As a child of the 90s, I feel some kinship to Sonic the Hedgehog. As a child I watched both the SatAM Sonic series as well as The Adventures of Sonic The Hedgehog, and even remember going to an arcade at SOGO that had a copy of the game playable.
Over the years a lot would happen to SEGA and Sonic that would absolutely pass by a cartoon-firsts fan like me: SEGA withdrawing from consoles, the sheer wealth of new characters from the Adventure games, as well as arguably the biggest thorn in Sonic’s side: the cynical YouTuber era.
Despite that, our blue buddy is back and stronger than ever. I like to think we’re in the middle of a Sonic renaissance right now, with the character not just being present everywhere but, more importantly, being loved for it.
No Really he’s Everywhere
I feel like the term mass-media franchise has been a little warped in the past decade. In my opinion it’s much better to plan for one series and then only have it branch outwards. Rather than have promises that the games will fill in the gaps between episode 2 and 3, which will get you ready for the podcast leading up to the stage play, I much rather be courted by a good piece of media, then find out a year later that maybe it’s coming to something else as a game or anime.
There’s very few franchises who have the clout to go that wild with it- but whaddya know, Sonic there among them. As of this moment, there’s a Sonic experience for anyone that’s recently produced, meaning you never have to feel that feeling that you’re watching something dated. Want an animated series? Sonic Prime is on Netflix. A live-action movie? There’s two of them. 3D Sonic? Frontiers is there and it’s excellent. 2D Sonic? Superstars just launched this week. I mean, we even got Sonic The Fighter in Lost Judgment, and there’s mobile games on Apple Arcade for those of you who want to see a hedgehog drive a race car.
One way or another, you’re going to hear of Sonic The Hedgehog. People think the goal is 100% conversion to die-hard fan status, but that’s rarely the case. Instead, big nets like this are better for getting many people tangentially aware of Sonic, before the actual quality of the products converts them to more serious fans.
Overcoming The Cynics With Earnestness
Of course, how we got here with Sonic is a pretty interesting story. It’s not like there haven’t been attempts to reinvent the character in the past- Sonic Boom tried to introduce new takes on Sonic, Knuckles, Amy and Tails, with mixed reception to the attempts.
While some may wish for a timeline with no Sonic backlash, I really think this paved the way for SEGA’s biggest triumph with the character- Sonic Frontiers. People didn’t like the one-note characteristics of Sonic and co. in the Boom series, and so it brought forward a lot more nuanced discussion about what each of those characters mean to people.
In return, we got Frontiers, which acted as a somber look back on those exact feelings, as Sonic tries to free his friends from their digital prisons. There’s something really nice about seeing Tails, a character who’s always portrayed as the child following Sonic around actively lamenting that he needs to grow as a person.
What I like about the characterizations in Frontiers is that they don’t exist to sell you something new. Tails wanting to be his own person doesn’t end with “Tails will return in Tails The Fox: Reloaded”, it just feels like a sincere reflection on characters many fans have known forever.
It doesn’t have to be serious discussions about characters and moving on, either. While Rise of Lyric may not have been a success, the Sonic Boom series quickly found its audience for its meta humor- because fans wanted a Sonic that recognized its more offbeat fandom, instead of “a Sonic that’s just like you” in the most corporate way possible.
The crowning glory of this approach would be Sonic Twitter. Building up from what the Wendy’s Twitter started with snarky responses, Sonic Twitter also featured Twitter takeovers with the “characters” themselves answering fan questions. These segments were incredibly well-written, as well as well-performed- the clip of Shadow The Hedgehog talking about his skincare routine will probably live in infamy as one of his defining off-camera traits, especially when you realize it was in response to a marriage proposal.
The Future Of Sonic
Honestly, even I don’t know where Sonic’s going to go next. He’s transcended into a level of IP consciousness that only a few brands could think of, with both mass awareness and a fandom that’s deeply attached to the character.
Like I said earlier, though, I think earnestness is the key to keeping Sonic’s upwards trajectory. The Sonic movies are genuinely good films, not just good Sonic movies, and the same can be said with recent games like Frontiers.
The tricky thing now is keeping that balance- the niche in-jokes will probably be more scarce in future, and unless we’re going to get a constant cycle of old games being remade for modern audiences the whole concept of “Series-aware Sonic” will likely fade away into a more evergreen personality. Still, it’s clear SEGA has a pretty good handle on their mascot- and I can’t wait to see where he goes next.