, his neck that of a snake, his belly that of a clam (shen) his scales those of a carp, his claws those of an eagle, his soles those of a tiger, his ears those of a cow. Upon his head he has a thing like a broad eminence (a big lump), called chimu. If a dragon has no chimu, he cannot ascend to the sky.”
Pretty crazy design eh? Much more imaginative than the Western Dragons. Eastern Dragons don't usually have wings, although they'd been drawn with bat-like wings before. They can fly not through physical abilities, but mystical powers. This shows on Gyrados, as they are part flying, but don't have any visible wings. (Short aside, but the real reason Gyrados is part flying was that had it been dragon/water like originally planned, it would have been completely overpowered, as it would have only one weakness. Ice wasn't nearly as prevalent than as it is now, and it's still a pretty rare type.)
Even Gyrados' color may have some basis in Chinese myth. Chinese myth assigns a mythical creature to each direction, with the Azure Dragon being the god of the east, as well as symbolizing the Chinese element of wood. This may be a stretch, though, as Gyrados really doesn't have any other relation to the Azure Dragon.
But that's enough about this. That's now why you are reading this entry, is it? No, you are reading it to learn more about why a little fishy evolves into a huge dragon, and why I said it had some basis. Well, let's dip our toesies into Chinese proverbs, shall we? One Chinese proverb states that if a carp can leap to the top of a waterfall to reach something called the Dragon Gate (This may be the name of the waterfall), it will turn into a dragon. Many waterfalls are allegedly the famous Dragon Gate, such as the Wei River, and at Tsin in the Shanxi Province. If you recall Pokemon Snap, in the valley stage, you could help a Magikarp eventually reach a waterfall wherein it evolved into a Gyrados. So, this myth has even been referenced in the games, albeit not the main games. Furthermore, some sources have the carp as golden, befitting Magikarp's shiny form! However, this could also be a reference to actual carp colors. Heck, red was often a color used for Chinese Dragons, so perhaps Gyrados' colors are a nod to that. I've seen
Now, obviously this myth is not just a myth. It's a proverb- a story designed to give a particular lesson from it, similar to Christ's parables if I may be blasphemous. This particular story tells of how perseverance can grant people high positions. This was especially true two thousand years ago, when Chinese youths' exams determined if they got an Imperial position. In fact, there is a saying that roughly equates to “A youth doing their exams is like a carp at the Dragon Gate” or something of that sort. Of course, this can also be used as a generic parable of someone working hard to get what they want.
This leaves us with the matter of Gyrados' name. Well, that's a strange bit. It's Japanese, and honestly, has no basis in English. It was originally going to have the name Skullkraken, a pun based on the legendary Norse creature called the Kraken, but that fell over the character limit. Instead, went with the Japanese name. It can be broken down into gyakusatsu meaning massacre or slaughter, and gyakkyō, meaning hardship or adversity. The dos at the end may be in reference to dosu, a Japanese onomatopoeia representing the tearing of flesh. Pretty violent, isn't it? Generation VI introduced another aspect to the Gyrados family, that of the Mega Evolution. Mega Gyrados resembles the familiar carp windsock the Japanese fly during their Childrens' Day holiday, celebrated on May 5th. The windsock is called a Koinobori, meaning carp streamer. The tradition is a group of streamers hung from the same pole, upside down. At the top of the pole is a dragon streamer, called a hiryū fukinagashi. Under that is a black carp, under that a red carp. If there are more boys in the household, additional carp can be added in as varied colors as green, purple or orange. Tradition states the black carp represented the father, the red the eldest son and so on and so forth. Some prefer to see the red carp as representing the mother. The history of the carp, from what I can tell, is surprisingly shrouded in mystery. It seems to have been chosen for the holiday because the Japanese view the carp as the most energetic fish. To quote the Japanese American National Museum, “the Japanese consider it the most spirited fish -- so full of energy and power that it can fight its way up swift-running streams and cascades. Because of its strength and determination to overcome all obstacles, it stands for courage and the ability to attain high goals. Since these are traits desired in boys, families traditionally flew Koinobori from their homes to honor their sons.” Others quote the aforementioned legend of the Dragon Gate, showing that that all comes back home for Gyrados. The holiday itself is formerly known as Tango no Sekku and was celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. Tan means horse, referring to the Chinese zodiac name for the fifth month, and Sekku refers to a seasonal holiday. Originally the holiday was solely a boy's holiday, though more recently it has been conflated with a similar holiday for girls (Hinamatsuri , Doll's day) to create a general holiday for children. The holiday seems to date back to at least Empress Suiko's reign, which lasted from 593–628 A.D, making it one of the oldest things in Japanese culture.
It would be cool to get into some Mega Pokemon origins. Some interesting info from the official website that I'm not sure a lot of you know about.
Mega Aerodactyl: Some researchers insist that its Mega-Evolved appearance is the true appearance that Aerodactyl had before being fossilized. Mega Alakazam: Because it dedicates its energy entirely to its psychic powers, it maintains an unvarying meditative pose, floating in the air. This makes me think that Mega Alakazam has reached nirvana. Mega Gardevoir: The red plate in Mega Gardevoir's chest is said to be a physical manifestation of its heart. Gardevoir is now in a wedding dress. Gardevoir will do ANYTHING for its trainer. The heart opens up and I'll let you figure out the rest. Mega Gengar: Mega Gengar's unblinking third eye allows it to see into other dimensions. Having a third eye means that individual has become enlightened. On the forehead is a chakra from which power can be derived, according to some Chinese philosophies. It is also where the third eye that supposedly all beings have resides. Mega Mewtwo: Okay, okay, this one's pushing it. It's just an idea that popped into my head, but what if Mewtwo's mega's are a DBZ reference? Goku being the fighter and Frieza being the psychic floater? DBZ IS really popular...anyways... Mega Venusaur: When Venusaur becomes Mega Venusaur, the flower on the Pokémon's back blooms even more fantastically than before. Its legs and frame become more sturdy to support the weight of the huge flower. Mega Medicham: It uses its amped-up willpower to remake its spirit into a physical force and to create additional arms for itself. The more Medicham has trained its spirit, the more realistic these self-created arms become, and it can use them with great dexterity. Another spiritual mega. Buddhists believe yoga is a way to reach enlightenment or nirvana. Though, with Medicham's turban and Indian design, I'm guessing he's more than likely based on the Hindu beliefs which dictate that yoga is made up of techniques of controlling the body and the mind with a goal of analysis of perception and cognition, rising and expansion of consciousness, a path to omniscience, generating multiple bodies, and the attainment of other supernatural accomplishments. Mega Banette: Mega Evolution unzips the zippers that restrained Banette, enabling it to unleash the energy it had been suppressing and show its baleful power.
The other X/Y megas all just come out by focusing energy on a certain part of their body (Ampharos' orbs, Garchomp's blades, Blastoise's cannons) and I didn't think they were interesting enough to document.
EDIT: I almost forgot to mention, Mega Aerodactyl is the most interesting to me. It implies that the fossil Pokemon we see aren't their true forms. This is why all of them have rock types (they've been combined with the stone surrounding the fossil or something along those lines). I'd really like to know what they all originally looked like. I might make some art to that effect...