Back in the 90s, when Sonic was the newest, hottest video game property on the block, having a cartoon was always a telltale sign that a game series had truly made it. Mario had a series of them, Legend of Zelda had one, Earthworm Jim had one, and even Bubsy almost had one.
Sonic, however, didn’t just have one, but two wildly different shows running at the same time. These two shows, both from DiC, would mark the start of Sonic’s rich animation legacy, a legacy that will be continuing next year with Sonic Prime.
With Sonic’s 30th anniversary upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to do a little retrospective of the franchise’s history in animation. So come along with me on a little journey, as we go through nearly 30 years of Sonic cartoons!
Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog
Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, which I’ll be referring to as “AoStH” from now on, only became Sonic’s first cartoon by technicality, since it beat DiC’s other 1993 Sonic cartoon, Sonic the Hedgehog, to the airwaves by mere weeks. DiC was originally only working on a single 13 episode Saturday morning cartoon for ABC. When DiC proposed making additional episodes for weekday syndication, ABC rejected the idea. Eventually, the two companies came to an agreement: DiC could produce another Sonic series separate from the Saturday morning show, exclusively for syndication. Thus, 65 episodes of AoStH were created.
AoStH debuted on the afternoon of September 6, 1993, and ran new episodes on weekdays until December 3, 1993. AoStH was the first show to feature Jaleel White as Sonic. Tails was voiced by an actual kid, Christopher Welch, while Scratch was voiced by Phil Hayes, Grounder was voiced by Gary Chalk, and Dr. Robotnik was voiced by the late great Long John Baldry. The show featured character designs by Milton Knight, (see his “sexy, handsome” Dr. Robotnik character sheet below), and drew a little more inspiration from the games than its Saturday morning counterpart.
For instance, the show’s soundtrack featured music inspired by the games, particularly the Sonic 1 theme. Robotnik’s three primary henchbots Scratch, Grounder, and Coconuts were all based on badniks from the games (Clucker, Burrobot/Grounder, and Coconuts respectively), and Dr. Robotnik himself used a lot of egg-themed things. The show did differ from the games (and the Saturday morning show) in one key way though: it was absolutely wacky.
AoStH is a very slapstick-heavy show. Sonic himself is more a trickster than an action hero, with more in common with Bugs Bunny than his IDW/Archie/Modern game self. He’ll often dress in costumes to fool Robotnik and his henchbots, using his speed to outsmart them and pull off gags. And just as Sonic and Tails tend to play the archetypical Bugs Bunny, Robotnik and company are the show’s Yosemite Sam. They exist purely to have violence inflicted upon them, to the delight of children. Despite all the cartoon violence, AoStH does attempt to be a good influence on children via its infamous “Sonic Says” segments, wherein Tails learns a lesson like “don’t smoke” and “don’t let people molest you.” Between these and the show’s weird visual humor, its no wonder that it’s become a source of memes.
The show’s got loads of other characters like Mama Robotnik, Dr. Warpnik, Breezie, Robotnik Jr, Wes Weasley, and Da Bears, all of whom are very weird characters that return after their initial introduction. The show does actually have very light continuity elements, including a pilot that shows the creation of Scratch and Grounder.
If you want to watch yourself, you can find some episodes on Netflix, and all of its episodes on Paramount+ or Wild Brain’s official Youtube.
Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM)
Mere weeks after the release of AoStH, on September 18 1993, Sonic the Hedgehog debuted on ABC as part of its Saturday morning cartoon line-up. Typically called “Sonic SatAM” by fans due to when it aired, the show ran for two seasons, ending on December 3, 1994. It again featured Jaleel White as Sonic, with Kath Soucie as Princess Sally, Jim Cummings as Dr. Robotnik, and Charlie Adler as Snively, among others. The show’s rocking theme song, “Fastest Thing Alive,” was composed by Michael Tavera and performed by Noisy Neighbors.
The show had a lighter tone early in its development, more typical of DiC’s video game adaptations of the day. Eventually, however, the show would adopt a darker tone, making it distinct not just from many of DiC’s other video game adaptations, but also the games the show was based on.
Rather than having Sonic speed through exotic, colorful locales in order to stop Dr. Robotnik from conquering the planet, in the world of SatAM Robotnik has already won. He’s conquered the planet Mobius, and Sonic and his fellow Freedom Fighters are on the back foot, trying to overthrow him and retake their world.
In SatAM, the characters have to occasionally deal with losing loved ones to the roboticizer, a machine that turns people into robotic slaves. They have to deal with the destruction Robotnik is wreaking on the environment, and take on efforts to keep it from getting worse. What’s more, Sonic himself is fast, but isn’t an especially overpowered character. He can be overwhelmed, and his tendency to be cocky and over confident will sometimes get him in trouble. Don’t take any of this to mean that SatAM is somehow super serious, though. The show has loads of light moments, largely thanks to Sonic himself, and some characters like Antoine and Dulcy can be downright silly as the show’s comic relief. There’s an entire episode of Antoine, who is a neat freak, just dealing with having Sonic as a roommate for a few days. Hijinks do indeed ensue.
The first season is made up entirely of standalone episodes, but its the second season people tend to remember. For this season, writers Ben Hurst and Pat Allee were given the reigns by Sonic SatAM story editor Len Janson. Together, the trio plotted a season-long story arc focusing on Dr. Robotnik’s “Doomsday Project,” which culminated in the Doomsday machine’s destruction and the apparent liberation of the planet. These sorts of season-long arcs were uncommon at the time, and another thing that set SatAM apart from its contemporaries.
Unfortunately, none of this was enough to allow SatAM to survive. During its second season, SatAm was aired at the same time as a hot new show called Power Rangers, and simply couldn’t match its ratings. Between that and a change in leadership at ABC due to the Disney buyout, Sonic SatAM was doomed. The show ended on an unresolved cliffhanger, featuring Snively emerging from the rubble of the destroyed Doomsday device, with mysterious red eyes appearing behind him.
Hurst would later go on to elaborate on his season 3 plans, which you can find here. He made several attempts to revive the show before his death in 2010. The show itself spawned a cult following, much of which coalesced around a website called “Fans United for SatAM.” These fans are now working to bring Hurst’s season 3 plans to life, in the form of a long running web comic and a currently in-production web series. Click the hot links to check them out!
Sonic SatAM itself can currently be watched through Paramount+, Amazon Prime, and Wildbrain’s Youtube or bought through most VOD services. The Spanish dub is in tubi.
Sonic the Hedgehog OVA (aka Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie)
Sonic finally made it into anime in 1996 with the Sonic the Hedgehog OVA, produced by Studio Pierrot and directed by Kazunori Ikegami. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, OVA stands for “original video animation,” which are basically just anime released directly to home video. So yes, when we all bought this years later as Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie, that was basically a lie. But more on that later! The Sonic OVA was released in two 30 minute halves, with the first half releasing on January 26, and the second half launching on March 22. And it…certainly is an anime!
The Sonic OVA hues significantly closer to Sonic’s game incarnation, while still carving its own trail. It’s got game-accurate badniks, but it’s also got spiky humanoid robots not unlike SatAM’s Swatbots. It’s got the Tornado, but instead of taking place in any of the game’s locales, it takes place on Planet Freedom, where there is a “Land of the Sky” that floats in the clouds, and a “Land of Darkness,” which is basically a post-apocalyptic Earth ruled by Robotnik. Its got the first animated appearance of Knuckles (with a hat!) and Metal Sonic, but instead of Amy we’ve got “Sarah,” an anime cat girl who is also the daughter of the president. So, an accurate adaptation of SEGA of Japan’s game lore this is not, but its probably the closest animation ever got to doing classic Sonic accurately.
Dr. Robotnik convinces Sonic and Tails that he’s been kicked out of his home by a nefarious new foe named “Metal Robotnik” (which, yes, is just Robotnik in a mech suit), who has set his robot generator to blow, endangering the entire planet. Sonic and Tails hesitantly go down to the Land of Darkness to turn off the generator. Much of the first OVA is simply them making their way to Robotnik’s home, with it culminating in a fight against Metal Robotnik, which is also where Knuckles is introduced. The second half of the OVA focuses on the introduction of Metal Sonic (still his only hand drawn appearance in TV animation), and climaxes in a fight between Sonic and his metallic doppelgänger for the fate of Planet Freedom.
More than three years later, on September 7, 1999, just two days before the release of the Dreamcast and Sonic Adventure in the US, Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie hit store shelves. Dubbed by ADV Films, it featured the voices of Martin Burke as Sonic, Lainie Frasier as Tails, Bill Wise as Knuckles, and Edwin Neal as Dr. Robotnik. It combined both OVAs into a single 60 minute feature. Unfortunately, though the DVD had a couple different print runs over the years, it hasn’t had an official release in some time, and the DVDs are becoming expensive. There are ways to watch it elsewhere, but as none of that’s official, I won’t be linking to it. Here’s hoping it gets a proper re-release some time!
Sonic Christmas Blast
The Sonic OVA wasn’t the only piece of Sonic animation released in 1996! On November 24, years after AoStH was done and SatAM was canceled, Sonic got a 30 minute Christmas special from DiC, Sonic Christmas Blast (likely named to associate it with 3D Blast). With much of the original AoStH cast (aside Welch) returning, the special could technically be seen as a continuation of the AoStH show. The special doesn’t look quite as manic though, and Princess Sally actually makes a brief (voiceless) appearance.
In the special, Sonic is trying to find Sally a Christmas present (despite them both promising to just skip gifts that year). This eventually leads to Sonic and Tails discovering that Santa Claus is retiring and being replaced by Dr. Robotnik. This is obviously a lie, and Sonic and Tails go off and save Christmas.
Sonic Christmas Blast can be watched on Paramount+, Amazon Prime, and for free on Wildbrain’s Youtube. Tubi has the Spanish dub.
Sonic the Animation
Concluding our trilogy of standalone Sonic animation oddities from the mid-90s is a little two minute short, Sonic the Animation, or “Man of the Year.” The short was created for theme parks like SEGA World Japan. It was animated by the Japanese studio TMS, the same company that animated multiple episodes of AoStH and would later go on to work on Sonic X. The short notably mimics the style of WB shows like Animaniacs and Tiny Toons, two cartoons TMS had worked on. SEGA AM3 collaborated with TMS, developing the short’s 3DCG backgrounds. The short was technically released in theme parks in 1994, but was released more widely to consumers as an extra in the Sonic Jam Sonic compilation for the Saturn in 1997.
In the short, Eggman becomes jealous of Sonic being named “Man of the Year,” and so dresses up in a Sonic suit to cause havoc. It ends on a cliffhanger with Sonic’s reputation ruined. Arguably, this is one of the few times Eggman has won.
Check it out here.
With this, we’re at the final entry in DiC’s catalog of Sonic titles. And it certainly is…different! Sonic Underground was a American/French co-production, with DiC producing it with French company Les Studios Tex S.A.R.L.. The show entered production in early 1997 and 40 episodes were produced. The show debuted on the French station TF1 on January 6, 1999, and debuted in the US on August 30, 1999. Much like AoStH, it ran in syndication and aired its final episode on October 22, 1999.
Sonic Underground possesses several unique quirks that set it apart from other Sonic shows. For one, Sonic is a prince with two siblings, his sister Sonia and his brother Manic. The show starts with his mother being dethroned by Dr. Robotnik, and him and his siblings being separated as babies to keep them safe. They are each left with medallions that can turn into musical instruments (and weaponry). Eventually they meet, become members of the resistance against Robotnik, and form a band.
In terms of characterization, Sonic is basically just a toned down version of his SatAM counterpart. Sonia is a bit snobbish due to being raised in an aristocratic family, while Manic is sarcastic and quick to steal due to being raised by thieves. Most of Underground’s plotlines center around the siblings trying to find their mother, stop a Robotnik scheme, or learning a moral.
Sonic Underground didn’t feature anyone else from previous Sonic cartoons, or Tails, but it was the only DiC show to feature Knuckles the Echidna. It also had his great-grandfather Athair from the Archie comics, marking his only animated appearance. The show also gave Robotnik new henchman, the scheming Sleet and his oafish, orange partner Dingo. Dingo could be transformed into various objects by Sleet, because Underground is a weird show and I guess they needed a gimmick.
Each episode of the show has a song performed by the Sonic siblings, usually linked to the episode’s plot or central theme in some way. These songs were apparently included by DiC so that the company would receive extra residuals from airings of the show, due to them containing original songs owned by DiC. This music is what Sonic Underground is most infamous for. All forty songs were written by song writer and musician Mike Piccirillo, who composed a lot of music for DiC at the time.
Jaleel White voices Sonic, Manic, and even Sonia (apparently, it was possible to have voice actors voice up to three character without being paid extra, and DiC took advantage), while Gary Chalk (who got a prrrromotion from voicing Grounder in AoStH) voices Robotnik. Sleet was voiced by Maurice LaMarche, Dingo was played by Peter Wilds, and Knuckles was voiced by Brian Drummond. Sonic Underground is notable for featuring the writing of Sonic SatAM scribes Ben Hurst and Pat Alee in some of its episodes. They came on late in production, after many of the decisions had been made, initially as episode writers, before eventually becoming story editors (basically, the people who edit everyone else’s scripts). You can read about Hurst’s less-than-pleasant experience on the show here.
Sonic Underground can be watched on Paramount+, Amazon Prime, or for free on Wildbrain’s Youtube channel.
Finally, after three shows, two specials, and one short, we’ve entered the era of modern Sonic. And we’ve reached what is probably the first Sonic cartoon many of our younger readers saw: Sonic X. Sonic’s second anime and currently the franchise’s longest cartoon series in terms of sheer hours, Sonic X was animated by TMS and directed by Hajime Kamegaki. While this show wasn’t the first to feature input from SEGA (Sonic Underground was actually heavily scrutinized by SEGA of Japan, apparently), it is the first and only Sonic cartoon to have Yuji Naka on board as an executive producer. The series entered into production in 2002 and debuted on Japanese airwaves on April 6, 2003. It would reach American shores with a dub from 4Kids on August 23 later that same year. It ran for 78 episodes, with the final episode airing in the US on May 6, 2006.
Sonic X is also notable for being the first to tie directly into the existing games. Sonic Adventure DX actually featured some Sonic X billboards, and the show featured direct adaptations of three games, and the first animated appearances of numerous game characters, including Shadow, Rouge, the Chaotix, Cream and Cheese. All that said, the show has one notable distinction that sets it apart from the games: Chris Thorndyke, the ten-year-old boy and audience point-of-view character, was inserted into everything. In addition to Chris, the show also featured new henchbots for Dr. Eggman: Decoe, Boccoe, and Bokkun.
The show starts with Sonic stopping another Eggman plot involving the chaos emeralds, which leads to him and all his friends getting blasted to a strange new world called “Earth.” There, Sonic meets Chris, and over the next bunch of episodes he gradually gets the gang back together. There’s no freedom fighters, costumes, or magic guitars. Just Sonic stomping Eggman’s robot of the week.
The show is divided into three distinct parts: part one focuses on Sonic and friends getting used to their new home. Part two features adaptations of Sonic Adventure, Adventure 2, and Sonic Battle, as well as a bunch of smaller stories before everyone finally goes home. Finally, part three was produced after the first 52 episodes due to the show’s success overseas, and features Sonic and friends going on a big space adventure and fighting evil tree people. The final part is known for being a bit darker than the rest of the series.
Sonic X’s Japanese dub featured the video game voice cast while the show’s English dub featured a brand new voice cast that would eventually replace the existing voice actors a few years later in 2005. While I won’t be going over everyone here, Sonic was played by Jason Griffith, Chris was played by Suzanne Goldish, Tails was played by Amy Palant, Amy was played by Lisa Ortiz, and Eggman was played by Mike Pollock.
Sonic X can be watched subbed and dubbed on Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix, with a Spanish dub on Tubi. The first 26 episodes of the 4Kids dub can be found for free on TMS’s Youtube channel.
Sonic: Night of the Werehog
This serves as Sonic’s first ever animated short produced for the internet. Released on November 18, 2008, the same day as Sonic Unleashed, Night of the Werehog takes place during the events of that game. It was animated by Marza Animation Planet (the same company that produced the CGI for several Sonic games, and made some of the special effects for the Sonic movie) and directed by Takashi Nakashima.
In the 11 minute short, Sonic and Chip enter a haunted house to get out of the rain and…hijinks ensue! We’re not going to summarize something so short and readily available here, but if you want to see the short for yourself, it’s readily available on YouTube. SEGA has it uploaded in two parts, here and here.
Finally, we’ve reached the last Sonic show made for TV so far, and Sonic’s second American-French co-production! Sonic Boom was co-produced by SEGA of America and OuiDo! Productions. It debuted in the US on Cartoon Network on November 8, 2014 and ran for 104 11-minute segments across two seasons, with the final episode airing on Boomerang on November 18, 2017.
What’s notable about Sonic Boom is that it was explicitly made to be part of a multimedia sub franchise, with games and comics based in its distinct universe. And the universe definitely tries to set itself apart, with a new setting, new character designs, and a new friend for Sonic: Sticks the Badger. Although elements from other Sonic cartoons would occasionally pop up in other media, this is the first time it was all explicitly meant to tie into a single brand and universe. Another unique aspect about Sonic Boom is that it technically started life as a game.
Back in 2011, the project started as Sonic Origins at developer Big Red Button, and was to be a multiplayer-centric game that told Sonic and Dr. Eggman’s origin stories. It would have depicted them both as friends before they had a falling out over Dr. Eggman’s time travel shenanigans. By October 2013, the sub-franchise had taken its final form, and as officially announced by SEGA. Baily and Bill Freiberger served as the show’s showrunners, while Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka supervised.
Sonic Boom was the first purely comedy-driven Sonic show since AoStH, though it’s way less manic and slapstick. Its plots can center on anything, from Sonic and friends dealing with an Eggman scheme, to Dr. Eggman building an entire social media platform out of spite, to Knuckles just…becoming mayor for a day and going mad with power. I’m going to stop there, because if I tried to go into how wild Boom’s stories can get we’ll be here all day.
Sonic Boom is also the first cartoon to just use the existing game voice cast rather than its own. As a result, I won’t go through any aside from Sticks the Badger, who was voiced by Nika Futterman. Sonic Boom is currently available to stream from Hulu, and it can also be purchased through most VOD services. Most of the series is also available on DVDs, with the final volume of season 2 unannounced but probably coming eventually.
Sonic Mania Adventures & Other Web Sonic Shorts
Just as Sonic Boom was airing its final batch of episodes, SEGA debuted Sonic Mania Adventures, which was directed by Tyson Hesse and animated by Neko Productions, on Youtube. This would be the start of a series of web-exclusive animated shorts, with Team Sonic Racing: Overdrive and Chao in Space debuting in 2019, and Sonic Colors: Rise of the Wisps coming later this summer.
With RotW featuring voice acting in these shorts for the first time, it would appear that ever higher budgets are being allocated to these shorts, so they might be here to stay!
You can check out all these shorts on the official Sonic Youtube.
Sonic Prime & Beyond
So, we’ve spent a lot of time going over Sonic’s animated legacy, but what might be most exciting about it is that it’s far from over! A brand new 24 episode CGI cartoon starring Modern Sonic will be debuting on Netflix sometime in 2022, further adding to Sonic’s rich animated legacy. The show will feature writing from Man of Action and animation from Wildbrain Studios. You may notice that this is the same company that has all those DiC Sonic cartoons available for free on Youtube. This is because Wildbrain is effectively DiC’s modern day successor. So, in a weird way, Sonic animation is back to where it started!
Sonic Prime is set to be a more serious cartoon than Sonic Boom, featuring “high octane adventure” as Sonic traverses a new multiverse called the “Shatterverse,” and goes on a journey of self-discovery and redemption. We don’t know much else beyond that, including who will be voicing the characters. We did get new concept art just a day before this article was set to go live, however. It suggests we’ll at least be seeing multiple Eggmen, jungle girl Amy, pirate Knuckles, a nine-tailed Tails, and a city where Eggman rules, among other things!
When Sonic Prime is done, Sonic’s animated legacy will definitely continue on. With 6 distinct TV series and a multitude of specials and shorts, Sonic has one of the richest animated libraries of any video game character.