The Poliwag Family

The Pokemon debut of amphibia, at last! This water type is a simple, adorable tadpole with feet and a prominent spiral on its underbelly, which may only look like a cool marking at first glance, but really represents its guts!

It's hard to see Poliwhirl's stylized swirl as the visible intestinal tract it's described as by the pokedex, but I always figured the black part is where the innards are actually pressing up against the membranous belly, like when someone puts their hands on a foggy window, yeah? You have to squint a little.

Poliwag actually gets even cuter when it evolves into Poliwhirl, and I think we owe that to its lack of a visible mouth. A face is pretty much immediately cuter the more simplified it gets, whether you're dropping the mouth, the nose, the eyes, or let's face it, all the above. Why do you think it only took days before everyone thought Slenderman fell somewhere between comical and kind of sexy?

Anyway, Poliwhirl's pokedex focuses on the idea that its pulsing intestine-coil can hypnotize its enemies to sleep, and it indeed learns the move "hypnosis," and hypnotizing anything with the sight of your throbbing guts is a pretty awesome thing for anybody to be able to do, let alone a perfectly round, adorable froggy. I can see why Poliwhirl was almost another series "mascot," and appeared on an amazingly high volume of merchandise back in the day. It seemed like almost every commercial, cereal box and sticker set for Pokemon featured a Poliwhirl, which probably means it was part of a generic press package Gamefreak sent out to every business partner interested in a cross promotion.

There really wasn't much room to improve on Poliwhirl, but when exposed to the water stone, something snaps in Whirly's little froggy soul. It goes from wide-eyed innocence to fierce determination, and even acquires the fighting type. Poliwrath is nothing more than a Poliwhirl sick of everyone's shit.

And then, there's Politoed. An interesting addition, Politoed. Coming along in the second generation, this alternate evolution of Poliwhirl takes a jarringly different route, opting to drop the vestiges of its tadpole stage and mature into a relatively very, very conventional little green frog, except for the slight swirl remaining in its belly and the goofy little hair on its head.

Politoed more or less comes across as what Poliwag is supposed to evolve into, with Poliwhirl as an intermediate stage between swirly-intestined blackish tadpole and traditional anuran, but I'm glad Poliwhirl's more standard evolution is just a slightly ornier hypnogizzard pollywog. That's the the kind of decision I wish they had practiced a little bit more, as you've seen with Venonat and Gloom. If you've fallen in love with the look of Poliwag, you're probably gonna hope it hangs on to its unique charm points, right?

I do, however, appreciate Politoed in its own right. It's just cute as hell, and it's nice to have at least one frog that really looks like a frog. In fact, Politoed remains the only naturally green frog in the first six generations. We've got at least three more frog lines now, and all of them are blue. The pokedex characterizes the 'toed as the king of frogs. Are these traits connected? In the pokeworld, is green a color only for the frog elite???

Different as they are, I'm giving four stars to both of Poliwag's possible paths. The swirly blue frogs are fun, iconic concepts emphasizing an anatomical detail I've never seen played with before, while Politoed is a pleasant, down-to-earth anuran for those who want that option.