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The ascent of Pokémon — part one

Being an enthusiastic Pokémon fan as well as a passionate science fan, it was a matter of time before I combined the two. Maybe in the first year of my science degree, I started writing a ‘Pokémon encyclopaedia’, where I took the concepts from the Pokémon universe, and rationalised them with as good biology as I could. It was quite a bit of fun, and so I continued with it till I got bored. Which, evidently, was quite some time. I ended up getting together a full 100 page compendium of Pokémon science.

The encyclopaedia was left dormant for years until a month or two ago when I decided that I’d clean it up, re-edit it, and then submit it to publishers. Upon re-editing, I found a concept from the Pokémon universe that really neatly fitted in with biology, but my in-book explanation didn’t cut it. I was trying to explain the concept of ‘chronospecies’. A chronospecies sequence is the collection of extinct species that form the history of one modern day species. It’s basically the direct family branch of one species. In re-writing the encyclopaedia, I was trying to describe this in relation to the Pokémon universe, when I remembered that classic diagram of the chimp-like creature following a series of other apes who were all following the modern day Homo sapiens.

I realised this is a classic chronospecies sequence. I thought it would be neat to do some of these with some Pokémon families, because this seems to be the relationship between Pokémon and the other members of their group.

In some in-game references, the game implies that when a Pokémon metamorphoses, it relives its evolutionary history. As if, we are born as chimp-like creatures and we slowly lose hair and grow ever upright and more witty.

Obviously this extreme metamorphosis doesn’t happen with us humans, but many other creatures show this pattern of development. Developing whales are covered in hair like their land-based ancestors.

Frogs and toads have gilled-larvae that swim like their fishy ancestors. And then upon metamorphosis, they drop their tails and breathe with lungs.

This phenomenon is called ‘ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny’ and I find it one of the coolest things around.

There’s a rhinoceros-like Pokémon that metamorphoses/evolves into a two-legged creature. The in-game description is this: “Its brain developed after it stood up on its hind legs. Its drill horn bores tunnels through solid rock.”

This is describing an evolutionary scenario that would have occurred over thousands of generations, but it’s also describing what happens within the thing’s single lifetime.

 I’m having a lot of fun drawing these and I’ll probably keep drawing till I get bored with the idea.

For each of the three family lines, I coloured and shaded them with different techniques. And since I’m still a novice with digital art, these ‘Ascents of Pokémon’ are a fun and familiar way to develop my technique, fun, because I enjoy designing the stances and making up the in-between Pokémon species, and familiar, because I’ve been drawing Pokémon for 17 years.

If you’re a Pokéfan, feel free to make a suggestion for a future Ascent of Pokémon.

If you’re keen to see some of the encyclopaediayou can view a sample here.