Review: The Legendary Birds of Kanto

By Lorenzo. Art by Bummer.
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About the Author

Hey guys, this is my first ever article for The Smog, and as an avid reader, the prospect is quite exciting. I guess this excitement and my appreciation for all The Smog articles has resulted in this piece being a hybrid of and influenced by previous The Smog content, giving it a flavor of nostalgic originality. Whether that's a good mix or not can only be found out if you continue reading.


Uno, dos, tres, Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres—they're the Kanto birds, also known as the Winged Mirages; they were the first ever legendary trio with their origins being traceable to the original games of Red and Blue. All three are part Flying-type, share the ability Pressure, have the same BST of 580, and all learn AncientPower and Roost at the same level. They're very similar and this makes it easy to rate them as a group, but more difficult to do what this article intends to—investigate which of the three can be proclaimed the best of the bunch.


Who exactly has the finest feathers to roost? The aesthetic element of Pokémon is highly subjective; I read a blog in which Spinda was rated the best design of the third generation. My opinion isn't going to please everyone, so just keep that in mind when reading. I'll start with Articuno. Ever since I reached the gate separating Fuchsia and Route 15, headed upstairs, and took a peek through the binoculars only to witness Articuno for the first time, I was enamored—as far as human-Pokémon relationships go, that is. The first word that comes to mind when I see this winged beast of ice is "majestic;" it projects elegance with its cyan icicle-shaped feather crown and matching elongated scarf–like tail, which flows stylishly like the ribbon of a rhythmic gymnast.

Zapdos resonates power; it intimidates with its outstretched wings and the vastness provided by its dangerously and sharply cut lightning-like feathers. Its extended beak, perfect for Drill Pecking, in conjunction with triangular, slanted eyes of wickedness, make it look even more threatening. The black feathers behind the bird's foreground emit an intensity that reinforces the fear and supremacy Zapdos strikes upon first glance.

Whilst these two birds amaze, their sibling doesn't exactly set things ablaze. Zapdos and Articuno sport attractive color schemes that embody their types, and Moltres doesn't. Yellow doesn't represent fire; red is fire, and yellow is electric. This is simple color wheel and element knowledge, not to mention it's a damn repulsive yellow, the yellow of frozen artificial cheese—yuck! Articuno's compact beak is refined, Zapdos's long pecker is fierce, Moltres's bill is an, um... cone, maybe? Moltres's beak is neither two-dimensional or three-dimensional; it looks out of place and stuck on as an afterthought, as if Game Freak were inspired by a party hat with an elastic string at an office party. Honestly, even snowmen fare better with the carrot treatment. It may seem that the fire protruding from Moltres may be cool enough to redeem it, but in the Pokémon world it's as common as Vans shoes, not to mention the flames on its head are so light that it is hard to notice simultaneously with its skull, making it seem bald. This baldness combined with the cone block nose, drumstick legs, and protrusive neck actually portray Moltres not as a legendary bird but a goose—a goose on fire for that matter—a flaming goose that's more unrefined and goofy than the Swanna that pollute the Marvellous Bridge with their droppings.


For the first three generations these mighty Aves populated OU; come DPP just Zapdos remained, only to be relegated come BW. Now all three separately roam the bottom three tiers well away from their newer legendary brethren: Zapdos still demands respect in UU, Moltres poses danger in RU, and Articuno lingers in NU.

Zapdos has always been the king of the trio on the battlefield and was nearly the king of all the Pocket Monsters when it peaked in the GSC and Advance generations, popping up on teams with the frequency which the likes of Scizor, Gliscor, and Jellicent enjoy today. Zapdos boasted (and still does) an impressive immunity to the only and prevalent entry hazard at the time in Spikes via its great typing, which also provided usable STAB, an imposing 125 base Special Attack and 100 base Speed for sweeping, plus admirable bulk. Add to the mix a versatile movepool, and Zapdos had an array of roles it could fulfill; it could go mixed with Drill Peck, Hidden Power (usually Grass), and Thunderbolt, run a bulky RestTalk set, or provide support with Baton Pass, Thunder Wave, and Light Screen. Furthermore, the competition didn't pose too many problems for this electric bird; Ground-types that walled Zapdos's STAB could be overcome with Hidden Power Grass, and the all-powerful Snorlax was 3HKOed by Thunder.

The merry times soon ended, however. In DPP, Zapdos's golden era faded simultaneously with that of its old foe Snorlax; they both remained OU but experienced a significant reduction in their usage, and in BW, both fell to UU where they remained dangerous but had to confront the rather melancholy realization that their prime had come and gone. For me, Stealth Rock was ultimately Zapdos's killer more than anything else; the Flying typing which had earlier given it entry hazard immunity was now a crippling flaw. In the current metagame, Stealth Rock weakness is so crippling that only an extremely gifted few, such as Volcarona, Ninetales, and Cloyster, can achieve OU status; just 8 Pokémon with a Stealth Rock weakness are OU. Nowadays, Zapdos still causes havoc with its immense Special Attack and as a utility counter, only in UU rather than OU.

If Stealth Rock managed to derail Zapdos, its effects were always going to be more severe for Moltres and Articuno, whose secondary Fire and Ice typing, respectively, made them doubly susceptible to Stealth Rock. Not only would both their plunges be greater, but already being subordinate to Zapdos, they would be pushed even further down the pecking order. They both fell to UU in DPP; in BW, Articuno plummeted further to rock-bottom NU, while Moltres landed up a notch higher in RU.

Although Moltres is as far away from the pinnacle of competitive Pokémon as it has ever been, the 5th generation has been a fairly good ride for it thanks to two new inventions. The first is the RU tier; situated between NU and UU it has opened the door for Moltres to shine in a tier by having threats in Azumarill, Milotic, and Chansey and eradicating competition in Houndoom and Arcanine locked away in UU. Secondly, Moltres got Hurricane, a massive upgrade to Air Slash that gives it a great STAB combo in tandem with Fire Blast. This has allowed Moltres to terrorize the RU tier and on occasion creep into some UU and even OU teams; so wary have RU players become of its presence that Slowking and Lanturn increased in usage for their ability to counter the legendary bird of fire. The BW generation will come to a close soon with the release of X and Y in October, and it's been a pretty successful campaign for Moltres; it has always been living in the shadow of Zapdos, which has the same Special Attack though with greater Speed, but its effect on the 5th generation metagame may have for once outclassed that of its fraternal rival.

Then there's Articuno; well, what exactly can it do? It's the only Pokémon other than Smeargle that can learn the combo of Mind Reader and Sheer Cold, but unfortunately, OHKO moves are banned, so can it actually do anything good? Honestly, no. Well that's a bit exaggerated; with 90 / 100 / 125 defenses Articuno is definitely capable of taking a hit or two, and it can stall opponents with Pressure and access to move such as Substitute, Roost, and Toxic. However, all of this is undermined by the legendary birds' Kryptonite in Stealth Rock; with half its health stripped whenever it switches in, it becomes exceedingly difficult for Articuno to do what it's best at otherwise: stall. To provide perspective to how low Articuno has fallen, take a moment to consider the fact that Cryogonal, with a paltry base 30 Defense, shows it up with higher Special Defense, access to Rapid Spin, and a lesser weakness to Stealth Rock. Articuno may be a dazzling bird, but ultimately it's all frame and no game and clearly not in the same league as Zapdos or even Moltres.


I just love the word miscellaneous, the perfect excuse to talk about whatever I want. I won't digress or anything, but I'll explore some of the more unusual things about this trio. For starters, I'll zone in on Pokédex entries and more specifically list my favorite for each bird.

Zapdos's are probably the most boring; they focus mostly on its ability to manipulate electricity and that it inhabits thunderclouds. Its best two, however, comment on its power, unlike the rest that are more akin to a biologist's observations. The Yellow entry talks of how when it "appear[s]... the sky turns dark and lightning showers down," and the Silver one says it "appears[s] only when a thundercloud parts in two halves." Both entries explain that nature bows down to or makes way for Zapdos and the effect of its presence, creating the impression that Zapdos is truly legendary, and thus certify its power.

Moltres's descriptions are more exciting. There's a lot of figurative language conveying the beautiful effect of it flapping its fire-engulfed wings, such as "the dazzling flare of flames" it leaves behind and its impact, as "those who see it are overwhelmed." A cool ability of the fire bird is that it can "heal itself" by "dip[ping] its body in the molten magma of a volcano to burn," as mentioned in its Hoenn entries. Moltres's appearance is accompanied with the pleasant indication of "the coming of spring;" this remarkable ability to effectively alter the weather and thus nature shows Moltres's unique influence. Interestingly, juxtaposed with Zapdos, the peacefulness and placidness of Moltres makes Zapdos's fear-induced power seem practically tyrannical.

Nearly all of Articuno's Pokédex entries are of the one-trick pony variant, but luckily for the ice bird, that one idea is marvelous, absolutely marvelous. I've got your curiosity on my hook, haven't I? "When this Pokémon flies, snow will fall;" yes, snow will fall, believe it or not, but no, I'm actually genuinely enthusiastic about the concept. Not only would the vision of circles of snow gently floating down from the sky around Articuno and surrounding it as if it were its entourage be entrancing, but that a land could instantly be transformed into a mat of fluffy whiteness is magical—especially if you live on the driest inhabited continent on Earth like me. Articuno thus shares the ability to affect nature with the other members of the bird trio. Also, I lied before, the flying snow machine tends to save "doomed people lost in icy mountains;" some hero points there for sure, but more importantly, it displays Articuno as being more similar in character to Moltres than Zapdos.

Finally, I'll give a quick briefing on some of the birds' wacky manga appearances for a bit of fun. Articuno has been owned by Koga, Blaine, and Faulkner across a variety of manga series; in another series, the Magical Pokémon Journey, it owned and whilst wearing an apron served at a snow cone shop that hosted snow cone eating contests. In the main manga series, Pokémon Adventures, Zapdos provides an endless energy source for Lt. Surge's Electric Pokémon in his Gym battle with Red and all of the legendary birds are then combined into one creature by Team Rocket to make Zapmolcuno.


This has been quite a long journey—for my lazy typing fingers at least—so I'll wrap up with haste. To be honest, I had a lot of love for Articuno and Zapdos but none for Moltres before writing this piece; this would have been evident in my appraisal of the birds' appearance, but what was maybe not as apparent was how much Moltres grew on me. The more I analyzed Moltres, the more I understood it. In this different light, I pitied it at first, but then felt guilty for disliking it when I realized how awesome it really was. It's funny how the yellow feathers I complained about earlier for being "repulsive" now look like glistening gold, but the revelation I experienced was so great that it eclipsed and outclassed everything about Articuno and Zapdos, and that is why I'm rating Moltres the best of the bunch. I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I did writing it, but til the nest time I write a review, it's going to farewell from me.

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