Great shows: Sonic SatAM

Memories of the second, and likely best, Sonic cartoon.
October 06, 2008
In the early 1990s, the video gaming war was now being waged on 16-bit consoles. Before, Sega's former mascot Alex Kidd and pack-in game Altered Beast were merely "games to play only until something better comes along". In the year 1991, Sega introduced a red hot character that would move on to become a video game icon. Their champion took the form of a speedy blue hedgehog. Introduced as their answer to Nintendo's Mario as a gaming mascot, and he struck a major chord with video gamers all over. He had already won EGM's nod as the game of 1991, and in 1992, Sega had created a second game which proved better than the first which introduced his official sidekick. The very next year (1993), hoping to capitalize even further on their mascot's success would be the jump to a full-fledged Saturday Morning cartoon. Using DIC as a hired gun (who previously held success with Nintendo's flagship characters in "The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!"), this series was known as...

Well...almost. The first Sonic cartoon ever made was a very odd show called "Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog". This show was pretty much a Looney Tunes cartoon using Sonic characters. It was about Sonic and Tails going around all over Mobius (as it was called back in the day before the series was retconned into being set on Earth) trying to save it from Dr. Robotnik (again, this is before he is properly renamed "Eggman") and his extremely dopey robots Scratch and Grounder (and here and there, Coconuts). A comedy-themed series in which the humor was centered on chili dogs, Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner-derived gags and Robotnik's butt, it was pretty evidently done on the cheap, as established by very few recurring characters, poor lip sync, haphazard painting and even missing frames of animation (not joking). I was reading that "AoStH" (as it is shortened to) was originally offered to ABC for Saturday morning broadcasting, but the executives at ABC found the show lacking in terms of plot and animation (well, it's mighty obvious) and they declined airing it.

So, DIC dumped their first show into syndication and started working on a second cartoon series with higher production values and more darker tone (hence, likely the reason we got two Sonic cartoons in 1993). This series is known as...

The Saturday morning cartoon originally aired on ABC, "Sonic SatAM" (as dubbed to avoid confusion with "AoStH") was released hoping to sell people on the video game series. While the previous Sonic cartoon may have come closer to the essence of the Japanese-related characters, this series was excepted better because it has more breathing room and space for being creative. Of course, making a regular series about video game at this time would be difficult. Video games at this time had very little, if any plot, and the "Sonicverse" was not very well-defined. In something of a "Nature vs. Technology" debate, the video game series was always about Dr. Robotnik's plotting to take over forests and cities by kidnapping Sonic's friends and trapping them inside machines named "Badniks". Sonic would the one to take a stand against his evil ways, freeing his friends and at the end of each zone, he would have to destroy Dr. Robotnik's machine created to cause destruction. All the while, Sonic is trying to collect 7 Chaos Emeralds to become Super Sonic (theme introduced in Sonic 1, Super Sonic in Sonic 2) and thus, get the best ending.

The basis behind the series is it is set in some time likely in the far future. Dr. Julius Ivo Robotnik, an inventor/tyrant/madman had overthrown the ruler of Mobotropolis and wasted no time roboticizing anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path and turned it into a grim and sterile city renamed Robotropolis. He wishes for nothing more than a world which is lifeless and mechnical, but his only threat is a group of heroes codenamed the Knothole Freedom Fighters...

...and amongst them is a heroic blue hedgehog named Sonic.

So, who are the heroes? Well, some of which are ported over from the game series, others are introduced through the show as at the time, the game series didn't have too many other characters, so the cartoonists were allowed to add some others (this is not counting some of the others that make an appearance later on). Let's meet 'em.

The titular character, Sonic Maurice Hedgehog is dubbed the "Fastest Thing Alive". Possessing supersonic speed and an overly arrogant personality, Sonic is the hero to call for in such a desperate time. Voiced by Jaleel White (who gained status as an ABC personality at the time due to his role as Steven Q. Urkel on the TGIF series "Family Matters"), he is brave and cool-headed, but also more than a bit impatient and prefers actions to words. Using his speed talent, his brave personality and his set of Power Rings, he hopes to free his enslaved uncle Chuck from Robotnik's control and return the Acorn family to power. He's a good-natured guy who always has his heart in the right place. Above all, he's the main character in the show. Nothing else to say but "he's the 'hog!"

His main squeeze is Princess Sally Acorn. She is the only child of the good King Acorn who wants to learn the fate of her father and regain her position as the future Queen. Together with her small computer named NICOLE, Sally has a knack for being tech smart and while she is not physically powerful or much of a fighter (in the series, at least), she cares very deeply about her friends and allies. In all honesty, Sally was always the one and only girl I hoped Sonic would wind up with.

Her bond that she has with Sonic shows very much how Sonic and Sally care for each other and helps reenforce my belief that she is the only girl for Sonic (I always HATED Amy--I can't stress that enough). On a humorous note, a lot of fans love to joke about the fact that she doesn't wear any pants (Guilty as charged).

Also carried over from the video game series is Miles "Tails" Prower. He is the youngest member of the team, being too young to actively go on missions. He looks up to Sonic as his hero and can't wait until he can get a chance to aid them. Unlike his role in AoStH, here he has a much smaller role and doesn't appear quite as often as some SegaSonic-or-nothing fans would have liked (it wouldn't hurt, but these missions are dangerous).

Another character is Bunnie Rabbot ("Rabbot" is only used by Robotnik and Snively, so it might just be a designation). A sugar-sweet Southern-type gal with a heart of gold, she was captured and about to be roboticized but the others managed to rescue her so she's only partially robot. Seemingly metaphoric for a girl with a physical handicap, but this is not much of a limitation as these limits are helpful. Bunnie is able to use this to her advantage in the sense she is a capable fighter. Her robotic limbs grant her physical power, which is quite useful despite the fact she wishes to be completely organic once again. So yeah. I like Bunnie a lot.

Another male character with a knack for technology is Rotor. Likely a friend of Sonic's prior to the takeover, he is the team's handyman (although it goes without saying he's not perfect). He's very patient and level-headed. I do like Rotor...well, I like him better in Season 1, at least. In the transition from Season 1 to Season 2, he underwent the most notable change. In Season 1 he is an active participant in fixing, teamwork and missions, but in Season 2 he's a little more bizarre in appearance and plays a more passive role. Season 1 Rotor is ultimately the stronger character.

Another major character is Antoine D'Coolette. He was likely a squire in training (despite his claims otherwise) but his training was left incomplete due to the takeover. The bumbling Frenchman of the group, he is very egotistical but also very cowardly. Most of the time he will attempt to be brave but will end up being scared stiff (this can be both an asset and a liability). Likely the comedy relief of the group, but while I love French-related ideologies, I can't say I care too much about him.

The series' main villain is Sonic's main enemy in the game series, Dr. Robotnik (or as Sonic affectionately dubs him, "Dr. Robuttnik"). With his vast army of robots under his command, together with his nephew, the constantly abused Snively, he is basically a threat to nature. A tyrannical dictator of incredible power, he backstabs, lies, cheats, steals, reneges and in short, he's just not a nice guy. His low, sinister voice helps lend a sense of menace towards his character and makes him all the more devious and evil. In short, he loves power and hates freedom. I always had a thing for the "megalomaniac" type of villain and he is no exception.

For the most part, the episodes had a different "Freedom Fighter stealth mission" go through each episode. Some might think this would lend the series to ultimate repetition and blahness, but the series itself was basically a jack of all genres, in the sense it could be action-oriented, dramatic, scary, or even light-hearted and funny. The various themes of each episode helped seperate the episodes and make it seem different.

Another factor that is unique to the series is the fact that Sega had basically no say in what went on in the show. According to the series' staff, they only had to obey the rules set by ABC, not Sega.

Another thing I found interesting was the fact it basically stood out from other DIC cartoons of the time. During the 1980s, DIC was a formidable animation company; they had a buttload of cool cartoons that everyone could enjoy, such as "Inspector Gadget", "Heathcliff and the Catilliac Cats", "Dennis the Menace", "The Real Ghostbusters", the later episodes of "Alvin and the Chipmunks", "C.O.P.S.", and the previously mentioned "Super Mario Brothers" and "The Legend of Zelda" cartoons on "The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!". But if "The Karate Kid" cartoon was any indication (maybe it's not a good idea to capitalize on a movie if it's just turned five years old?), in the following decade, DIC was...pretty pathetic. In the 1990s, they had almost nothing, with a bunch of very lame cartoons such as "Hammerman", "WishKid", "New Kids on the Block", "Street Sharks", "The Wacky World of Tex Avery" and the "Super Mario World" cartoon (it's the least engaging of the Mario cartoons). While "AoStH" seemed to fall under the latter category, "Sonic SatAM" seemed to be an exception in a dismal time.

A few of the issues I had with the show were something I think are worth mentioning as well. While the game series had no real emotional depth (basically, it's Sonic speeding through zones, jumping on Badniks with bright, pretty colors everywhere), this show had little to work from initally. So while Sonic still runs and jumps through a potentially hazardous zone, they made it seem darker and more dreary (namely in Robotropolis) and there are no more 'jump-on-a-robot-to-free-your-friend' angle; Robotnik would transform a flesh-and-blood character into a cold and emotionless machine--essentially becoming a mindless zombie, that character would be stripped of the fiber of ever once being alive. This might be because Sega hadn't grounded too many rules of how to depict their flagship character yet, but it is worth noting that Sonic actually cries in the episode "Ultra Sonic" when he must leave his roboticized Uncle Chuck at the end (according to Sega, they do not permit anyone making an official Sonic product to have Sonic crying, being sad or even looking too depressed...even if it's the most appropriate response. Geez, Sega can make Disney look like the DMV!). Such strong emotion coming from a character that never seems too emotionally attached can come as a bit of a shock. It has some emotional weight that previously wasn't there, but the way some fans act as though Sonic SatAM is like a different breed of Japanese anime is a bit much. This overhyping doesn't seem justified; it IS a child-friendly show, after all. As a video game-based series, it's not's just "better than it has any right to be".

Another problem that I tend to have is sometimes, the show doesn't seem to know when enough is enough. Some characters like Sonic, Sally, Tails and Bunnie all have some good and bad personality traits that make you like and care about what would ultimately happen to them. The same cannot be said for a character like Antoine, who appears far too often and doesn't seem to contribute much to the heroic side. He's supposed to be stuck-up, snobby and very full of himself, but the problem is, he doesn't seem to have very much that would make him likable. So as a result, you just don't care if anything happened to him; if he appeared for like one or two minutes, gave a quick you a quick laugh and then disappeared that would be fine (perhaps he and Tails should swap roles?), problem is he is used for more than he is truly worth and his comical-at-the-worst-possible-time moments can become grating on the viewers. Another character of the same caliber is the second season introduction Dulcy. She is a dragon that means well, but doesn't have too much in terms of amiablity (she's clumsy, loud and lacking in variety in laughs--how many times can she say, "I'm alright, ma" and still have it be funny?).

The first season of the show (September 1993-December 1993) introduced us to all the characters, themes and ideologies we grew to love. As I once noticed, the themes were inconsistent (technological, natural, mystical) probably due to the episodes having different writers--and it goes without saying "Heads or Tails" doesn't really function so well as an official pilot. But the strong writing and character interactions gave the series some depth and liveliness that would be missing otherwise. Some of my favorite episodes in this season included "Ultra Sonic", "Super Sonic", "Hooked on Sonics", and two of my absolute favorite episodes which included "Sonic and Sally" (the episode that sold me on the show about Sally being kidnapped and replaced with a robot impostor) and "Sonic's Nightmare" (which I unfortunately never got to watch until now--my siblings prefered the programming on Fox and Nickelodeon)...yeah. I love Sonic/Sally stuff. ^^

The second season of the show (September 1994-December 1994) was telling more of a saga as opposed to the episodic nature of the first season. This might be because Ben Hurst was writing a good number of the episodes. The budget seemed to be a little higher, as was shown through the character's more refined designs. It is worth noting Sally started wearing an unbuttoned blue vest (why? My guess is because Standards & Practices thought she was 'too curvy' to be running around wearing only a pair of boots). Oddly, some aspects were a little wackier this time around, but the second season seemed to have a greater degree of impending the heroes didn't always seem to have a clean cut victory. In this season, there is a hunt for Power Stones, Sonic and Sally go in their past, permitting us to see their histories (and Robotnik's as well, where we learn he cheated a wicked sorcerer named Ixis Naugus by trapping him inside the Void), Sally learned the ultimate fate of her father (he is stuck in the Void along with Ixis Naugus), the Freedom Fighters' roster continues to grow, Snively, likely sick of being abused, seemed to be plotting against Robotnik, and Robotnik starts to suspect a spy is among his robotic ranks while arranging his ultimate master plan codenamed "The Doomsday Project".

It's still not perfect. I outlined Rotor's change, but there were also two 'all-comedy' episodes titled "Fed Up With Antoine/Ghost Busted" and "The Odd Couple/Ro-Becca" (and it kinda goes without saying "Ro-Becca" is pretty easily the series' worst episode). These episodes both have heavy emphasis on comedy provided by Antoine, and they take the show away from the "fight against Robotnik" elements that fans loved so much. We don't want to see Antoine to this degree; he's just not substantial enough to make it work. I understand that these episodes are more the fault of ABC than DIC or Sega.

The final episode of Season 2, "The Doomsday Project" was one of the series' best episodes. Dr. Robotnik initiates his plot to eliminate the Freedom Fighters and conquer all. Basically, every previous Freedom Fighter was called in for the final mission which either end in Robotnik's defeat or ultimate victory. In short, Sonic and the Freedom Fighters must win, or it's game over and no continues. Things look grim when the evil doctor had sealed the Doomsday Device in diamond glass and most of the other Freedom Fighters were captured. However, Sonic had successfully found the other half of the Power Stone and together with Sally, they understand their feelings for each other and they are able to destroy the Doomsday Project and leave Robotnik to an unknown fate.

Kinda gets ya riiiiiight here...^^

So, all's well that ends well, right?

Maybe not. At the very end of the episode, Robotnik seems to be gone. But Snively, ecstatic with the fact he is now free from being Robotnik's lackey, tells Sonic not to be so's now his turn to become supreme ruler.

And he's not alone...

Okay, in what is likely the biggest cliffhanger in recent memory, I am sure we all saw this moment as the series is telling us they were merely getting warmed up. Almost like the series is saying, "Have the Freedom Fighters truly won? Is Dr. Robotnik really gone? What is Snively planning? Who did those glowing red eyes belong to?? Tune in next time on...Sonic the Hedgehog!!" So, what happened after all this tension and build-up???

Nothing, as it turns out. Although a third season was planned, ABC chose not to renew Sonic SatAM. Some people think the explanation was either the fact ABC never keeps a cartoon for longer than two seasons, and a rumor was floating around about DIC selling the series' animation cels without Sega's consent and the series had to be stopped due to legal issues. Neither is correct, though...

The true reason is Fox happened to see Sonic SatAM as a serious threat, so anytime Sonic came on, Fox just put "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" on in the same time slot. At this time, the Power Rangers were at the height of their popularity and kids just wanted to see a series made on the cheap from a corny Japanese sentai series made for no reason other than to sell action figures (maybe Sonic was trying to sell you on a video game, but even if you like animation and don't care about video games you could still love the show. The execution between the two series really screams difference); no prizes if you can guess which show got higher ratings. Again, this is the cutthroat nature of the business of animation talking. Another issue was the president of ABC, the series' champion, lost his job. A new president was brought in, and they looked at the series as a "product of the old regime", had no interest, and got rid of it. The fact this series lost out to a fad-induced series with absolutely no substance or lasting value is truly vexing on the senses. It tells the networks we don't care about a series with a strong plot, amiable, well-developed characters or something that can stand on its own merits; because after all, mindless action, color-coded heroes and Happy Meals are what sell. Even today, I still bear a little bit of a grudge against the Power Rangers for this.

When the series itself was cancelled, in essence, it continued through the Archie comic book, but I was told it's awful (too many characters, Sonic and Sally break up, and many elements from the series are butchered, etc). However, I remember once reading that Sonic is actually Archie's biggest seller--don't know if that's good or bad. But I guess if your competitior is a high-school themed book about who Archie's currently dating, then I would think that's pretty easy to accomplish.

But the grim reality was the series' cancellation couldn't have come at a worse time. At this time, Sonic's game canon seemed to be thrown on the back burner to enter spin-off-for-fun territory with games like Knuckles' Chaotix, Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic R, and all those terrible Game Gear games (and the scrapped games like the one based on the show and Sonic X-Treme). Not to mention Sega was fighting an uphill battle; in the mid-90s, they had not just the Genesis on the market--they had two add-on systems (the Sega CD and the Sega 32X), the Game Gear, and the, Sega was really wearing themselves thin. I mean, Nintendo just had the Super Nintendo and the Game Boy, and to a lesser extent the Virtual Boy...what's the point of all this extra stuff? It didn't help that the 32X was almost a public attempt at a scam. And in 1996, they surprised everyone by releasing their newest system--the Sega Saturn--on the market three months ahead of schedule, desperately wanting to win their consumers back and hoping to steal some consumers away from Sony and their new PlayStation. This ultimately backfired; the system itself had mechnical problems as opposed to the more forgiving PlayStation and that helped scare away some third party support. The Saturn ultimately did not have the horsepower available to make a truly legitimate Sonic title. Sonic himself would not have an official title until Sonic Adventure debuted on the Dreamcast...unfortunately, Sega at this point was no longer on good terms with many consumers and the Dreamcast's inability to play DVDs (which the PlayStation 2 did) meant Sega was forced to bow out from the hardware race. And "Sonic Underground" and the ADV "movie" were both terrible and did not hold the widespread appeal of Sonic SatAM. No comment on "Sonic X".

In any case, "Sonic SatAM" is one show I will most certainly hold onto. It was off the air for a long time but courtesy of Shout! Factory, the series was finally brought to DVD in March 2007. The show still works on its own merits and doesn't feel preachy, and it's still a lot of fun to watch. A short, but sweet series, "Sonic SatAM" seems to have a firm grip on animation fans, remembering the series for all the pleasure it's brought. I was always more of a Nintendo fan, but this series based on a rivaling video game company's mascot still holds it's ground. What can I say? It's 'way past cool!'

Many thanks go to Fans United for SatAM!
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