The Symbolism and Themes of "Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog"
11/06/29 at 20:24 EST
This has been a long time coming. I'm going to be delving into a show that I've very much come to enjoy and appreciate the nuances of, despite the show being directed at young children. If you read the big bold title above this, you already know that I'm not talking about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Though I do expect similar results there.
Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog is a Saturday morning children's cartoon that aired back in 1993, to both cash in on and promote Sega's gaming mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog. The premise of each episode can be summarized as such: Dr. Robotnik comes up with a scheme to conquer the planet Mobius, and Sonic foils his plans. Sonic trumpets himself as a "freedom fighter", risking his life to keep the planet free from Dr. Ivo Robotnik's evil tyranny, and is intended to be a symbol of virtue and a paragon of good. Robotnik, on the other hand, is supposed to represent the ugly wretchedness of sin: greed, jealousy, violence, and so forth. When his plans are ruined, Robotnik often throws a tantrum like a child, rather than accepting defeat in a dignified and respectable manner, in an effort to further demonize him. When we scratch through the surface of these two focal characters, however, we discover that the truth is actually in reverse of what the pretense wants us to believe.
Let's begin by examining these two characters themselves. Sonic is a "hedgehog with attitude". He's confident, he lives without rules, he knows the score, and he exists to stop whatever it is Robotnik is up to, always making things as difficult as he can for his rival. What Sonic lacks are discipline, ambitions, life goals, respect for others, and motivation.
Robotnik, on the other hand, is still a child at heart (evidenced by his frequent tantrums). He has goals and ambitions. He's a scientist and inventor with a Doctorate and a high IQ (300, reportedly). Despite this vast intellect, he fails to understand how the world works, resulting in a constant display of optimism and naivety. In spite of this, he is persevering and refuses to give up. What Robotnik lacks is guidance, understanding and experience.
The design of these characters and the consistent themes underlying the writing in each episode further helps to breathe new meaning into what each represents. Sonic is a very one-dimensional character. As stated earlier, he has no motivation behind his actions; he simply does what he does to fill a void. Whenever he interacts with other characters, he does nothing but make empty promises that are never realised (examples include Subterranean Sonic, Sonic Gets Thrashed and Submerged Sonic, to name a few I've watched recently) which puts his very character into question. He is never faced with defeat or tragedy, and never grows from any of his experiences. He is a cardboard cutout with no deeper meaning or characterization that the viewer simply cannot sympathize with.
Robotnik has much more depth, being misunderstood and dealing with misfortune on an alarmingly frequent basis. His motivations for conquering Mobius stem both from deep-rooted parental issues as he seeks the approval of his mother (evidenced in "Momma Robotnik Returns") and a concern for the future of a planet in complete anarchy with no governing body. He is constantly faced with adversity regardless of his actions, something he doesn't understand and learns from the hard way. While Sonic is a homeless, lawless, selfish rogue concerned only with his own entertainment ("The Last Resort" being a good example) Robotnik, who is fully capable of persisting in the complacent flow of the river of life, wishes to be more.
Robotnik is our youth. He is what we were when we didn't understand the world, when we had dreams we wanted to follow, when we thought we knew all the answers, and when we wanted to shoot for the stars and carve our own path in life.
Sonic is the crushing reality. He is the unstoppable adversary, the constant challenge, the two-faced nature of the real world. The deceit, the selfishness, the despair, and the wall that boxes us into a life of obscurity and simplicity, denying us our grandeur. He is what prevents the realization of our dreams.
We see our youth in Robotnik whenever he comes up with a new idea, believing he knows what will happen, confident in himself, expecting nothing to go wrong, believing that things will work out. But reality will always rear its ugly head in the form of sabotage, deceit, prejudice and intolerance.
Though his execution is always different, Robotnik's goals are always the same: to get rid of his adversary and become the leader of the lawless planet of Mobius. Sometimes it's one goal or the other, and at other times Robotnik seeks both. The vast majority of the time, during the execution of Robotnik's plans, Sonic will show up in disguise, representing the deceit we experience in the world around us. Most of the time, he's impersonating a police officer, but has also posed as a mechanic, a computer nerd, a prostitute and a hillbilly, each time demonstrating a horrific and culturally insensitive stereotype. He is prone to dressing in drag, and in these episodes it often leads to flirting and/or sexual advances on Robotnik, which is a clever message tucked in by the writers about how life is always trying to screw us. At other times Sonic uses slander, defaming Robotnik by publicizing lewd photographs obtained through voyeurism ("Sonic Gets Thrashed", again as an example). In one episode, "Robotnik's Rival", Robotnik makes a friend, so Sonic spends the entire episode trying to manipulate the two into hating each other.
In the episode "Sonic is Running", Robotnik campaigns for Mobius presidency. Rather than conquer the planet through force, Robotnik legitimately turns to the world of politics at the behest of his mother to lead Mobius into the future. So what does Sonic do? He commits terrorism by destroying a bridge during a ceremony hosted by Robotnik. He also force-feeds Robotnik garbage from a dumpster during a campaign, and attempts to ruin Robotnik's image as a family man by dressing as a prostitute, invading his home, and raping him.
Sonic the Hedgehog may be the relentless, unyielding depravity of our reality and all that is wrong and immoral with it. But at least we have the little guy, Dr. Robotnik, to root for, reminding us to always pick ourselves back up and try again, never to give up, no matter what bullshit life throws at us.
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