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June 29, 2017

An Episode In Gaming: Sonic Boom (Part 3)

Part 1 – Part 2Part 3Part 4

I presented a few episodes from the show in the previous part. Now, I believe it’s time to discuss the show’s continuity in greater depth. Yes, I mentioned in Part 2 that the show first tried to have no continuity, but then resigned to having some, if only in recurring characters and references to past events. Eventually, comparing the show to the games also becomes a bit of a necessity, as some episodes feature characters who have roles in the game. Of course, it also means that we’re going to be touching on another important topic: The supporting cast. That is, the villagers.

Mayor Fink. He's a politician.
We should trust him... but only a little.
You can’t have a slice-of-life story taking place in a village and not show off the various characters who are a part of that village and its surroundings. The fifth episode, “My Fair Sticksy”, was the first episode to feature prominently the villagers, including Mayor Fink. In the games, this mouse guy is more interested in his next re-election than in listening to Sonic and his group about the current threat. This comes back to bite him in the ass when Lyric, the games’ villain, uses Metal Sonic and RAZES HALF OF THE FREAKING ISLAND. In the show, he’s more reasonable. He listens to the villagers when they have problems, takes part in the various activities, and seems to be at least a decent mouse being, so that’s already a step in the right direction. He doesn’t give the impression that he’s only interested in being re-elected.

Yeah, that thing is definitely not friendly.
Clearly, the writers of the show want to include many elements of the games into the show – whether it’s secondary characters, locations or items (Awardy Award, anyone?). There are hints here and there of something strange hidden underneath the mostly-normal world Sonic and friends live in – like that time they battled a golem. These may be remnants of the Ancients, a race that existed long ago and made use of very advanced technology for their time. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if later episodes of Sonic Boom revealed more elements of that world’s past, tying the games' continuity to the show. But, aside from a few nods here and there, this isn’t the focus of the plot in Season 1.

See, that’s the thing with having a show that combines slice-of-life and action; the heroes are dealing with everyday problems (with a touch of silliness obviously), but have to battle threats and villains (mostly Eggman). There’s bound to be some overlap. Thus, no earlier than in Episode 7 (titled “Double Doomsday”), we meet Dave.

That logo is the quintessential depiction of "Meh". 
NO! Hell no. Dave is a nutria later known as Dave the intern… actually, wait, that’s all anyone knows him by. Dave the Intern. On his debut episode, we see him on his day job at Meh Burger. Let’s take a moment to mock the name of this recurring location, shall we? Meh Burger: Our burgers are just good enough, our meals are edible, our staff is mediocre and will mess your order on purpose, and our menu is nothing worth of praise. But hey, we’re still better than White Castle! *Meh Burger jingle plays, poorly, on a kazoo*

Apathetic, teenager, uninterested, gives no damns about the
clients. Yup. That's a fast food restaurant cashier alright.

Dave rebels in three... two... one...
Eggman has a knack for turning people against him.
Dave is shown to admire Doctor Eggman and villains in general, hoping to be one himself. As such, he sweet-talks Eggman into taking him in as an intern. Things start well, with Dave doing menial tasks under the doctor's guidance, and getting a look at that shiny villain life (it's implied that villainy is as good a career as any other in this universe). Obviously, Eggman isn’t the kind who’d respect his interns, so Dave soon gets fed up and activates one of the doctor’s doomsday machines. Eggman activates a second one he owns, forcing Sonic’s team to step in and disable them. Dave goes back to work at Meh Burger, but remains as an antagonist on the show – although a fairly ineffective one.

On the right is T.W. Barker, a villain who's fine with any
job as long as he can cause trouble to the good guys.
Here, he's Eggman's lawyer in an obvious kangaroo court.
Dave’s first appearance is the point where the show decided to have a continuity. Following this, Dave shows up every once in a while – sometimes as a bad guy, sometimes as the Meh Burger cashier. I mean, aren't those the same thing anyway? However, he’s not the only new villain; among them, we also have a walrus who’s known as a criminal around town, and whose body shape resembles Eggman’s. Then, we have T.W. Barker, a con man wolf man. He manages to trick Cubot and Orbot into taking Eggman’s floating orb for a test drive and never comes back, then later traps 4/5ths of Sonic’s gang in a circus. He’s surprisingly competent, and reappears many times afterwards.

Of course Dave is one of them. He wouldn't pass up an
opportunity for evil, no matter how pitiful.
Then we have the Lightning Bolt Society. These recurring villains are a group that attempts to do evil around the island, although their idea of evil is just pathetic. Needless to say, Dave the intern and the walrus are a part of that group. They’re about as harmless as most other villains in the damn show, minus Eggman of course. It's like they get even more pathetic as a group, though. Much like Dave, they come back every once in a while to cause mischief, but rarely anything worse. Well, aside from a few exceptions.

Some episodes directly reference the Sonic canon, or at least feature opponents met also in the Sonic Boom games – at one point, they even fight Metal Sonic. Other minor characters from the games, like Perci the bandicoot, also make appearances.

Shadow is described by the showrunners as "too cool to
use". Well duh, he is too serious a villain for the show.
We get to the season finale, Episode 52, “It Takes A Village To Defeat A Hedgehog”. Eggman and the Lightning Bolt Society team up and welcome a new member in their group: Shadow the Hedgehog. Yep, THAT Shadow the Hedgehog. A much darker character than in the original games, this Shadow is nasty, cruel, and an outright villain rather than an anti-hero. Oh, and he hates nonsense, which clashes with the very comical ambiance of the show – he’s not even treated as a joke, but his serious behavior somehow makes him funny put next to the menagerie of silly baddies. I won’t say much else about the episode, but I guarantee that Shadow is the biggest threat faced by the group. Fitting for the season finale, no?

Also, a selfie allowed Sonic to defeat Shadow.. Have I mentioned that this
show didn't take itself seriously?

I at least applaud the show for featuring townspeople of all
species, appearances and ages. I mean, have you ever seen
a goat before in a Sonic series? An ox? A mouse?
A lady walrus? Elderly people???
Now that the continuity has been discussed, let's go over other elements of the series. There is one issue you notice over time: the townspeople are jerks. I mean, not all of them, and not consistently, but as background characters, they usually only serve the purpose of "being there". In crowd shots, as people at events, that sort of thing; they're not always interacted with, and sometimes are only there to add some life to the sets. Thing is, due to the slice-of-life nature of the episodes’ plots, sometimes they’ll merely serve to hammer the point home, antagonize the team (when the public has a part in the plot against the heroes), or to be obstacles. Some of them really need to learn about gratitude, too. Oh, and maybe some extra intelligence wouldn’t hurt. Then again, in a world where villainy is a valid career path… Some examples from Season 1 include:
So easily swayed, they're ready to pronounce Sonic guilty
of a crime, by the villains no less. What idiots.
-“Don’t Judge Me”, where despite the blatant kangaroo court against Sonic – who saved their village countless times – the villagers are ready to condemn him for (supposedly) hurting Eggman’s neck while the latter was attacking the village and endangering them;
-“Late Fees”, where they all seem to do their darndest to block Sonic from bringing an overdue book to the local library;
-“Chez Amy”, where the feud between Meh Burger and Amy’s new restaurant causes the VERY fickle villagers to go from one to the other as soon as they introduce a new gimmick to beat the other – even if said gimmick is completely pointless, like a drive-thru for a restaurant on an island where nobody has a car;
-“Blue With Envy”, where Sonic is banned from the village after he loses a battle against a new guy (who later turns out to be an android created by Eggman), and they friggin’ refuse to let him back in when Eggman actually attacks them and the new guy is useless;
Yeah, sure. Y'all get pissed at me because I don't want a
civilian to get hurt, y'all get pissed at me after a civilian
gets hurt because you pressured me into bringing him into
the action. Y'all can go to our kid-friendly version of Hell.
-“Just A Guy” is the worst example, as the townspeople get offended when Sonic calls Mike the Ox “just a guy”, when that’s pretty much what he is, and they get even more offended when he calls them “people”… All because he doesn’t want a civilian to get hurt. Oh, and when Sonic caves in and brings Mike to a battle against Eggman and Mike freaking gets hurt, the goddamn villagers start berating Sonic, fucking saying he should have never brought Mike to a battle after they fucking pressured him into it after they got all offended that Sonic wouldn’t bring a fucking civilian in a battle against evil and… RRRAAAAAAAAAUUURRGH! Fuck you, townspeople in that one episode. No wonder Sonic tells them in G-rated terms to piss off, angry that he never gets any recognition or goddamn respect!

I… I think that’s enough. Whoa, I lost my cool there for a second.

They did it, the magnificent bastards.
They referenced the meme.
On to happier topics. Kind of. There is one thing for which I applaud the show: They’re very self-aware. Clearly the writers love to slip in little fourth wall jokes. Even better, they seem to be in touch with the fandom – including the memes and in-jokes. Sonic the Hedgehog’s official YouTube and Twitter accounts are a treasure trove of those, and I think that’s the best approach SEGA’s PR team could ever take. When the trailer for Sonic Forces came out with the reveal of custom characters being a part of the game, people immediately started referencing Coldsteel the Hedgehog and Sonichu. And whoever manages these accounts took it all in stride. And really, that’s the best attitude to take – it’s always good to have a sense of humor about yourself, and this seems to be their way to do things. Especially when interacting with the Sonic fandom, which hasn't had the best reputation.

Look at that, Knuckles in his fantasies thinks he's Superman. 
One of the earliest references to memes may be in episode 8, “Double Doomsday”, where Tails asks Sonic to quickly act in order to prevent the titular doomsday. While doing so, Tails uses the phrase “But if you’re too slow”, those last words said in a similar intonation to Sonic when he says them in his Super Smash Bros. taunt (the one where he mocks the other fighters with a “You’re too slow!”). And it doesn’t end there. One of the earliest known glitches of the first Sonic Boom game was an infinite jump that could be performed, among others, by Knuckles – the player simply had to pause in midair. This is referenced in a scene where Knuckles imagines himself as a hero and savior, and at the end of his fantasy he flies off into space. More Knuckles goodness, when his design was revealed, fans started saying he skipped leg day – and another episode references that, with Knuckles saying in one episode that he doesn’t like leg day.

The fourth wall gets broken down brick by brick as time goes, with more and more jokes of that type being made – at the end of the 26th episode (just before a hiatus between both parts of the first season), Eggman’s lair gets destroyed and he asks for a truce until it’s rebuit – a truce as long as the hiatus until the 27th episode. Over time, they even start to acknowledge their own running gags. Starting in the earliest episodes, there’s that walrus lady whose baby is always put in danger because of Eggman – cue her screaming “MY BABY!” in a panicked tone. Before Season 2 even rolls around, she’s reduced to referencing just how often it happens, now saying “My baby! Again!”, or switching it up to “My baby!” at one point when her purse gets stolen instead. Overall, the second half of Season 1 doubles down on fourth wall jokes, with minor characters acknowledging that their situation (the story) can’t move forward until a character shows up. Said character? Knuckles, again. Yeah, I noticed that a lot of these jokes revolve around Knuckles. In another instance, an episode about Sonic and him participating in a friendship TV game show has Knuckles saying “I thought this was a Sonic and Knuckles episode…” I won’t mention every other instance, but as you can see, it’s frequent.

Greasy look, nerd glasses, overweight.................
...Yup. The look says it all.
That’s the fourth wall breaks; but as I mentioned, there are also many references within the show to the Sonic fandom in our world. Those culminate in a Season 2 episode titled “The Biggest Fan”, where Sonic meets, you guessed it, his biggest fan: A neurotic tapir named Mark, who decides to become his hero’s assistant. Mark is obsessive, considers everyone else inferior to his favorite hedgehog, spends an uncomfortable amount of time hanging around Sonic, and even paints a big portrait of him with tan arms. The character is a parody of crazy Sonic fans – of which there’s unfortunately a lot.

Note the arm color.
Such a character brings to mind Christian Weston Chandler, AKA Chris-Chan, the “author” of Sonichu. I won’t discuss my opinion of the person, I’ll just say that the portrait of Sonic with tan arms in the episode may be a reference (accidental or not) to Chris-Chan’s outrage at Sonic’s arms being blue in the “new” Sonic Boom continuity (even if it’s officially a spin-off, not a reboot). Sonic’s arm color is only one example of mundane and inconsequential tiny changes (in a franchise, ANY franchise, I’m counting every famous series here) that has the overbearing fans, the loud minority, act like raging jackasses. There are fans, no matter the series, who will throw a hissy fit when even the smallest things are changed, and make everyone else press their palm to their forehead. It’s far more common than you’d think – and these people deserve to be called out, whether it's in the Sonic fandom, or in any fandom. Okay, enough with the tangent.

"Is your family name Wilkes, by any chance?"
"Hm? No, it's The Tapir."
"Really? I could have sworn..."
In a ploy to keep Sonic all to himself, Mark goes full-on Annie Wilkes from Misery, and after crashing his motorbike (and supposedly harming Sonic in the process), keeps his hero in casts in his bedroom. Things get VERY creepy from there – not as bad as the original Stephen King novel, thank God. Don’t worry, Sonic manages to get out of trouble thanks to his team. We do get another reference to the fandom (and its reaction to the first reveal of the Sonic Boom characters’ updated designs) when Sonic wraps Mark in bandages to immobilize/defeat him, and Amy says Sonic “always overdoes it with the sports tape”.


It's a miracle that the fourth wall is still standing. This show is precious.

Does this large amount of fourth wall jokes and acknowledgements of the fandom help in making the show good? Definitely, though it may feel like too much from time to time. As with anything, the show does have its flaws, and I’ll go back on this in Part 4, the final part for this look at the show.