Video game heroes have been appearing in animated form for years now, but in the wake of Captain N: The Game Master and The Super Mario Bros. Super Show came Sega's blue wonder, Sonic the Hedgehog. Three different animated series based on Sonic were produced over the years, and now Shout! Factory has done the die-hard fans a favor and released the Saturday morning Sonic the Hedgehog series to DVD. The complete series (all twenty-six episodes) takes up four DVD discs and includes some nifty bonus features, but as with my comments regarding the recent Captain N DVD release, we're really looking at two different components here: the original Sonic series and Shout!'s treatment of it on DVD. The consensus? Read on. Speed read if you want. After all, if you can't speed read an article about Sonic the Hedgehog, when can you?
Sonic the Hedgehog borrows few elements from the source material and instead branches out in its own unique tale. You'll see Sonic and Tails, sure, plus Dr. Robotnik and his plans to conquer Mobius that involve turning the local animals into robots. That's about where the similarities end. In the series Sonic enlists the aids of the other residents of forest-friendly village Knothole to defend against Robotnik's oncoming mechanical regime. These new characters join with Sonic to form the Freedom Fighters. You'll meet Rotor (a genius walrus mechanic), Bunnie Rabbot (part rabbit, part Robotnik robot), Princess Sally Acorn (daughter of the displaced king of Mobotropolis), and Antonie (former palace guard). Together they all go against Robotnik and his minions episode after episode.
As for the episodes themselves, I must admit that I never saw the series when it aired originally, so I don't have the nostalgic draw to it that I enjoy with other such animated productions such as Captain N or the various Super Mario cartoons. Watching Sonic as an uninitiated viewer I found myself confused at the new characters and lack of game-based Sonic adventures. The series originally aired in 1993 through 1995 so I wasn't expecting any of the latter-day characters such as Shadow the Hedgehog, but where are Metal Sonic? Knuckles? Amy? Anyone familiar beyond Sonic and Tails? I make it a point not to review a product for what it does not contain, but in this case I find myself mystified at why the production team did not take better advantage of Sonic's rich cast of game characters. Still, the "new" Freedom Fighters work well and I cannot fault them as being uninteresting. They're just not familiar, and in the end I suppose that is what I was expecting when I started watching the show. The tone here is quite different than other game-based cartoons of the day. While at its core the series is lighthearted and comical, the characters take the events of their lives very seriously. There are multiple story layers at work in places, as a basic continuity forms bonds between adventures. On the whole, unfortunately, I found the series more annoying than entertaining, and while I understand what the creators were going for here, in the end it just didn't hold my attention.
On the other hand, Shout! Factory did another admirable job bringing this series to DVD. As with Captain N there are a handful of bonus features spread across the discs including an interview Jaleel White (the voice of Sonic), an interview with writer Ben Hurst, a complete script of the pilot episode, storyboards, concept art, and deleted scenes. Even some of the artwork found on the discs and inside the cases come from fan art produced by Sonic the Hedgehog fans. Honestly, the bonus material was of more interest to me than the actual series itself. I find it difficult to recommend the set to anyone whom isn't already a fan of the series (or at least has a passing nostalgic fondness for it). I understand that the series still maintains an ardent fan base, however, so chances are this set will find an audience (and probably with the appropriate great speed).