Does Anyone Remember the Strange Sonic the Hedgehog Anime?

while Sonic the Hedgehog is primarily known as a video game character, he has also appeared in comics, movies, and various TV shows. Right now, the world is looking forward to the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog 3Knuckles spin-off series, and yet another animated adaptation from Netflix known as Sonic Prime. This series is the latest in a long line of animated series from the blue blur, and fans all have their favorite series.

For kids of the nineties, chances are they will gravitate to The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog or the Saturday morning cartoon Sonic the Hedgehog (nicknamed SatAM by the fans). If you are a younger viewer, chances are the more recent Sonic Boom or Sonic X has a special place in your heart. However, there is a Japanese anime that was released in the mid-nineties that many fans have forgotten exists. It was not only one of the first Sonic animations to be produced, but it was also one of the strangest.


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What is the Sonic the Hedgehog OVA?

The title of the series was simply known as Sonic the Hedgehog, and it was a two-episode OVA released in Japan. OVA stands for Original Video Animation. These are series in Japan that are sold directly on the video market. They are typically shorter than a regular anime TV series would be (usually between two to six episodes) and tended to be more experimental in nature, with animation of higher quality.

Though most OVA’s would be forgotten over time, it should be noted that classic anime like Tenchi Muyo and FLCL started out as OVA’s, so it is worth delving into the world of OVA’s to see what interesting stuff you could find. Sonic the Hedgehog was produced in 1996 by Pierrot, the studio that produced the animated segments for the critically acclaimed Sonic CD for Sega CD. The story revolves around Dr. Robotnik asking Sonic and Tails to save Robotropolis from the mysterious invader Dr. Metal Robotnik (which, if you think about it, it isn’t THAT mysterious who’s behind the attack).

Sonic and Tails spend one episode taking down the “mysterious” Dr. Metal Robotnik (with a little help from Knuckles, who arrives to help in the middle of the battle). In the second episode, the trio must face off against Metal Sonic (in his first TV appearance), with the battle deciding the fate of Mobotropolis or…something like that.

What Stands Out in this Series

Being an early production, the animators didn’t have much story from the games to work with. So – like the American series produced by DiC at the time – they made things up and added characters and story elements. Sonic himself came off as a lazy oof who avoids saving people unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Tails is still the generic sidekick while Knuckles is a treasure hunter of sorts. Robotnik is still evil and egocentric, so there’s not much to discuss there.

The biggest changes come in the form of an owl friend of Sonic and Tails, and the human president of Mobotropolis and his daughter Sara. These characters don’t do much beyond beg Sonic to help them, and they haven’t appeared in any subsequent series or games since. The animation is the true star of the production. Featuring hand-drawn animation, the series moves fluidly and has great action sequences. Many visual nods to the games are sprinkled throughout the OVA and you get a true sense of Sonic’s speed while you are watching it.

The animation detail on characters like Metal Sonic is extremely impressive considering the time period. Given the bigger budget, this is understandable. It’s also understandable why SEGA would want to test the waters with an OVA rather than a weekly anime, seeing the corners that would have to be cut to accommodate the grueling schedule.

Did Americans Get a Chance to See it?

Believe it or not, this series DID come to America in 1999 courtesy of ADV Films. The two episodes were combined into one film, and it was released as Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie, technically making it the first Sonic movie Americans got to see. The release was not without problems though. With an extremely limited budget, ADV could not afford to hire voice actors from the American Sonic cartoons, which meant Sonic’s official voice actor at the time – Jaleel White – wasn’t asked to reprise his role.

Sonic was instead voiced by Martin Burke, who is widely considered the worst actor to portray the blue blur. Other actors were equally criticized, and the dub had a reputation for being of poor quality. What’s more, ADV licensed the anime because SEGA was releasing their new console the Sega Dreamcast, and joining the launch would be Sonic’s newest game Sonic Adventure.

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While it seemed smart on paper to release the OVA alongside a new game, the problem was that Sonic Adventure is where the games started to really establish a story and characters, and Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie looked nothing like what gamers were seeing, and many wondered what the point of the movie was.

Though sales numbers were hard to come by, they were good enough that when ADV started getting serious about the DVD format, Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie made the leap to DVD under the ADV Kids banner. This release also contained the original Japanese version, which Americans were more receptive to than the English version.

The Legacy of the Sonic the Hedgehog OVA

The American DVD went out of print in the early 2000s and is pretty pricey these days. There have been no attempts to re-license the OVA since. SEGA has also taken a much more hands-on approach to Sonic media and has done things like having the famous Archie Sonic comics canceled so that it could be rebooted with IDW, which has produced a much more video game-faithful adaptation. While some older Sonic cartoons are still on streaming platforms, the company is moving away from series that don’t resemble the current video games.

Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie IS available to watch on YouTube for free, which at this point is the only way most will be able to view it. It’s not a great movie, but it’s an interesting and fun glimpse at what the character looked like before the video games had a better grasp on his personality. Hopefully one day an official re-release will happen (maybe this time with a new dub that incorporates the current voice actors)?

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