A+ 21st-century trends

How Sonic became a cultural icon

9 Mins read

“I grew up with Sonic Satnam and Sonic The Hedgehog x as they appear on television a lot, what inspired me to get involved in the sonic fandom initially were games and cartoons,” recalls Marina a twenty-one-year-old artist, gamer and a collector of anime and cartoons who is absolutely smitten by Sonic. Sonic The Hedgehog is a Japanese video game series and media franchise created and owned by Sega which happens to a Japanese mutlinational video game and entertainment company headquartered in Shinagawa, Tokyo. Sonic is a famous character whose journey started from a video game to a protagonist in a film. From making its appearance in a porn video to making an appearance in Dumb ways to die,(parody video of Sonic) to getting all the love and hate, seems like Sonic has lived through it all. Was this all controversial, or was it effective PR and tactical marketing stunts that kept this blue waved creature alive till date? Let’s dive deep into the blue journey of Sonic the hedgehog. 

Sonic The Hedgehog is a cultural icon, a comic fandom and cult that has managed to stay fresh and alive, surviving the cultural waves of criticism back in 2019 and it remains as iconic today. The gaming culture that was prevalent in 1991 kickstarted the journey of Sonic and eventually games such as Proper Sonic: The Mega Drive Years, 8 Bit Sonic : The Master System (1996-1997), Extremely Confused Sonic: The Saturn Years (1999-2001), Confident Failure Sonic: The Dreamcast Years and many more were born. The journey of this character as a cult film icon began as a replacement of another character, Super Mario who seemed to be losing its spark. Although the Sonic game series was famously known in the gaming community, it soon was developed into a tv series by DIC (Diffusion, Information Communications) which later was caught by the CEO of American SEGA who was determined to make a film adaptation of it. Amzar Rizam, an artist who creates Sonic-inspired art talked to Artefact about the fandom and said, “What inspired me about Sonic is his personality and characteristics, he’s cool and I want to be like him. I think Sonic is one of the best video game character of all time. Like Mario, Sonic is kind and brave, but also a little cocky, that makes for a perfect hero. But I do hate how he was depicted as in the British Fleetway comics where he was a total jerk.”  

Sonic didn’t actually make his first appearance in a Sonic game-before the release of the first Sonic the Hedgehog  series, the little blue hedgehog was actually seen dangling from a rear-view mirror as an air freshener in SEGA’s coin-operated arcade racer Rad Mobile. Everyone’s got to start somewhere, right? He wasn’t always called Sonic either – when Sonic the Hedgehog  was first in development, he was actually called Mr Needlemouse. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed. His design is based on a mixture of Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat – if you’ve ever wondered why Sonic looks so familiar, a number of pop culture icons were actually used to influence his design. Naoto Ohshima, the original character designer for Sonic, used Felix the Cat’s head and Mickey Mouse’s body for the basic shape of what would become SEGA’s mascot. His iconic trainers were also based on Michael Jackson’s boots from the Bad’ music video.  


James Marsden, Tika Sumpter and Sonic (Ben Schwartz) in SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 from Paramount Pictures and Sega. Photo Credit: Courtesy Paramount Pictures and Sega of America.

Sonic New Game Engine 4, which is the latest version of the game was a huge success in terms of its looks, it garnered praise on the character’s hairstyle but the real problem was the interface where the graphics somehow slowed the game even more.  One user called Schildpatt on Reddit attempted to give constructive feedback, “The demo would’ve been so much better if he’d have just run somewhere, instead he shows this stutterstep that shows that it was cheaply thrown together in about 15 minutes”. The very same year a motivational video posted by the actor Shia LaBeouf cheering with slogan “Just do it” was released, which left fans a bit shocked but they later found out that this video was posted to Sonic’s official Twitter account. The fans originally got confused as they were not aware by the collaboration between Sonic The Hedgehog and the actor. Turns out that Sonic was trying to keep it fun after receiving the slow and bumpy backlash on the game. 

Sonic Porn Dreams Collection by MJSTUDIO is the fictional video game development studio behind  Make My Sonic, Eggman Origin, Sonic Movie Maker and My Roommate Sonic. The studio’s name is a reference to the association between Michael Jackson and Sega, particularly the pop star’s involvement with the Dreamcast and the Sonic franchise.In 2013 Arcane Kids purchased a Sega Dreamcast development kit off eBay which was found to contain the four MJSTUDIO prototypes in question. These prototypes were updated for compatibility with home computers and released in 2015 as the Sonic Dreams Collection. In 2015 this developed an online virtual porn game and parody using Sonic and the other characters which wrapped Sonic in controversy yet again. There were tweets posted on Twitter.  (consider placing the tweets 

In 2015, a group of online gamers called by Arcane Kids developed an online virtual porn game and parody using Sonic and the other characters which wrapped Sonic in controversy yet again. These tweets are short clips as a proof that the virtual porn is still out there and was promoted using Twitter. You can click on the tweets posted by Emanuel Mailbert who was involved in this project here, here and here.

Although none of these sex games were developed by Sonic’s official team they received bizarre responses ranging from huge applauses from gaming websites such as VG247 who called it a “piece of gaming history” while Kill Screen went on to name it as “2015’s 13th best game” to offensive remarks such as by Destructoid who wrote they ranged from “creepy sexual fan service. All this gives us a scary glance into the fandom around Sonic which was also brought to our attention by Daily Dot who questioned why the game existed in the first place. Many Reddit users actually tried the game and loved it and gave additional feedback on how it was a great innovation. A user named Tardsmart  wrote, “This is a great video, very different from Matthew’s usual stuff but he still nails it. It’s really impressive that he can go from analysing the minute details of devil daggers’ mechanics to tangents about postmodernism in arcane kids games and be great at both.”

Sonic (Ben Schwartz) in SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 from Paramount Pictures and Sega. Photo Credit: Courtesy Paramount Pictures and Sega of America.

Jeff Fowler, the famous director was brought in to direct in 2016 the film on Sonic The Hedgehog. Some years later Paramount pictures bought it too and the movie was released. Somewhere amidst all of this followed a buzz about Michael Jackson composing music for Sonic 3 in 2016. It was rumoured that the singer did end up shooting the music video but then that was denied by SEGA. What added heat to this matter was that one of the song’s composer Brad Buxer gave a statement to a French Magazine called Black and White about the claims of MJ recording the sound. In his words, “ Michael called me at the time for help on this project, and that’s what I did.” He also told the magazine that MJ helped write the songs although he was unsure of the fact whether these would be used by SEGA. The company kept denying the rumours saying that it did not want to work with MJ and that this was all untrue. All was confirmed for a baseless rumour until a feature by Huffpost magazine. 

The piece explained in detail, “It’s hard to know for sure why Jackson’s name wasn’t on Sonic, my guess is that both the molestation charges and Jackson’s concerns about sound quality played a role in his removal from the credits”. But Ben Mallison a muisc composer for Jackson and his fellow Blues are right, Buxer says: The melody that appears in the end credits is also in Jackson’s single “Stranger in Moscow.” However, SEGA never officially confirmed this. What’s more, Hector another music composer has allegedly backed away from his story, saying in March 2008 that he had “recently been asked to not comment on this subject as promises of confidentiality were made.” What remains now is a mystery or as some might say conspiracy. Whatever it was, it did add a lot of fuel to the fire and added more intensity to the Sonic fandom. 

Another weird thing that happened was that people demanded Sonic Adventure 2’s ‘City Escape’ to be the national anthem. Gabe Carey of Glen Burnie, Maryland, has  started an online petition in 2016 calling for the change of the national anthem song. As of Tuesday afternoon, it already has more than 4,500 signatures. It’ll eventually be delivered to none other than President Barack Obama.Carey explains a bit more about why he started the petition on Change.org: 

Tell us, America, would you rather be reminded of the constant violence and threats faced by the soldiers of 1812 to get to this still-divided point in U.S. history or be set free by the rush of danger lurking around every turn as you follow your rainbow at the speed of sound? 

It’s your call, America. Follow me, set me free in my pursuit of changing the national anthem to this beloved classic tune. 

Judging by the negative press, Sonic decided to buckle up by making its 25th anniversary a very special one called Sega Mega Drive and released two new games. As per Daily Dot’s report, “The game system is a precious miniature version of the console that made so many of us fall in love with video games as kids. Sega’s versions, which coincide with Sonic’s 25th anniversary, kick up the offerings a notch with 80 built-in games available in two housings: one console and one handheld”.  

Knuckles (Idris Elba) and Sonic (Ben Schwartz) in Sonic The Hedgehog 2 from Paramount Pictures and Sega.

Sonic has its own summer convention and has been diving into that tasteful event ever since 2006 by computer game journalist and Sonic fan site owner Svend Joscelyne (aka “Dreadknux”), as the collaborative creation during July and August of a celebratory website in which submission of articles and media was open to anyone.  Guinness World Records 2014 Gamers Edition has listed Summer of Sonic as the first official fan convention for a video game character. It was held every summer between 2006 and2016. During this convention participants are expected to write features, play games, discuss and share opinions and much more. 

In 2017 Sonic The Hedgehog’s origin and history was introduced to the world. What we all thought is a hedgehog was initially a rabbit that was later developed into the blue hedgehog. Sonic was an originally a light blue rabbit named Feel who would would pick things up with his ears and then attack enemies or just throw them. However, this was dropped in favour of the super speedy hedgehog, and the design would later be used for another Sega title, Ristar, that features a star with stretching arms. This was additionally confirmed by Cook & Becker, a famous Dutch online website that specialises in dealership of digital art, video game, and concept art. This was also confirmed by Marina who said, “Yes, Sonic was originally a blue rabbit, but they changed it to a hedgehog”. 

In an investigative report by Sarah Emerson, it was found that the Twitter logo if turned upside down resembled Sonic the hedgehog. Sarah explained that part of her report dived deep into the conversations she had with the editor in chief Twitter,Jason Koebler and they agreed. She even reached out to Biz Stone who initially designed the Twitter logo to ask if the creator had been inspired in any way by the Sonic and got no response which does indicate some level of mystery when we all can see that the EIC of Twitter himself agreed with her. She additionally put the Tweet out and many users agreed and thought of the upside turned logo as the mascot for Sonic. In her words, “When you place the images next to each other, you can really see what I’m talking about. The blue. The pointy prongs. The chin area. The nose and/or beak.”  

Sonic (Ben Schwartz) in Sonic The Hedgehog 2 from Paramount Pictures and Sega.

Because of a turnaround by Paramount Pictures, Sonic The Hedgehog and acquired it in 2017. This eventually stalled the release of the movie’s first part because people reacted hugely to the “human teeth” that Sonic’s design had. Marina recalls about the backlash and said that , “ I am glad that the creators listened to the fans when it came to that because the design wasn’t that good initially.” First trailer in 2019 received a negative reaction because Paramount delayed the film by three months to redesign Sonic. In the same year an artist called Felix Kjellberg, who goes by PewDiePie on YouTube, where he has more than 95 million followers, announced Friday that he was going to try to draw Sonic the Hedgehog from memory. 

Sonic (Ben Schwartz) in SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 from Paramount Pictures and Sega. Photo Credit: Courtesy Paramount Pictures and Sega of America.

This resulted in the pictures landing up in the auction on eBay and many memes followed too leading to intense trolling of Sonic until the movie was finally released in 2020. It premiered at the Paramount Pictures studio and soon became a feature film that had a turnover of $319.7 million worldwide. Sonic the hedgehog received mixed reviews but nevertheless that didn’t stop it from releasing the sequel in 2022. 

Present situation: although the game turned television series turned film icon has survived the tides of its audience and eventually found a strong place, it does leave the reader wondering whether all those events were a coincidence or a marketing gimmick which involved more smearing that ultimately did get the audience talking about Sonic.

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