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On the Origin of Species: Oshawott, Dewott, and Samurott

Oshawott, Dewott, and Samurott
I’ve enjoyed every main series Pokémon game I’ve played, but if I had to choose, Pokémon Black & White would be my absolute favorites. I’m still awed by how Game Freak pushed the Nintendo DS to its limits, providing us with beautiful environments: Castelia City’s towering skyscrapers, Unova’s four unique bridges, Route 10 and the Pokémon League… I could go on but I won’t.

As you’ve probably pieced together by now, I also love the Pokémon introduced in Generation V. I think every single design fits perfectly and each one is special. A lot of my favorite Pokémon come from Gen V: Haxorus, Krookodile, Vanilluxe, Klinklang, Galvantula… and my favorite starter of all. The one people mocked when it was first unveiled: the Water-type, Oshawott.

Sea otter (Inhydra lutris)
It’s not difficult to determine what animal Oshawott is based on: the sea otter (Enhydra lutris). A carnivorous marine mammal in the Mustelidae family, the sea otter lives in the northern Pacific Ocean. Sea otters spend a vast majority of their life at sea, feeding off mollusks, crustaceans, and sometimes fish. Their fur is incredibly dense, keeping the otter afloat and warm in the water.

Sea otters are one of the few mammals outside of primates to use tools. Otters utilize rocks to shatter open hard shells, and each otter keeps a rock unique to itself in a pouch under its forearm. It’s not difficult to see how this served as the inspiration for Oshawott’s scalchop, though the scalchop is a part of the Pokémon’s body made of keratin. Oshawott uses this scalchop to break hard Berries, furthering the connection. The scalchop also resembles a Japanese war fan (tessen 鉄扇), a weapon used by Japan’s famous samurai.

Samurai are practically synonymous with Japan, even after the caste’s abolition in the 1870s. Samurai were retainers of a daimyo (feudal landholder) and maintained high prestige and special privileges like carrying two swords. Samurai lived by a civil code called bushido, which dictated a samurai’s role in society, morality, and living with honor and virtue. Just as different Pokémon within a species have different personalities and strengths, there was no singular path or definition of bushido that samurai were required to follow. Even after the samurai class was abolished during the Meiji Restoration, the concept of bushido still exists in aspects of Japanese culture, such as business and martial arts. Some samurai noted for using tessen include Takeda Shingen, who allegedly used one to deflect an attack from Uesugi Kenshin;
Samurai in armor, 1860
Minamoto no Yoshitsune defeated Saitō Musashibō Benkei with a tessen; and Araki Murashige placed a tessen in grooves in the floor to prevent sliding doors from cutting off his head.

When Oshawott evolves into Dewott, it gains a second scalchop, and both scalchops are worn on the hips, reminiscent of how samurai wore their weapons. Dewott are meticulous in maintaining their scalchops, and learn their techniques through strict discipline. It certainly appears like ideas taught through bushido to me.

Samurott, the final evolution stage of Oshawott, stands out from its younger forms. During Black & White’s development, the designers had trouble with making an interesting final form for Oshawott. Yusuke Ohmura, one of the team’s illustrators, went to see real-life otters at a local aquarium, and became inspired by the strength of a nearby sea lion, which then became the concept for Samurott.

California sea lion (Zalophus californianus)
Sea lions are also marine mammals, but are pinnipeds, a clade that includes seals and walruses. Pinnipeds are closely related to mustelids, so the leap from otter to sea lion isn’t as much of a stretch as you might believe. Like otters, sea lions are carnivorous, feeding on fish and marine invertebrates… and sometimes otters. I imagine that makes Oshawott family reunions a little awkward. Sea lions, unlike seals (which wiggle on their bellies), are capable of “walking” on land with their flippers, lending Samurott its quadrupedal stance.

Samurott is noted for its ability to attack by drawing and sheathing its seamitars (yes, that is what they’re actually called) extremely quickly, a reference to the martial art of iaidō (居合道). Iaidō (often shortened to “iai”) emphasizes awareness and responses to sudden attacks and relates to modern bushido I mentioned earlier. Iaidō intends to reflect classical warrior morals: spiritual harmony, intellect, sensitivity, and resolute will. Seeing as Samurott can intimidate opponents with a single glare, it appears to have mastered these concepts after numerous battles.

Oshawott’s Japanese name is “Mijumaru” (ミジュマル), a combination of either 水 mizu (“water”) or 未熟 mijuku (“naïve”, “immature”) and 丸 maru (“round”, also a common suffix in male names during the samurai era). Mijuku reflects Oshawott being the lowest stage of its evolutionary line, and maru likely references its round head. Dewott is Futachimaru (フタチマル), which comes from 二つ futatsu (two), 太刀 tachi (long sword), and 丸 maru. “Two” and “long sword” are, of course, referring to the species carrying two scalchops. Samurott is the odd name out in its line: Daikenki (ダイケンキ) is the on’yomi (Chinese sound) reading of 大剣鬼. The character 大 dai is “big”, while 剣 (ken) and 鬼 (ki) put together can mean “sword-wielding demon” or “sword master”. So Daikenki translates to “Big Sword-Wielding Demon”.

Catching Sea Otters in Hokkaido.jpg
Yet how does this relate to Oshawott being chosen as a starter for Pokémon Legends: Arceus? Excellent question. Legends: Arceus takes place in the Sinnoh Region, which is analogous to Hokkaidō, the largest and northernmost prefecture of Japan. Hokkaidō is the native home of the Ainu people, indigenous Japanese peoples with their own distinct language, culture, and religion (a key tenant of which is that everything in nature has a kamuy (spirit or god) inside of it). Horohoro from Shaman King is Ainu, to give you a better idea. Among the Ainu, the sea otter is a reoccurring figure in folklore, said to serve as a messenger between humans and the creator. It appears in a major role in the Ainu epic Kutune Shirka, a bounty by which the hero can claim treasure and a bride. After knowing this, it’s a small wonder why Oshawott appears in Legends: Arceus.

For those wondering, and I know you are, Cyndaquil and Rowlet also have reasons for their appearance, and we’ll delve into them in future installments of On the Origin of Species.
 

Comments

Another amazing article, the Black and White games are also my favorites. Vanilluxe and Klinklang deserve more love, people hate them even to this day :(, I also love Krookodile and of course, the Samurott line :bulbaLove:.
 
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