Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon. Since the Blue Blur turned thirty this year, I have been dedicating every Friday to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.
Story Title: Dr. Eggman’s Challenge!!, Clash!! South Island, and Sonic Rampage
Published: June to July 1991
Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991) underwent quite a complex development cycle; intended to be SEGA’s mascot and their answer to Nintendo’s Super Mario, numerous designs and concepts were submitted internally before SEGA settled on Naoto Ohshima’s spiky protagonist, later coloured blue and christened Sonic, and SEGA put a lot of effort and money into marketing and adapting Sonic to be appealing to a worldwide audience.
This included not only redesigning the character somewhat but also stripping away some of the crazier aspects of Sonic’s Japanese lore. As a result, Sonic’s human girlfriend and rock band was dropped and Doctor Eggman was renamed Doctor Ivo Robotnik. Though this only really impacted the game’s manual, these changes were famously seen in a 1991 American promotional comic that established Sonic’s canon and informed his characterisation and world in comics and cartoons outside of Japan for years. Earlier that same year, though, Japanese readers of Mega Drive Fan were treated to a three-part manga that not only stuck far closer to the original, wackier ideas concerning Sonic’s lore but also the gameplay of the source material. Though never released outside of Japan, a fan translation does exist to provide a bit of a window into Sonic’s differing interpretations between the East and the West.
The first part of the story, “Dr. Eggman’s Challenge!!”, begins with the mysterious South Island suddenly being invaded by Dr. Eggman and a horde of never-before-seen robots. Rather than his traditional Badniks, Eggman is accompanied by an army of construction and worker robots who quickly set to work building his fortress on South Island, displacing the cute and cuddly natives and destroying the natural ecosystem.
Eggman (often referred to as “Dr. Eggman-sama” in a reflection of his high status) is an extremely excitable, volatile, and goofy character; he has an odd tendency to end every sentence with a enlivened “Yes!!”, mischievously chuckles with a dastardly “Dohohoho”, and is primarily motivated to invade South Island to aid his desire for world conquest and to buy lots of his favourite food: eggs.
When one of his minions informs him of the presence of a Chaos Emerald on South Island, Eggman becomes even more excitable and doubles his endeavours to build his fortress and excavate to legendary gem. However, Eggman mainly wants the Chaos Emerald to power the world’s largest pot and boil the world’s largest egg, which he claims has been his “life dream ever since [he] was young”. Remember, back in Sonic’s early days, Eggman was often associated with eggs and egg puns so this is a fun way to reference that recurring in-joke.
The story then jumps to Green Hill Zone where Sonic and his oft-forgotten rock band are putting on a show for a huge gaggle of screaming fans and his own personal “bodyguard platoon”. Unfortunately, and quite conveniently, Sonic’s concert is taking place right where the Chaos Emerald is hidden and, thus, Dr. Eggman and his robots quickly attack, disrupting the crowd, attacking his fans, and wrecking the stage.
In response to the interruption, Sonic attacks Eggman’s robots and trashes them with his patented speed and Super Sonic Spin Attack. Sonic is a slightly different character than you might be used to at this point; he’s not some snarky freedom fighter or a cool anime hero. Instead, he’s a rock star who’s all about putting on a performance for the adulation of others; when Eggman interrupts his concert, he takes it as a personal insult and doesn’t hesitate to strike back with his skills and a snarky attitude that has, sadly, been largely dropped from his characterisation.
With his robots destroyed, Eggman tries to squash Sonic with his Egg-O-Matic’s wrecking ball but Sonic is much too fast to be hit and makes short work of Eggman’s contraption. With the dastardly doctor defeated, Sonic goes back to his concert and Eggman retreats to lick his wounds and plot his revenge by playing Sonic the Hedgehog on the “Megadora”, which motivates him to capture South Island’s woodland critters and transform them into the iconic Badniks.
Eggman’s plot continues in the second part, “Clash!! South Island”; Sonic is incensed to see Eggman’s robots have spread to Marble Zone and learns from Pocky and Picky that Eggman has captured all of their friends and used them as living batteries for his Badniks. Disgusted and enraged, Sonic vows to head straight to Eggman’s base to put an end to his plot and rescue his friends…but is momentarily embarrassed to discover that he has no idea where to go.
Picky points Sonic in the general direction and he speeds off, only to run afoul of the many and varied traps that Eggman has built into Marble Zone. Despite almost being crushed and fried to a crisp, Sonic is able to avoid Eggman’s traps with his super speed but ends up getting bashed about by bumpers in “Sparkling Zone”.
Regardless, though having taken a beating, Sonic survives and is able to free Ricky and Cucky from their Badnik casings. Ricky and Cucky lead Sonic to “Star Land Zone” and to a capsule where their friends are being held captive. Sonic uses one of the Zone’s seesaws to spring himself up there and easily gets past an Orbinaut before Dr. Eggman comes in to battle him again.
As in the game, Eggman is now packing a large spike on the underside of his craft but Sonic is easily able to outmanoeuvre him and take him out with a single Spin Attack. With Eggman sent packing once again, Sonic breaks open the capsules and revels in the adulation of his friends. Despite the setback, though, Eggman is only enraged even further and even more motivated to make Sonic pay for his interference by holding Flicky, Pecky, and Pocky hostage in his heavily fortified mountain lair.
The final part of the story, “Sonic Rampage”, mainly details Sonic’s livid assault on the remainder of Eggman’s forces (this includes a hilarious piece of questionable translation when a Burrobot and Motobug spit out “Fuck off, Sonic!” to which Sonic replies (whilst smashing them to junk): “Fuck off yourselves!!”) Also of note is the mixed up order of the Zones Sonic visits here as the story opens with him in “Clockwork Zone” before going to Labyrinth Zone, where the final confrontation with Eggman takes place. This actually helps, in a way, to explain an oddity in Sonic the Hedgehog that I never really understood, which is why the third Act of Scrap Brain Zone is basically a fourth Act for Labyrinth Zone.
Rather than battling Eggman in the Final Zone and contending with his giant weighted machine, Eggman holds Flicky, Pecky, and Pocky prisoner in an unseen claw-like attachment to his Egg-O-Matic and threatens to squeeze them to death. However, faster than the naked eye, Sonic frees his friends and destroys the claw attachment before Eggman can even register what has happened and, with a fury of spikes, he unleashes his “Rolling Attack Rapid Strikes!!” attack to defeat Eggman once and for all and end his threat against South Island.
Sonic the Hedgehog Story Comic is a pretty simple but incredibly fun little adventure; obviously, the manga was designed purely to help advertise, promote, and sell copies of Sonic the Hedgehog and, as a result, each chapter ends with the characters or narrative breaking the fourth wall to advertise the game and the Mega Drive console. Still, what separates it from a lot of other Sonic media at the time is its fidelity to the source material; despite the fact that there are only a handful of Badniks, one for each of Sonic’s friends, and only three encounters between Sonic and Eggman (with only two involving his contraptions from the game), the manga captures the manic feel of the videogames much closer and reflects the simplistic narrative of the games much better than bogging it all down with the Ovi Kintobor story.
Of course, that’s not to say that it’s a 100% adaptation of the comics; for one thing, the Chaos Emeralds barely factor into the story at all. Only one is ever spoken about and it never actually appears in the story; the other five are completely missing, as are the Special Stages and Golden Rings, but then that does somewhat reflect how little importance the Chaos Emeralds had on the first game’s plot as it wouldn’t be until they were joined by a seventh that they would become a much more integral part of the plot.
Two areas where the manga does excel, though, are the art and the characterisations; the art is very faithful to Akira Watanabe and Naoto Ohshima’s original Japanese artwork and aesthetic direction for Sonic, featuring such little details as Sonic have fangs and a great sense of his speed, with many of the illustrations of Sonic in action directly referencing his in-game sprites. As for characterisations, this is one of my favourite interpretations of Sonic; when he was first conceived, Sonic was the “Hedgehog with Attitude!” but, for the most part, he never really showcased that attitude. Sonic the Comic (1993 to 2002) reinterpreted Sonic as a sarcastic asshole but, for the most part, he was this good natured teenager who liked being the center of attention and getting praise and was extremely egotistical but was nowhere near as snarky and unruly as he is portrayed here and in the original video animation (OVA).
Similarly, Dr. Eggman isn’t some bungling idiot or a semi-cybernetic dictator bent on subjected all of those beneath him; instead, he’s a goofy, maniacal bad guy motivated mainly out of greed, power, and the desire to have all the eggs he can handle. His temper flares as Sonic interferes in his plans and his plot alters from a vague desire for world domination to vindictively pursuing Sonic in a mounting obsession for revenge. It would be all too long before the goofier, more clown-like aspects of Eggman’s personality would find their way back into his character and they’re delightful to see here; he’s a goof, sure, but he’s also quite threatening at times, destroying the environment and kidnapping Sonic’s friends without hesitation, though he remains a largely ineffectual buffoon since, while he has a lot of robots and resources at his disposal, Sonic is easily able to take them all out and is never in any real danger.
Have you ever read Sonic the Hedgehog Story Comic? Did you, perhaps, read the story when it was published in Mega Drive Fan or, like me, did you discover it through an online fan translation? What do you think to the early interpretation of Sonic as a snarky rock star? Were you a fan of the original ideas and design for Sonic or do prefer the changes made for his worldwide debut? What’s the most obscure piece of Sonic media you’ve ever seen or owned? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below and pop back next Friday for more Sonic content!