Sunday, April 14, 2013

Animation Review: Sonic the Hedgehog, Episode 01-01: Heads or Tails

Moving on with my Everything I Own Challenge, I've decided to begin watching the classic Sonic the Hedgehog animated series. Sometimes called Sonic SatAM, this series basically rocked my childhood. When I was a kid I watched the show, pranced around naked singing the song, collected the story books (I still have them, even), and spent hours searching high and low in the Sonic the Hedgehog genesis games for any sign of Princess Sally and her Freedom Fighters. Unfortunately the closest I ever got was Sonic Spinball, and, welp... Sonic Spinball.

This episode is actually the pilot episode for the series, and I guess some people would probably consider it episode "00", but I haven't seen an official source do so. It should also be noted that I am watching this episode via the Shout! Factory 2007 box set release, which has the episodes in a different order from Wikipedia. Wiki, however, lists the episodes by air date, so I'll just hope that they were aired out of order and that Shout! knew what they were doing when they put this collection together.

Right from the get-go I'm excited to get into this. Maybe it's because of nostalgia, but I want to say it's because of the rockin' intro sequence. "Fastest Thing Alive" should be a familiar tune to any 90's kid. Say otherwise? Not a 90's kid. We're then dumped out into Robotropolis where we find our arch-nemesis, Dr. Robotnik, and his snivelling sidekick Snively. Robotnik isn't nearly as fearsome in this episode as I know he's going to become later in the series, and he has a tendency to speak at length in rather boring monologue. The rather classic "My secret plan is this..." type villain, at least for this episode.

More engaging than Robotnik himself are his sidekicks, Cluck and Snively, who have a bit of a rivalry. While Cluck, a chicken-like robotic bird with a mean streak, proudly perches atop Robotnik's shoulder, being pampered like the pet he is, Snively is often denigrate by his uncle and is treated poorly even by the Swatbots, generic robotic minions designed to police the streets of Robotropolis. Snively often wears his emotions on his sleeve, although he manages to hide them from Dr. Robotnik. From this we see that he could be less than loyal to the callous creator.

The episode briefly introduces us to the Freedom Fighters, a ragtag group of resistance fighters attempting to win their kingdom back from Robotnik. While we are introduced to the half-robotic Bunnie Rabbot, the antsy Antoine D'Coolette, and the feisty Princess Sally Acorn we don't really get to know them. In particular Bunnie and Antoine are reserved for later development, though we get a glimpse of Bunnie's super strength. Princess Sally spends her short role in the episode flirting with Sonic and briefly leading an attack against a swarm of buzz bots, robotic bees capable of firing laser stings.

Of note for this episode, Princess Sally is pink as opposed to the brown of all other episodes. This coloration was also used for a few early issues of the Archie comic book series and for the final episode of The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, a Christmas special called "Sonic Christmas Blast".

This episode focuses on Sonic, the titular hero, a spiny speed demon whose instincts are to juice first and jam later, and his pal Tails. The two share are much more brotherly relationship than they do in other Sonic media, and Tails is much more childish and naive than what modern fans might be used to. While Sonic is usually reckless and impatient he tones it down for his adopted brother, treating him kindly even in the most sticky of situations. Sonic isn't only Tails' big brother figure, though. At such a young age, Tails also needs a father, and there's a little sense that Sonic knows he has become the father figure in his young pal's life. Being young himself, though, Sonic isn't sure how to handle it. Above all, it seems, Sonic wants Tails to be happy, even if that means giving in and letting the little rascal tag along on a highly dangerous mission.

Something I thought was kind of cool about this episode was the way Tails rode around in Sonic's backpack. I don't really know why I liked that so much, but it gave me the warm fuzzies inside. This episode also shows off Tails' ability to fly by twisting his twin tails like a propeller, something I don't remember happening in any other episode of the series.

In addition to those two, Rotor the Walrus plays the third most important role. He's there in the beginning critiquing Sonic's guitar performance and helping to babysit the innocent Tails. Rotor's intellect isn't really demonstrated, although he is able to diagnose an issue with the Freedom Fighter's catapults in half the time it takes for Sally's computer to do the same. He's shown mainly as Sonic's best friend, although one who isn't all too fond of moving at super sonic speed.

Speaking of super sonic speed, one interesting touch is the distinctive boom sound as Sonic takes off. This indicates that he moves quickly enough to break the sound barrier, but more than that, the sound is a deep bass effect that really draws your attention. You might find yourself maybe distracted by two siblings across the room, but Sonic's boom will bring you right back.

The voice acting is okay at best. Most of the actors take a while to get used to, and Steve Urkel doesn't exactly make for a good action hero. Robotnik's voice is probably the best of the cast, with a cold metallic quality which will make you shiver. There was an instance near the end of the episode where Tails is being pursued by a buzz bomber and screaming for help in the most annoyingly cardboard of tones, with absolutely no emotion to the delivery at all. I found it grating, and it was unfortunately the second longest bit of dialogue in the episode. Bummer.

Sound effects other than voices, though, are all top notch. Everything from the sound of rubber shoes on wet mud roads to the clink and clank of robot soldiers and factory machines. The music is the best sounding stuff that will come out of your speakers, though, but that isn't by default. This show simply has a stunning soundtrack, and I'd love to get my fat fingers on it someday.

Backgrounds are detailed and pretty to look at, with a stark contrast between the fanciful Knothole Forest where the Freedom Fighters live and the dystopic Robotropolis built by Robotnik. There are some moments of awesome art and animation, but the characters seem to be drawn inconsistently and sometimes change size or shape from one frame to the next. They also animate choppily, sometimes pretty badly, but usually it isn't too bad and isn't much of a bother.

The story isn't particularly engaging, and is fairly typical Saturday morning fare. Robotnik plans to kill all the trees with an acid plant spray and reveal the location of the Freedom Fighters' hidden village, he reveals a pathetic hedgehog-hunting missile (it looks like a pencil with a hedgehog nose), Sonic stops him. Easy, peasy, get-into-the-series squeezy. There is one bit I liked a lot more than the rest of the episode, though. One bit of actual foreshadowing to prove that there is a bigger plan for this series. As Sonic and Tails rummage for parts in Robotropolis they run into Sonic's pet dog, Muttski. Now, Muttski was Sonic's pooch since they were both young, but when Robotnik invaded he was transformed into a robotic minion. While at first his programming forces him to attack Sonic and Tails, Muttski manages to briefly fight off his robotic processes and regain control of himself. This shows that Muttski is still in there and can still be saved, which means that there might be hope for the other roboticized Mobians as well.

In general, "Heads or Tails" isn't too impressive of an episode. It's part of an overall phenomenal series, but I'd be okay with never watching this specific episode again. I'll grant it a four out of ten, because it's not bad, but it's not good enough to warrant much else.

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