Feature: A Supersonic History of Sonic Cartoons
Posted by Gaz Plant
For anyone growing up in the early nineties, there was one gaming rivalry that dwarfed all others – Nintendo vs SEGA. While the feud gave us classic moments such as “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” and the infamous Genesis ‘blast processing’, this gaming cold war would split playgrounds and even families over who was the better mascot – Mario or Sonic. It seems strange now considering how well Sonic fits into the Nintendo fold (just look at Smash Bros.), but the nineties were a time where you were either a Sonic or Mario fan; you just couldn’t be both.
The gaming cold war eventually spilled over to television, with Nintendo leading with Captain N at the turn of the decade; the show would play host to everything from Mario to Zelda adaptations (and even Kid Icarus’ Pit alongside Mega Man!), with the Super Mario Bros: Super Show! proving to be an endearing icon of the era, as is Lou Albano’s Mario dance.
But not one to be discouraged, SEGA soon hit back, and in 1993 Sonic the Hedgehog made his first appearance on TV. While Nintendo would ultimately step out of the television battle, SEGA has continued to use animation as a key selling point for the Sonic franchise, and next year we’ll be seeing the blue blur returning to our screens for the first time since 2005, in the aptly named Sonic Boom. While we wait for details on this new project, let’s take a look back at Sonic’s TV history.
Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993-1996)
What some consider to be the ultimate Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon, Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog ran between 1993 and 1996, airing 65 episodes over its three year run, along with a final Christmas special where Sonic takes on the role of being Santa. And that basically sums up the show – it’s mad, it’s completely bizarre, but you’ll be hard pressed to find another licensed cartoon that is as funny as this.
Set on the vibrant Planet Mobius, each episode would see Sonic and Tails defeat yet another of Dr Robotnik’s mad-cap schemes – plans such as a Slo-Mo Ray to slow down Sonic or using a Gravity Stopper to lift Sonic off the ground were standard fare for the series. Alongside the main trio of characters were Robotnik’s own “Super Special Sonic Search and Smash Squad”, made up of badniks Scratch, Grounder and Coconuts, characters who have since gone on to become cult favourites.
With its off-beat humour, memorable catchphrases (“I’m waaaaiiiiting” springs instantly to mind) and zany storylines, Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog proved to be a big hit with the fans. A brilliant supporting cast, including salesman Wes Weasley, kept things fresh, and with Sonic fooling Robotnik using various disguises (even going so far as pretending to be his long-lost girlfriend), laughs were always just around the corner. The show also saw Jaleel White providing the voice for Sonic for the first time, a role for which he would soon become iconic.
Sonic the Hedgehog (1993-1995)
Perhaps the best example of SEGA trying to dominate the market, Sonic the Hedgehog (dubbed Sonic SatAM by fans due to its Saturday morning time slot) appeared on TV screens a mere two weeks after Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog launched in 1993. Running for just 26 episodes, Sonic SatAM is almost the polar opposite of Adventures, with a much darker and serious tone pervading throughout the show.
Set again on Mobius, Sonic SatAM is based in the city of Mobotropolis, which has been taken over by Dr Robotnik and his nephew Snively. Working with the Freedom Fighters, Sonic (voiced again by Jaleel White) and Tails fight to free Mobotroplis from the SWATbots and thwart Robotnik’s evil schemes. It’s a far darker tone than the random insanity of Adventures, and ultimately it was cancelled prior to its third season. But the legacy left behind is one that no other series has even come close to matching.
The show had a big influence on the trajectory of Sonic the Comic (and vice versa), with Freedom Fighters Princess Sally, Bunnie Rabbot, Rotor and Antoine all playing key roles in both series, along with Snively and the concept of Roboticizing. 18 years after the show’s cancellation, the story of the Freedom Fighters is still alive and well in the comics, and that is a legacy no show can match.
Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie (1996)
An hour-long “movie”, Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is something of a black sheep among the Sonic cartoons. Produced in Japan, it features none of the hallmarks of the previous series, instead introducing its own take on the Sonic universe. With no voice actors from the other series either, it stands out from the rest, yet despite its odd nature, it has a devoted following.
The plot once again sees Sonic and Tails thwarting Dr Robotnik’s evil plans, this time to save the President’s daughter. Along the way they enlist the help of a Stetson wearing Knuckles, and face off against Metal Sonic, which should go some way to explaining why this is such a cult hit. Animated in the same style as the Sonic CD introduction, there’s certainly a lot to enjoy about this unique moment of Sonic history.
Sonic Underground (1999-2000)
It would be three years until Sonic hit TV screens again, this time courtesy of a French animation studio. And it’s safe to say that this isn’t Sonic as you remember him. Once again set on Mobius, Dr Robotnik has overthrown Queen Aleena, who sent her three children into hiding to save them from Robotnik’s forces. Years later, these three siblings discover their true destiny – to defeat Robotnik and return their mother to her rightful throne. The children? None other than Sonic (voiced by Jaleel White for the final time) and his new brother and sister, Manic and Sonia the Hedgehog. And they have magical instruments that when played defeat whatever it is needs to be defeated.
It’s yet another crazy setup for a Sonic cartoon, and the show is supported by even crazier characters – Sleet and the shape-shifting Dingo make up Robotnik’s primary force (and comic relief), while the hedgehogs join forces with the Freedom Fighters to stop Robotnik. Underground would see the return of Knuckles to the cartoon series, along with a Sean Connery sound-a-like for his great-grandfather, Athair.
Sonic Underground is truly unlike any other Sonic cartoon, with episodes interspersed with musical segments where the hedgehogs get out their instruments and play a song, complete with lyrics. The show was met with a modest response, but was ultimately cancelled before Queen Aleena was restored to her throne – since then fans have been campaigning for an ending, and last year a comic adaptation was penned in for the 50th issue of comic Sonic Universe. At the time of writing, there has been no further news on this finale, or why it was not published in issue 50.
Sonic X (2003-2005)
The most recent Sonic cartoon to date, Sonic X took the series to Earth, and created one of the truest representations of the Sonic game canon ever committed to television. One of the key successes of Sonic X was in bringing across the entire roster of Sonic characters to the small screen, with everyone from Big the Cat to Team Chaotix given screen time, and more importantly bringing across their voice actors from the games.
After a Chaos Control incident transports the gang to Earth, Sonic meets up with Chris Thorndyke, a random kid who takes them in while they work on finding the Chaos Emeralds before Dr Eggman (note the name change). The show has a very different feel and tone to its 90s counterparts, largely due to a different approach to cartoon creation, but still features many of the series’ cartoon tropes. Eggman is accompanied by robots Decoe and Bocoe, who effectively replace Scratch and Grounder, while Sonic and the gang are supported by the Thorndyke family (who proved controversial with fans).
Where Sonic X truly succeeded was in its retelling of iconic stories – the Perfect Chaos arc from Sonic Adventure and the Shadow Saga from Sonic Adventure 2 were key elements of the end of the first season, with character development expanded upon from the original source material. It was also a surprisingly touching show, with Sonic and Amy’s relationship developing over the series, but it also had a lot of comedy, with Team Chaotix proving to be worthy punchlines. The show ultimately gained a second season which saw a more Star Trek approach taken in the Meterex saga, before ending with an emotional finale. Since then, there have been almost yearly rumours of a third season, but it does seem now that Sonic X is consigned to the history books.
Sonic Boom (TBC) (2014- )
And that’s because starting late next year, Sonic will be back in the tentatively titled Sonic Boom. With an initial production order of 52 11-minute episodes, Sonic Boom is being penned as a comedic take on the Sonic universe, perhaps not too dissimilar to Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. With the voice cast from the games mostly on board, it is sounding like a promising project, and one that will hopefully be a worthy continuation of the legacy left behind by the previous four series.
Whatever the reaction to Sonic Boom ultimately is, it seems that once again Sonic has become a brand that SEGA is promoting in as many ways as possible. With the games series also making regular appearances, this year’s Sonic Lost World being the latest, it stands to reason that the Sonic franchise is heading in a positive direction once again. And a new cartoon series can only add to that.
What are your memories of the Sonic cartoons? Are you looking forward to watching Sonic Boom next year? Let us know in the comments below.