The Origin of Dunsparce’s Odd Design
It’s a bee! It’s a snake! It’s a caterpillar! No, it’s Dunsparce!
In many ways, Dunsparce is an unremarkable Pokémon. It has an unremarkable type, stats, and move-pool, and even though it gets Serene Grace as an Ability, its mediocrity in the former areas leaves it prone to be unremarkable in battle (unlike its evolution). What is remarkable about Dunsparce though is its design. Who hasn’t looked at Dunsparce and wondered “Just what is that thing!” at some point? This is likely why despite being so average, it is quite a popular Pokémon with tons of fans drawn to its weird combination of ugly cuteness.
Tsuchinoko: Japan’s Loch Ness monster?
So where did the idea for this bee-snake-caterpillar-thing come from? Its Japanese name, Nokocchi, provides a clue. Its Japanese name is likely an anagram of ツチノコ, the katakana spelling of 槌の子 tsuchinoko. Tsuchinoko is a cryptid in Japanese folklore that is said to be a large, fat, and flat snake with poisonous fangs but is not dangerous and more likely to flee than attack. It became a legend in the Kansai region of Japan (the region that inspired Johto) and specifically is said to dwell in the mountains of Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku. Unlike most Pokémon based on legends, however, Tsuchinoko isn’t a yokai (Japanese spirit) per se, but a creature thought to have actually existed outside of the supernatural, although very rare. Thus it is more accurate to think of it as more akin to the loch ness monster than a yokai. It is one of Japan’s most popular legendary creatures and is mentioned in the Kojiki, one of Japan’s oldest texts. People have been searching for physical evidence of it for centuries but only stories and eyewitness accounts exist. This is why Dunspace is an extremely rare encounter in the original Pokémon Gold and Silver.
But what about the wings?
When I first encountered Dunsparce, it was a swarm encounter in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl’s route 208. Having never seen it before (despite being an avid watcher of the Pokémon anime) I remember gleefully describing it to my friends as a “fat blue bee” Pokémon. Turns out I wasn’t completely wrong. Despite its inspiration being Tsuchinoko, Tsuchinoko doesn’t have wings in any account, so why does Dunsparce? Turns out Tsuchinoko has another name seen in northeastern Japan, バチヘビ bachi hebi (bee snake). Thus, despite not having wings in most accounts of Tsuchinoko, Dunsparce likely has wings as a play on that name, looking like a combination of a bee and a snake. The Pokédex makes fun of this odd occurrence, mentioning that it can only “float just slightly” using its wings. Its design and specifically its abdomen also bear a resemblance to sphinx moth caterpillars and one of those species Hyles gallii (the galium sphinx moth) has caterpillars that turn a dark greenish-yellow right before they pupate. Its eyes may be a reference to how animals that live underground for long periods of time usually have eyes that become vestigial, meaning they no longer work and the animal relies on its other senses to get around.
A redesigned Pokémon
It should not be forgotten that Dunsparce, being a generation two Pokémon, was one of many with various documented changes to its design, courtesy of the Pokémon Gold and Silver prototypes that leaked some years ago. There’s an early form of it ahead of a demo used at Spaceworld 1997 (an expo for games), with some clear relation to Tsuchinoko. But then it disappeared… gone entirely, then occupied by an entirely different (and ultimately) unused line. But then it came back, looking somewhat derpy before we got the finished product (just a bit more purple than in later games).
As speculated on the excellent deep dive by The Cryptodex, the returning sprites may be because Hironobu Yoshida, the designer of Dunsparce, joined the Game Freak team midway through the development of Pokémon Gold and Silver. He may have, while looking for inspiration for Pokémon to design, come across the previous unfinished efforts, and used that as a starting point for the Dunsparce we know and love today.
This also matches the differences in Pokédex entries: while prototype versions of the games state “It has a vindictive personality. Once it has set its sights on its prey, it will hunt them unceasingly”, such statements do not exist in the final versions. And yet, its moveset back then (e.g. Rage, Pursuit, Spite, Take Down) are hints of its previous, more violent, past personality.
The Dudunsparce conundrum
Finally, let’s talk about Dunsparce’s new evolution, Dudunsparce. Dudunsparce has a very similar design to Dunsparce, with the exception of multiple abdomens instead of one. This could be a reference again to sphinx moth caterpillars which have multiple abdominal segments. It could also be a reference to a genetic mutation in fruit flies called ultrabithorax, which as the cool name suggests, essentially leads to a second thorax behind the first, complete with its own set of wings. Dunsparce’s name is likely a combination of dunce and sparse, and Dudunsparce makes a pun of this by adding another “dun” similar to its additional abdomen.
What did you think of Dunsparce’s design when you first encountered it? Did you think it was a “fat blue bee” as well? Let me know in the comments below!
Written by Cocoman and bobandbill.
Edited by bobandbill, Sheep, and Siddhar.