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I first encountered this series in reruns when I was very, very young. I only saw two episodes (Sonic and Sally and Sonic Racer), and, being a fan of Science Fiction and Cyberpunk, I immediately fell in love with the setting and atmosphere. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the series again until the 2010s with the help of the internet - I would always get the other, sillier cartoon instead of the one I was actually looking for. Once I found it online, I watched through every episode, and discovered that I still loved it... and that I also hated it. Make no mistake: Sonic the Hedgehog is an American SaturdayMorningCartoon. However, it's obviously trying to be more than that... until it isn't.
The overall tone of the cartoon - the part I loved so much - is like if you took the quirky personality of the original Star Wars and crossed it with the visual style of the war sequences from The Terminator, and somehow made the result family friendly (to see what I mean, compare that war sequence to this scene fromSonic and Sally - the inspiration is clear). The show is about a small band of heroes fighting against overwhelmingly powerful evil using their creativity and grit, and the heroes don't always come out on top with a runaway victory. For the most part, the characters' personalities are surprisingly deep, with multiple motivations and a wide range of emotions and interactions you won't find anywhere else in the Sonic Franchise. The villain is terrifying, and is quite believably threatening to the heroes, and the rest of the world. The show deals with subjects like PTSD and the emotional trauma that comes from losing a loved one, all while never allowing itself to become too dreary: it has a sense of humor, and it's quite cathartic when the heroes pull off a major win.
Unfortunately, the show is beset with the most extreme Mood Whiplash that I've ever seen in a cartoon, and I'm absolutely certain it's the result of some executive getting their pants in a twist over the idea of cartoon animals fighting a guerrilla war against a mad scientist, even though that's what the entire franchise was always about in the first place.
Whoever was in charge obviously mandated that the cartoon should lighten up for the next season. That isn't a problem on it's own: the problem is how that was implemented. Moments of comic relief already existed in the show... but then there's Antoine and Dulcy - two characters who don't seem like they belong to this particular cartoon in ANY capacity. Antoine was originally◊ conceptualized◊ as well-spoken, self-important fop; somehow, he became a shrieking coward who can barely speak English instead. He was always there, even from the first episode, but he was far more tolerable in season 1 because the writers knew to keep his presence to a minimum. That changed in the second season, where he gets 2 entire episodes to himself out of a 13 episode season. Dulcy appears in the second season without warning and seems like she was imported from a cartoon designed for a preschool audience. Her character is essentially one joke: she crashes into things and then, dazed, says something about her "Ma" ("Okay, Ma, I'll pick up my room..."). Both characters clash strongly with the established dystopian tone and do nothing but detract from the series, and that's sad.
In my opinion, Cartoons, as a medium, have suffered in the United States due to a phenomenon that TV Tropes calls the Animation Age Ghetto: the frivolous assertion that animation is a frivolous medium primarily suitable for children aged 12 and under, and further, that anything that doesn't fit that overly narrow age bracket is vulgar and sexual. This cartoon - among many others - was an attempt to appeal to an older demographic without making any extreme and unnecessary effort to avoid a G rating: it just was a cartoon for a somewhat older audience, but the Powers That Be clearly didn't allow it to be a cartoon for a somewhat older audience. I call that a waste of potential.
You may notice that I didn't talk much about the videogame series that this show is adapted from. That's because I'm judging the show on it's own merits, not on it's ability to emulate a videogame. For what it's worth, I think it does a good job of exploring the environmental themes that Naoto Ohshima tried to touch on in his games (Like Sonic The Hedgehog CD, which he personally directed), without being painfully preachy about it. Apparently, he thought so too.
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