Creature Design in
THE PIRATES OF DARK WATER
This adventure brought a rare level of fantasy world-building to children's television. What we saw of Mer was teeming with all manner of human or human-adjacent civilizations, and animal species bizarre enough that many functioned in place of technology, strikingly like the equally fantastic setting of G.I. Joe The Movie. I went positively NUTS for the show back when it was airing, and while it's still not available online in high definition quality or even on DVD in any restored state, I'm pretty excited to finally talk about some of these designs on this here website...especially now that I only now know there was a tabletop roleplaying book, downloadable in its entirety from the series one surviving fansite, which will be filling out many missing details as we go over NEARLY every creature shown in the television episodes!
One of the first two things we see in the series intro sequence, though these screenshots are from one of the much later lower-budget episodes. Mer's Leviathans are serpentine reptiles with eyes on short stalks, kind of like a hammerhead shark, and treated as a fairly big deal. They're possibly the largest of all sea monsters, their skin is said to be the only thing resistant to Dark Water, and the villainous Lord Bloth's ship, the Maelstrom, is supposedly made out of their bones!
...Not that this really makes physical sense, mind you. The Maelstrom is so massive, it's practically the size of a small city, and almost none of it resembles a bone that would fit inside of any Leviathan we've seen. On the other hand, Bloth has referred to the entire ship like it's a single old leviathan at least once, so maybe it was once a leviathan of especially titanic size? Maybe they used to get bigger, and even take on more diverse shapes, before Bloth and other pirates hunted them to near-extinction?
No, not a typo, these green dragons are officially called "Dagrons," and they're popular mounts for scallywags like Bloth's crew. They're pretty straightforward, yet reasonably distinct dragonoid designs, too; fat, scaly green creatures with ragged, batlike wings and faces a little more reminiscent of Eastern dragons, if you ask me, with their red facial hair and large white eyes. They're treated as filthy, nasty, wretched creatures by pretty much everyone, like very large seagulls that can kill people.
One of the four main characters of the series and obligatory non-human sidekick, Niddler first appears as a villain working under Bloth, and fills the role pretty well as a screeching, conniving parrot-primate hybrid. His villainous streak lasts only minutes into the series, however, switching sides by the end of the episode and quickly mellowing out into the sweet but cowardly comic relief of the series. In either role, he's a charmingly unpleasant looking thing; his long neck, lanky appendages and big, green eyeballs - with no pupils, even - make him look like a stretched-out Gollum if you covered him in feathers and gave him a beak. As goofy and timid as he is, he's also exactly as powerful as you don't want a thing called a "monkeybird" to be, capable of flying at full speed while carrying a grown man in his clawed feet.
NIDDLER THE MONKEYBIRD
At least three episodes of the series also give us more insight into Monkeybird biology and culture. It seems as if every single individual has a unique color scheme, and that females exist only as egg-laying queens. We only ever see the same single queen throughout the series, until an episode in which a new queen hatches from an egg that I might add is alarmingly large. Even an adult can fit inside the queen egg, so I guess they also work kind of like kiwis.
It's never mentioned in the show, but the RPG states that a queen will die shortly after hatching her successor.
The Constrictus is a monster living below the deck of the Maelstrom, which isn't so much like the "hold" of a ship as it is a giant sewer system. The red, pink and purple creature has some obvious Xenomorph influence in its segmented, spiny design, an eyeless worm-like beast with a scorpion-like stinger, three hook-tipped tentacles and a fanged maw that hides multiple smaller jaws on long, extendable cables.
Bloth positively LOVES feeding people to this thing, attempting to do so approximately one million times on-screen and verbally threatening to do so approximately ten million times, though at no point in the series run do we ever witness a confirmed case of this actually working. In fact, we see both the heroes and evil underlings defeat or escape the Constrictus each and every time, so I think Bloth just doesn't want to admit that his favorite special baby is a failure. That we don't even know if a Constrictus is a thing with any kind of social hierarchy, and his still seems like a beta.
The COAGULONS are so great, they get an exclamation mark! That's because they're the first of many "weaponized" creatures we ever get to see, actually launched by the half dozen from one of Bloth's catapults in the very first episode. They're only named in a comic book adaptation, which gives them a more formless, reddish design, while the television version of a Coagulon is a mollusk-like creature with a rubbery, three-pointed white body, a colorful round marking that may be an eyespot, and a collection of thick, green tentacles. Whatever they hit, they immediately latch onto and begin dissolving at a pretty frightening rate, eating through one of the Maelstrom's own Leviathan-Bone masts in only seconds!
Yes, Bloth launched them at his own mast on purpose. Ren climbed up it and Bloth has to go overboard with everything.
We're never told exactly what Alamar is, but he's apparently the high priest of a sect that knew Ren's father and held critical information for his quest. Within their religion, it seems like a human stands in for the real Alamar, who turns out to be a godzilla-like reptilian beast. Sadly, he dies protecting Ren in the very first episode, and we never do see any more of his kind.
This cute little luminescent fish serves as a torchlight in just a single scene, but I love the thought that went into Tula here having to "stir up" the fish to make it glow again. Little logical flourishes like this are seen throughout this series, incidental details that a lot of other cartoons would have either glossed over, or in some cases over-explained.
...Plus, the glowfish gets an entry in the RPG, so we get to see its adorable design! It's just a round, fat little goldfish-like animal with really huge eyeballs and a goofy, toothed little mouth.
This is the first one whose name is only given by the RPG! A Gazier is a lizard whose gaseous breath can put people to sleep almost instantly, and the one we briefly see in the show is incorporated into a gun-like weapon. The RPG lets you know that the Gazier can't actually live in the gun's bottle-like holding chamber, but needs a larger glass enclosure to stretch out, rest and eat in, so you get a weapon AND a pet!
In one episode, a flock of Monkeybirds attack a Monkeybird slave auction with various makeshift weapons, one of which is a large, yellow blob transported in a clay pot, and it instantly melts through an enemy's metal shield. This organism is never named, but the RPG includes an entry on a highly corrosive blob it calls the "gmoeba."
The blob in the cartoon includes three snail-like antennae, but the Gmoeba is still the closest thing in the game book, and wouldn't be the only illustration to differ from its animated counterpart.
Jarvis is a slavemaster who specializes in Monkeybirds, and he's also a weird, blobby, legless humanoid with rodentlike pointy ears and froglike eyeballs on the top of his seemingly boneless, squishy head. We see one or two similar beings in the background, but there's no mention in the series or the game as to what these creatures are called.
Another totally unnamed creature, this long spiny serpent appears briefly in the sewers of the Maelstrom, and its large, circular yellow eyes can pop out on a pair of jointed stalks!
Another unnamed sewer pest, these flat, green beetles are seen creeping in large numbers on the Leviathan bone architecture, and when Ren knocks a bunch of them into the water, the pursuing Constrictus can't resist stopping to eat them. Being eyeless, it would seem the constrictus relies on vibration to hunt, since it only attacks the insects once they're floating and struggling.
The Maelstrom's hold is large enough to support a small community of escaped slaves, and when they find Ren suffering from the Constrictus's sting, they place a creature called a "Dreen" on the wound to soak up the venom. The adorable little thingy is sort of just a fat, purple blob, but it has four nubby legs and a featureless head that tapers into a rounded snout. It's kind of like if a kid tried to make a mole or a shrew out of purple play-dough.
The dreen has a somewhat confounding RPG entry, stating that this mysterious creature can heal any wound but will die within a couple hours of captivity, its feeding and reproductive habits unknown. The Dreen seen on-screen is in a cute little cage, so were the slaves somehow replacing it almost constantly with wild-caught specimens, or did they crack the secret to Dreen husbandry?
Named in the RPG, the Octopucker is used as a living grappling device just once by Konk, a hilariously nasty little pirate voiced by Tim Curry! It basically just looks like a small, purple octopus with four short, suckered tentacles and one much longer, tail-like, suckerless appendage. The RPG calls this the "thread tentacle," and that up to 36 feet of it may be coiled up inside the creature's saclike body. It also lets us know that its bite is venomous, but, fun fact, that's true of almost all actual Earth octopuses. You might have heard of the deadliest, the Blue Ringed octopus, but pretty much all of them have a toxic beak!
This is a favorite that's never left my memory. Encountered in the underground root network of a gigantic, ancient tree, The Blight is a thin, gnarled creature I can best describe as a humanoid vulture made of blackened wood, with lots of thin, branching arms instead of wings, which can regenerate immediately if they're severed. Its head also had a bit of a lizard-like quality and a pair of twiggy, insectile feelers, combining all sorts of "creepy" creatures into one diseased plant-creature. The book, sadly, sheds no further light on the nature of this entity, only that it is in fact an entire species, and it is in fact made out of wood.
This interesting design is difficult to describe in its natural state, but makes more visual sense when it's worn as a helmet! Somehow always filled with breathable air, the squishy thing has a large, transparent membrane in the front, a suckerlike mouth on the underside and four tiny little eyes on top, along with two nostril-like tubes that dangle down a little over the visor.
Why something would evolve in a way that makes a usable diving helmet for a human-sized creature, I cannot begin to fathom, but it's not as fun as it sounds: the RPG adds that they slowly drain the "life force" from whatever they're attached to, and you can only employ one as a helmet for 3D10 minutes - a maximum of half an hour - before it kills you. This seems a little unnecessary, given that there can barely be that much oxygen in them anyway, can there???
Kiroptus is presented by the show as a unique, demonic entity, but by the RPG as a whole malevolent species. The gargoyle-like creature has a scowling, stretched out looking face, curved horns, powerful legs that branch into multiple clawed, spindly feet and four arms that branch into a total of eight thin pincer-like limbs, joined in a membrane it can use as a set of wings.
The unique "Kiroptus" in the show is an agent of the Dark Water, which will make sense later, and imprisoned in a magical bell. It's also voiced by none other than Mark Hamill, performing one of his magnificently skuzzy villain-voices.
The Feryx kind of looks like a giant, cartoon weasel with huge, feathered wings, kind of a mammalian dragon, and it terrorizes an island community of isolated, flightless Monkeybirds. It also breathes a grey, highly corrosive smog full of luminous blue particles, which also enshrouds the entire island. Interestingly, multiple characters identify this as "stekka fog" before they ever know what a Feryx is, and Niddler in particular refers to it as a monster "with stekka breath!"
This kind of implies to me that a Feryx is not the only source of whatever "stekka" is, but that it's some other dangerous natural phenomenon. Maybe even microbial?
This beast is a huge, pale brown sandworm with a spiny, armored head, large insect-like green-blue eyes, mandible-like tusks and multiple sets of chewing mouthparts. Fairly straightforward, except that dialog in the episode repeatedly calls it a "giant sand crab" or even JUST "crab." This thing is a crustacean? A likely technical explanation is that the script was written for a crab monster, but the art team independently developed something worm-like. The more interesting explanation is just that evolution can be weird like that.
Book entry drops two fascinating facts about the Gallquin: for one, it has a head at each end of its body, which we never see in animated form. More confusingly, we're told that the Constrictus is a hybrid between Gallquin and Leviathan. How?!
Seen in the laboratory of a "biotransmuter," basically a mad scientist, this appears to be a small four-legged black stool until it extends its legs into more crab-like limbs, revealing three eyes and black mandibles hanging from its underside as it ambles away. As simple as it is, I really loved this one as a kid and kept trying to draw it from memory.
This is another of the biotransmuter's creations, but he calls it a "beetle" when it clearly resembles a small turtle. It then proceeds to pop open its shell like an actual beetle and fly around the room, but I feel like it would have made more sense to introduce it as a turtle, if the beetle aspect was the surprise. Another script discrepancy?
Not a Beetle
This creation of the biotransmuter is more focal to the episode's story, a furry green creature with a fishlike tail and psychic powers. Confined to a life-support fluid in a crystal staff, he's rented out by his creator as a guide for adventuring visitors, but unsurprisingly, we find out he's an unwilling slave. He was originally a winged animal, and gets restored to his original form in the end by a rare flower.
Seen just momentarily, the mud people are dripping, muddy humanoids with tapered, floppy snouts and miserable looking yellow eyes. They live in a swamp, but their weakness is getting too wet, which causes them to begin melting and flee for their lives. Now obviously getting too dry would be its own issue for mud people, but surely there's a safer middle ground (literally???) than living in a swamp, right?
Used for just a quick gag, when an annoyed Niddler tricks Roulette (he's obnoxious) into thinking it's something called a "candy clam." A piranha clam has razor-sharp teeth lining its shell and a single small eyeball in its interior, a pretty self-explanatory species.
The biotransmuter's most loyal pet looks very, very much like a mechanical bird of prey, with sword-like blades for feathers. There's pretty obvious hinges, joints and other artificial details in the design. The RPG, however, insists that this is an entire living species of bird with bladed feathers.
Maybe the general populace of Mer just doesn't understand what an automaton is, and Hawk-Knife went down in adventuring journals as an actual animal?
This is the very last one from the biotransmuter adventure. It's another creature incorporated into a gun-like weapon, and it's referred to as an "energy leech," but it just sort of looks like a circular clam with a lot of frilly, green tissue lining its shell, or kind of like a burger full of nothing but lettuce. The "leech" part is a bunch of long, bright green tentacles ending in arrow-shaped yellow fins, kind of like a bunch of cartoon dragon tails that shoot out of the "clam" and suck the life from anybody they entangle.
Some sort of spiral-shelled cephalopod, and apparently sold alive as food, though Niddler is not a fan.
This is yet another creature used once by Konk as a grappling system, which he's also seen petting like a kitty cat. He's proud of his sea sucker! It resembles a very large, blue tadpole with a huge, four-lobed pink sucker for a mouth and three small eyes. Simple and adorable! Konk boasts that a sea sucker "never lets go" once it latches on to something. The RPG elaborates that it secretes a corrosive saliva from the sucker to feed!
We never know what this little guy is, but he's the pet and underling of an evil wizard-alchemist, and he looks like a mean little cross between cat, bat and weasel. Almost like a miniaturized Feryx, except when he sees Niddler, he mocks the very idea of an animal flying with feathers. Absurd!
Created by Ratmore's master, Motarios actually look a lot like the "Krites" from the Critters films, hairy roundish creatures with scowling eyes, a large toothy maw and clawed limbs. They're first seen being grown out of test tubes, and Ratmore refers to them as "fungus." They never do prove all that important to the story, which focuses more on the wizard's ability to shrink entire ships (and their crew) into glass bottles.
One of my favorites, though pretty similar to the Coagulons we already saw! Nykra are just as corrosive but seem quite a bit larger, and are kept in balls of mud until launched as weapons. They also appear to liquefy a little as they secrete acid and eat through solid matter, so perhaps their corrosiveness is more of a self-sacrificing defense mechanism, like the many animals that are poisonous to eat?
Nykra has a pale, rounded head kind of like the mantle of a slug, with large fish-like eyes on the sides. A long, pink tail and a couple of slightly smaller pink tentacles trail behind this, so the whole thing is kind of like a cross between a fish and a three-limbed squid. Strangely, however, we see a Nykra in a later episode get reduced to a skeleton. It does not at all look like a creature that should have internal bones.
The villains of just one episode, the game players are two magic-users of an unidentified, humanoid frog race, unless they're just one-off magical mutations? They control a mobile, submersible island that serves as a sort of deadly obstacle course for their "game."
GAME PLAYERS OF UNDAR
The aforementioned "game" of Undar consists entirely of creatures called the Korb hunting unwilling victims through their hazard-riddled island. Each Korb is a hulking humanoid covered entirely in crab-like armor, with sharp, jagged jaws and three-clawed pincer hands that they can launch on long, muscular cables! The RPG says that Korb exist only as a part of the game, specially created and bred by their two froggy masters.
Possibly my favorite design in the series! These are encountered on Undar when Ren and Bloth are forced to play as a team together. Each killer plant resembles a huge, mossy green blob with a gaping maw full of hooked little teeth, bunches of purple leaves resembling fish fins and a pair of deep, black sockets instead of eyes. The way the blobby body tapers into a bit of a "snout" above the mouth reminds me heavily of certain anglerfish, particularly batfishes, and I wasn't even sure these were plants until the characters refer to them as such. They also ensnare prey with extremely long, powerful tongues, more like chameleons!
The name "beast bush" comes from the RPG, which confirms they're found on Undar, but uses an entirely different, more conventionally plant-like design. This four-lobed, toothy flower might be cool, but it doesn't hold a candle to the gruesome frogfish-shaped specimens we saw in the episode.
Used by a one-shot villain in an attempt to torture and execute a captured Ren, the Sea Leech looks more like a slug lined with pale cuttlefish-like fins, and it has three rubber tubes at its head end. It seems to feed only through its underside, so the purpose of the tubes is uncertain. Maybe they're for breathing, and serve a sensory function?
These creatures look like fat, reddish grubs with tapered tails and bulbous heads, their clustered eyes reminiscent of a spider and their circular mouths ringed with protruding fangs. Slobbering a green, corrosive enzyme, they seem to consume any organic matter at all, decomposing wooden ships as well as attacking any living thing that stumbles into their swarm. It almost feels like half the wildlife on this planet makes acid that burn through your flesh in seconds.
These creatures don't look so much like "eels" as they do very small, slimy, shark-like fish with toothy jaws. A minor villain keeps a pool full of them on his ship to dispose of enemies, and demonstrates how they can strip flesh in just seconds. They don't make this appearance until one of the last two or three episodes, but it's a long time coming, since "dartha eel" is thrown around as an insult from the very first episode! Of all the nasty things that live on Mer, these are apparently one of the most despised...or at least have a cultural reputation for being particularly unsavory.
One of the most mysterious and intriguing creatures we see in the series, the Soothsayer resembles a cross between octopus and jellyfish, a translucent blob with three circular, pupil-less eyes, a toothless slimy mouth and many long, gooey looking tentacles suspending it in a large, cylindrical water tank.
Lord Bloth is shown speaking to this creature in the opening of one of the last produced episodes, receiving cryptic, prophetic guidance from it. We never see or hear any mention of it up to that point, and he dumps its tank out in a fit of rage when the episode ends, so we never find out where or when he obtained it, and we never find out if its kind would have factored more into the rest of the story.
...But in the RPG, we get a slightly different, more brain-like design for the Soothsayer, and we're told that they're rumored to have been the original dominant civilization of Mer, many eons ago. We're also told that they can survive exclusively in water over 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and are therefore limited to volcanic marine environments in modern-day Mer. So not only did they once dominate the planet, but they dominated the planet when most of its oceans must have been hotter than boiling!
There isn't much to these, but we're kind of going for completion, and they're a pretty big part of an episode. An island called Arakna - a little on the nose - is seemingly inhabited exclusively by large, social spiders that can also walk on the surface of water.
Unnamed, and absent from the RPG, this is the very last animal we ever see weaponized by Bloth's crew for just a split second shot in the very last episode, but it's another that really stuck with me since my childhood! I kind of misresemembered it as more frog-faced, but that's clearly more of a fish-like head. I did recall correctly that it was otherwise just a fat, blue ball clinging to the catapult by some octopoid tentacles, and that its back was covered in large, black quills hurled through the air once the catapult was released! The quills miss Ren's crew, but still embed into the helm and surrounding wood of their ship for much of the rest of the episode.
A Spiny Creature
One of the last creatures seen, these are deep blue, giant lobster-like creatures with purple legs and faces, more reptilian-like jaws than crustacean, and cute yellow eyeballs on a pair of fleshy stalks. They're also subtly horse-shaped, and that's because they're ridden as mounts by an island community of warrior women. Yeah, you probably all want to see the warrior women now, here you go:
This little blue tapir thingy is voiced by Frank Welker's classic, hilariously annoying "cute creature" gibberish, which he's been performing so long that it encompasses such characters as Slimer from the Ghostbusters cartoon and Nibbler from Futurama. The cool warrior women absolutely loathe the Margar for eating their fruit crops, but it turns out this critter actually counts as one of the thirteen Treasures of Rule.
This kind of bothered me as a kid, because we previously saw that the treasures are supposed to be taken to a chamber where they fuse into the wall and emanate a sort of blue energy. The margar can't do that, can it? But don't all the treasures have to? I guess it's just for show, since we end on the Margar just hanging out on the same island as the collected treasures. And I mean that's how the whole series ends, with apparently five treasures still left.
So at last we're going to talk about l'eau noir itself, the greatest force of destruction on a planet where pretty much everything is some sort of force of destruction. The viscious, inky liquid oozes up from the depths of Mer's core and drifts in vast patches on the sea's surface in precisely the manner of oil pollution, except that it also happens to be alive and carnivorous. It's also so thick you can basically stand on it, except it'll immediately start eating you anyway. And strangely enough, it's seen just once or twice with a sort of "core" or "nucleus" to it, a luminous yellow orb in this sequence and a smaller, redder lump in another early shot.
We also know the agua oscura has many sinister alchemical and magical properties, giving us one of the most grim and horrific moments in the series when one villainess of the week attempts to use it as an anti-aging serum:
Good god. It works for a while, but soon she begins to wither, decay and finally melt into Dark Water herself, in this sequence that stuck with me for many years as a child. It isn't even in the usual art style of the show. They went the extra mile to make her look even more surreal and nightmarish in her final moments.
This "master" is specifically known as The Dark Dweller, a manifestation of the fluid's collective will. Whether we can think of the Dark Water as a product of the Dweller or vice-versa is never quite specified, but it seeks to see the entire world engulfed completely in the substance, and is as we know only kept in check by the power of those magical treasures.
What happens after the Dweller wins, though? Would Mer simply be one big ball of pure black goo, for all eternity, or would life continue in some grim new form? Would the remaining sentient beings continue to exist as disciples, maintaining some strange new civilization? Would new forms of life evolve under the Dweller's guidance, in an ecosystem more macabre than ever before? This series was begging for a "dire vision of the future" episode.
We were also never given a single hint of what the Dark Water really is where it came from within the series, but the Dweller's RPG entry clues us in, and I'll quote it directly:
"Merian legend states that eons ago Mer was in turmoil. Therefore, a powerful ecomantis spell was created and cast in the hopes of driving all traces of evil from mens' souls. Instead of cleansing their souls, the spell merely transferred the essence of evil into the world of Mer itself. Thus was spawned the Dark Dweller."
It's likely they wouldn't tell us about this "legend" if there wasn't going to be some truth to it in some later storyline, so the Dark Water may basically be what happens when a planet is magically forced to exhibit malevolence. I woudn't have expected any less dramatic an origin.
Under most circumstances, a cartoon series completely dictated by a network CEO is a recipe for disaster. David Kirschner, however, has stated that he began developing the idea as early as his own childhood in the 50's and 60's, and the final product plainly displays how much love he had not only for his original concept but for animation itself as a powerful storytelling medium. With cinematic visual direction, morally multi-dimensional characters and often magnificent set pieces like these, you can also tell how much the rest of the series crew cared about bringing this same vision to life.
And that worldbuilding again! It's not just the menagerie of inventive life-forms we've just seen; at every turn we see technology and architecture built from the resources of an alien ocean, from Bloth's giant crab-shell table to a bar where the beverages are dispensed through gelatinous vines. Nautical chase sequences take us through impossible geological phenomenon like the "Dragon's Maw," where rocky spires spontaneously burst from an impossibly elevated river. And there's even a bit of Mer's own unique dialect peppered through the scripts...though you might get sick to death of hearing either "NOY JITAT!" or "CHUNGO LUNGO!" in place of swearing, at least until you've heard it so many times it becomes funnier than it should be.
The only failing of this series, if admittedly a pretty glaring one, is that it simply bit off a little more than it could chew. A quest to collect thirteen treasures spends over twenty episodes to gather only seven of them before production ground to a halt for reasons never fully disclosed, but likely to do with the fact that every episode cost more than twice the typical TV cartoon budget, and a part of that budget went into twice the animation frames to boot. This means that over forty episodes could have been animated on the same budget at a standard frame rate, but they still could have wrapped up the main quest in the number of episodes they managed to complete.
...But would I really rather have that lower-quality, longer series? Not really. And do I NEED to see how the main quest ends? To be honest, no, I don't really need that either. I have no doubt it would have continued to be cool as all hell and that we would have seen more of the same imagination, but we already do know what would happen. Ren finds five more baubles, the Dark Water is sealed away, and the planet is saved. This is a case where, at least for me, the journey really does mean so much more than the destination, I don't even feel like I miss the destination at all...and one can easily take the "incomplete" series as essentially the set-up for the roleplaying module, giving fans themselves all the they need to complete the story their own way. Once again, you can download the RPG books HERE, and lucky you, I'm also going to extend this review into...
The TEN BEST RPG-Exclusive
Pirates of Dark Water Species:
The very first thing in the Creature Sheets! I won't pretend to understand why a leech would rather live in the air than in a good old fashioned bog, but this bloodsucking monster has a pretty excellent design principle: a flying sheet of shapeless jelly that can extrude up to fourteen tentacles, each ending in a large sucker ringed with fangs! With water that eats people and a sky full of leeches, it's no wonder most of Mer's human population consists of cutthroat scavengers who look like they were born through a sausage grinder.
This is a funny one, because it imitates an in-universe fruit called the Minga Melon, which is a staple food of Mer's entire culture and especially central to the diet of Monkeybirds. The Pondress looks exactly like a normal melon when retracted, apparently, but as we can see it actually has a large, fanged mouth, a muscular tail and a pair of webbed, clawed arms, like a giant ravenous pollywog. Niddler whines for Minga Melons approximately ten million times in the series run, so he's pretty damn lucky the Pondress never made it into an episode.
...Or would it have even mattered? Like I said, Monkeybirds are pretty damn strong. They're also omnivorous. For all we know, a Pondress presents a danger to the typical human, but maybe a Monkeybird would get halfway through wolfing down the poor thing's flesh before it even noticed the difference in flavor.
What Mer calls a "manta" is very, very much not a manta. It's illustrated here like a giant pair of bat's wings with gaping, sharp-toothed jaws where a body ought to be, and a tail terminating in a long, sharp stinger. Its RPG description makes it sound even stranger: a "colorless" and "rubbery" creature just an inch thick with a "leech like" mouth, which conforms to the surrounding terrain and becomes almost invisible at rest.
Apparently also known as a "sea glutton," this is a somewhat eerie looking manatee-like animal, described as pink and hairless, concealed by its large lily-pad-like belly as it floats around on its back. Though sluggish and nonviolent, they're said to make a nuisance of themselves by gathering near ships and begging humans for food. If actually fed, they'll only continue to stick around and escalate their demands, emitting a wail that incidentally sounds exactly like the mating call of a Leviathan and can carry for up to three miles.
You can easily see the scenarios this could have created for the cartoon, either to the detriment of our heroes or a clever means for them to cause trouble for our villains.
A terrestrial shark with legs isn't all that original a concept, but the Merian landshark is hilariously, bafflingly rationalized as being able to "swim" through solid matter only because most of its body exists on an alternate plane of reality with the notable exception of its dorsal fin. This allows it to go through the entire "Jaws" routine in any terrain, regardless of consistency, but it also means that a defeated Landshark will return to its dimension and leave its presumably tasty fin behind.
This one's design is just a strange, supposedly colorful cloud crackling with electricity, but it's apparently a "mental parasite" that can infiltrate a host body and slowly consume their mind, during which they experience wild, unpredictable mood swings and paranoid outbursts. I can't help but wonder if this was taken from an unfinished script, since it seems tailor made for an episode in which one or all of the main cast begin to turn on each other as they gradually go mad.
Not the most fortunate name, no, unless your mind goes first to the lyrical style, but I get the feeling the more unsanitary implication may have been intentional. "Skat" are undead beings resembling human skeletons with the heads of fully furred jackals, which is eerie enough, but feels even eerier with an illustration that doesn't make the Jackal head "scary" in itself. It isn't the least bit ghoulish or even baring any teeth, just a serene doggy face and silky fur on top of a completely fleshless human body. No origin is given for them, but they can be found "wherever death has occurred," such as battlefields or shipwrecks, and are capable of animating and controlling the skeletons of other creatures! It's designed to be the "final boss" of a skeleton horde!
On Earth, the term "no-see-um" is slang for biting, irritating gnats so small that they're only barely visible, but Merian "noseums" are literally invisible creatures in addition to their teeny, tiny size, and while they don't fly, they do pour forth from anthill-like nests in seemingly limitless numbers at alarming speed, eat their way into flesh and even attempt to enter any openings they find (or create) in their prey's body. So they're functionally killer ants, but you can't see them at all and nobody really knows what they are, which is all pretty damn terrifying!
Not to be confused with what we call a "goldfish," the Merian "gold fish" is a pale sea creature with an elongated body up to eight feet in length, a huge toothless mouth and a instinct to ingest any gold it comes across. Most of this gold is excreted in its cement-like sandy excrement to build a dazzling, cavernous lair, while select hunks of gold are kept enticingly in the bottom of its gaping mouth.
There are three possible reasons such an ambush hunter would exist: the most scientifically plausible is that gold is just abundant enough that it's become a useful resource to other Merian wildlife, prompting the evolution of at least one predator to take advantage of the demand. The equally plausible but less scientific explanation is that one of Mer's sorcerors created these creatures as a trap and they began to breed in the wild. The least logical, but funniest explanation is that this planet has simply had enough pirates in it for a long enough period that an entirely pirate-based diet was a viable ecological niche to fill.
Our last one is definitely the most absurd, and the fact that it never made a cartoon appearance is a greater travesty than most. The Et, which is just pronounced "ETT," is a humanoid giant with both a beautiful human head (an elf-looking dude in this illustration) and a big shark's head, side by side. The human head is always highly intelligent and benevolent, eager to help others. The shark head is just a shark head that is absolutely always pissed off and hungry.
These two heads are, of course, "constantly battling for supremacy," and the gaming stats inform us there's a 50-50 chance of control switching to the opposite head every ten minutes, a span just long enough for the human personality to be of some sort of critical help and just short enough for every moment in its presence to be hilariously stressful. The game book suggests it as an inhabitant of Undar, the Game Player's island, but damn near ANY story scenario could be enhanced with this thing's presence.
An Et who knows some critical information, perhaps the keeper of the next treasure, could have easily been the focus of an entire TV episode, causing all manner of hardship for either Ren or Bloth's crew. Even a brief appearance, however, could have been the most unforgettable moment in the series. You can just imagine the internet posts. "what the HELL was that cartoon where this one guy had both a regular head and a shark head!?" they would ask, probably on Reddit, to who knows how many exclamations of "oh my god...I thought I dreamed that?!?" before this treasure of a series was once more dredged from the forgotten depths of popular culture.
And thus would also come the many cries of "where can I WATCH this?!", to which, I am pleased to say, the answer is...