So, Sega recently announced a new Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon titled Sonic Boom, which comes with a video game tie-in. This was buzzing around the internet for the past couple of days, most notably because everybody couldn’t stop complaining about everybody’s character redesigns.
I lost interest in Sonic years ago, the last game I played was Sonic Generations and that was not a fun game for me. Before that, the last games I played were Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Battle and Sonic Rush. So I’m not an authority on Sonic or anything.
After the announcement, I realized that this will be the fifth cartoon featuring that blue hedgehog. So I decided to watch a few episodes of the previous cartoon series: Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Underground and Sonic X; and write a bit about them. This will be a fun time indeed. So let’s take a travel through time, and look back at Sonic’s cartoon past.
Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog
Originally airing in syndication from 1993-94, this was DiC’s first animated Sonic cartoon. Adventures had lots of goofy cartoon antics, jokes, and other silly things that fit right in line with old Looney Tunes cartoons.
Jaleel White, better known as Steve Urkel on Family Matters, was the voice of Sonic for Adventures, as well as the two cartoons that followed. Robotnik was voiced by noted blues singer Long John Baldry (1941-2005), whose cries of hating that hedgehog and general dramatic demeanor gave Robotnik that cartoon villain attitude which perfectly worked with the rest of the show.
For 65 or so episodes, the storylines were particularly boilerplate: Robotnik would hatch a scheme, get his minions Scratch and Grounder – based on characters from the actual games – to fool Sonic into falling for the schemes, Sonic somehow fooling Robotnik’s plans, and Robotnik screaming in anger at his failed plan. Every time. You could make a supercut of Robotnik going “I HATE THAT HEDGEHOG!”, he says it a lot throughout the series.
Adventures was clearly meant for kids, though it had its moments where adults may find the jokes and references funny. I mean, one scene has Robotnik in a bikini. Sonic would constantly go in costume just to thwart the antics of Scratch and Grounder. It’s goofy stuff.
Oh, and I almost forgot about the Sonic Says segments. Every episode ends with Sonic and Tails giving life lessons. Presumably to help kids learn something. Instead, they come off as a rip off of the “Planeteer Alerts” from Captain Planet and the Planeteers. Some of these have gained viral video status, such as the “Sonic Says” where Sonic talks about sexual harassment. I am not making this up.
Out of all the Sonic cartoons, this one is the best. It’s funny in a kids cartoon sort of way, though not incredibly stupid and surreal all the time like Spongebob Squarepants. Despite the weird PSAs at the end of every episode, the show is still entertaining and goofy to this day.
Sonic the Hedgehog (aka SatAM)
Then there was the other Sonic cartoon. This one was on ABC Saturday Mornings from ’93 to ’95, and got canceled due to constant schedule changes and being constantly beaten by Fox’s Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. As opposed to Adventures, Sonic the Hedgehog (known by fans as “SatAM” to distinguish it from the other cartoon) was a bit more dark and serious.
Sonic, again voiced by Jaleel White, has a bunch of friends called the “Freedom Fighters” who were shunned out of Mobotropolis due to Robotnik (voiced by notable voice actor Jim Cummings) turning it into a dystopian robot world called Robotropolis, where animals are become “roboticized.” Tails joins us for this adventure, as well as a bunch of new characters, such as Rotor the mechanical walrus, Bunnie the half-roboticized rabbit (voiced by Christine Cavanaugh, who I still miss today), and Antoine the anxious, nervous french coyote (voiced by Rob Paulsen). Oh, and Sally Acorn, who basically becomes Sonic’s love interest as the series goes on.
The series starts out being a serious, darker show, featuring the Freedom Fighters and their fight to regain Mobotropolis. But by the time we get to the second season, they added a dragon character named Dulcy and the show toned down its more darker elements. While it didn’t get as wacky as Adventures, it certainly felt different in tone than the season prior.
As the series continued, it became less about Sonic and more about the other characters, notably Sally. There’s a lot of emphasis on her in season two, featuring several episodes about her back story and no one else’s. I see nothing really wrong with fleshing out Sally as a character, but Sonic is meant to be the focus here, as he’s in the freaking title of the show.
The series ends with Sonic and Sally destroying Robotnik’s Doomsday project, Robotnik’s demise, and his henchman Snively wanting to continue Robotnik’s reign showing off his secret weapon: a monster with glowing red eyes. Alas, the show was canceled after this episode, and this plot point remained unresolved. Until years later, when the character was revealed in the Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog as Ixis Naugus. Then there was some plotline about him and some guy named Nate Morgan that I barely remember, then it got sorta dumb after that. The Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog was kinda weird in the late ’90s, I’ll leave it at that.
The problem is that outside of Sonic and Robotnik, this is barely a Sonic cartoon. You could take out Sonic, Tails and Robotnik, replace them with generic clones, and rename this show to Freedom Fighters or something and it wouldn’t change a thing. If Sonic wasn’t in this, this show wouldn’t have lasted more than a few episodes. It would’ve faded away to obscurity, where only a small group of people would remember it, and maybe it’d get mentioned on a ’90s nostalgia Tumblr or two. But thanks to having that blue hedgehog, the show still has a modest following to this day. I wouldn’t say it’s terrible, but it’s hardly amazing.
The third and final DiC-produced cartoon, this came out around the time Sonic Adventure was released, thus beginning Sonic’s brief return to popularity. This one deviates even further from the source material: this time around Sonic is joined by his hedgehog siblings Manic and Sonia, and all three of them play in a rock band, stopping Robotnik (voiced by Gary Chalk) and his two minions Scratch and Grounder Sleet and Dingo every episode while solving the mystery of their mother’s disappearance.
Oh, and Jaleel White voices all three hedgehogs. Even Sonia, in which she sounds like an effeminate Steve Urkel. It’s as terrible as you think. The only other notable voice actor on this show is Maurice LaMarche voicing Sleet, and he sounds like he’s doing Kif from Futurama with a slight accent. Couple the weird voice acting with corny songs every episode, and you got yourself a wonderful piece of work.
Alas, I never got much of a chance to watch this show, as no network decided to air it over here in the US. The only time I got to see it was when I was vacationing in Vancouver BC in 2000 and saw it on Teletoon, Canada’s Cartoon Network. I got lucky too, as I saw the three-episode story arc where Knuckles appeared and was mentored by some spirit who was doing a bad Sean Connery impression. Complete with corny reggae tunes, because Knuckles is apparently a Rastafarian.
Yes, out of all the Sonic characters they decided to introduce to this series, they introduced Knuckles to the show. No other character from the games or even the previous cartoons make an appearance – unless you count a minor character from the Saturday morning cartoon appearing in a single episode. Maybe they wanted this to stand out on its own, but they could’ve thrown in a Tails cameo or something.
Underground tries to be serious like the Saturday morning cartoon, while adding the goofy antics of Adventures, but the problem is that the two styles are so drastically different that you can’t combine the two. It’s too corny to take seriously, and it takes itself too seriously to be funny. It’s no wonder this show didn’t take off, it has an identity crisis on what it wanted to be. It doesn’t help that each and every episode is so cookie cutter that you couldn’t distinguish one episode from another. It’s that bad.
Before writing this, I only knew two things from this show: that the voice talent for this show eventually became the voice cast for the games (and received ire from some fans), and the corny theme song. GOTTA GO FAST and all that.
By this time my interest in Sonic was pretty much gone, so I had heard of the cartoon but did not actively watch it as I was interested in different things at the time. This was also around the time where 4Kids was known for notoriously butchering anime when bringing it to the states, like censoring the hell out of One Piece and allegedly wanting to Americanize Tokyo Mew Mew. Nowadays they have disappeared, leaving their weird localization legacy in the dust. Unless you loved the Pokemon anime, that is.
Now, I only watched a few choice episodes of this show since I wasn’t gonna go through all 78 episodes in one go. I’m not that crazy. I watched the 4Kids versions for this, since I don’t speak a lick of Japanese. So my apologies to the purists that I watched the American version of this show instead of the original Japanese version.
The first episode features Sonic (voiced by Jason Griffith) fighting Eggman (voiced by Mike Pollock) fighting robotic minions, then Robotnik does some Chaos Control-like power and suddenly Sonic is in Station Square, the location featured in Sonic Adventure. Eventually he befriends a kid named Chris Thorndyke, and most of the first season involves Sonic and Chris’s goofy antics as the rest of the Sonic crew come to Station Square and have wacky hijinks.
By the time we get to the second season, it becomes “let’s adapt the video games and make them story arcs.” Except with more humans in the mix. Chris’ appearances feel much like an afterthought in these episodes. One episode I saw had him beaten repeatedly by Shadow. They even thought it was a good idea to make a story arc based around Sonic Battle. So we got Sonic, Chris and his buddies watching after that robot Emerl. I don’t know what they were thinking with that one. But it’s nothing like the third season.
Sonic and his buddies, with the Chaotix in tow, now have to fight the Metarex, which are some robot plant army hellbent on sucking the life force out of the planet. It gets real weird at this point, with the Metarex replacing Robotnik as the main villain. Chris reunites with them as an adult, but then is magically turned back into a kid for some dumb reason. At one point, Tails starts falling in love with one of the Metarex named Cosmo. Thankfully it gets less ridiculous at the end, with Sonic and Shadow teaming up with Cosmo to defeat the Metarex and having a happy ending. At least, as happy as this show can get, really.
Here’s something interesting: The entire third season never aired in Japan. I guess the land of giant robots thought this season was too weird even by their standards.
I wouldn’t say Sonic X is terrible, but it’s certainly bizarre. Chris and the other humans feel thrown in and don’t really jell with Sonic and the rest of the characters. The third season just got super-weird with plant robots. If you had to watch this, I’d say watching season 3 is the best option, just if you thought Sonic the Hedgehog could not get any more ridiculous.
Man, Sonic the Hedgehog had a rough ride when it comes to cartoons. The only one that I think held up the most was Adventures. SatAM was an okay show that got ended up being barely about Sonic, Underground was a cornball show with an identity crisis, and Sonic X was a weird anime cartoon with too many offbeat ideas. If these shows are any indication, Sonic Boom is bound to be a masterpiece in comparison. I’m not gonna watch it day one since I’m not the target demographic for the show, but I might watch it some day. Can’t be any worse than what I’ve seen here, can it?
(Some of the images here in this entry shamelessly stolen from Sonic News Network, a Sonic fan wiki.)