When you think of Sonic the Hedgehog, you think of the Blue Blur whose just gotta go fast in order to stay way past cool, right? Maybe you think of chili dogs and rockin’ jams instead. But have you ever thought about why Sonic is running? What is he running from? Is it simply his nature as this scientific take on his character explains, or is there a reason far more deep, personal, and complex? I propose to you, the reader, that not only is Sonic the Hedgehog the best overall story in all of gaming, but possibly the best media representation of self-acceptance that could ever have accidentally come to be. I present to you, for your consideration, that Sonic the Hedgehog is the story of one hedgehog’s struggle to accept his own homosexuality. Now follow me on this one…
(Spoiler Warning: This dives into plot and ending details of several Sonic games.)
It all starts with a keen observation during a cutsene in Sonic Generations. In this cutscene (ed. note: more like ‘cutescene’, am I right?), a dark evil approaches and we see classic Sonic and Tails standing next to their modern counterparts, preparing to face it. What is at first glance a throwaway shot showing Tails’ fear and Sonic’s resolve turns into something more complex the more you watch it. Look carefully at the shot in question:
Classic Sonic braces himself. He throws his hand back in surprise while classic Tails moves in, his eyes trapped in awe at the sight before him. Standing next to them, we see a similar reaction from modern Sonic, but a completely different one from modern Tails. Tails runs up to Sonic and embraces him in fear while Sonic reaches back to protect him. A gesture someone may do to protect and reassure his loved one from danger. It’s Tails’ reaction that pushes this beyond simple friendship. Between the classic and modern eras, a true relationship has sprung up between the old friends.
Now before I ruin your childhood and/or make it more awesome like Quentin Tarantino did with Top Gun, let’s look back at some of the signs over the years that our rainbow-tinted nostalgia goggles of hindsight can give us new perspective on, starting with Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
Going solely on game canon (excluding the comics and the two television series– one of which had Tails turn into a busty girl without so much as a glance of intrigue from Sonic), we’re left to fill in the gaps about how Sonic befriended this two-tailed fox. They met somewhere on planet Mobius between the two games and when Doctor Robotnik launched his second attempt to gather the chaos emeralds, Sonic enlisted his friend’s help to stop the mad egg-shaped man. They run through the meadows and jump on springs, having the time of their lives on their quest to stop Robotnik, becoming closer and closer as they go.
At the end of the game, Sonic stops Robotnik’s plans and runs from the collapsing Death Egg, jumping out into nothingness just in the nick of time. Tails, worried on the ground, acts fast and revs up the Tornado with the help of his Flicky friends and together they manage to catch Sonic as he falls, saving his life.
Of course, this is if you don’t get all of the chaos emeralds yourself. All of this goes down to a moving little tune that most people don’t know has lyrics. Yes, the ending theme of Sonic 2 was given an early-90s love song called Sweet Dreams in English and Sweet Sweet Sweet in Japanese, and was performed by the group Dreams Come True.
I am so sorry* about this:
The song was written by the game’s composer, Masato Nakamura. In an interview he said that he wrote the song with the express idea of also having the band version to make the game feel like more of a movie. While he may not have intended for the ending to imply a love connection between Sonic and Tails, that doesn’t make it any less striking when you listen to it. It’s a song of two lovers, pure and simple. It’s also possible that he may not have known Tails was a male character at the time he wrote the music. Regardless of whether the relationship was intentional or not, it’s really hard to look at that ending as platonic after hearing the full version with lyrics.
So what is happening between them in this little theory of mine? At the end of Sonic 2, after adventuring together and saving all of their animal friends from Doctor Robotnik, Tails realizes that he’s fallen for Sonic. He wants to take their friendship to the next level, but he’s too afraid of how Sonic might react to broach the subject with him. Sonic may or may not be picking up on these vibes. As Super Sonic, he flies alongside the Tornado instead of on the wing where he can talk with Tails. Tails never gets the chance to outright admit his feelings because Super Sonic decides to move on ahead of the Tornado, flying straight onto Angel Island without Tails.
In Sonic 3 & Knuckles, which takes place immediately after Sonic 2, the duo are met with a new adversary: Knuckles the Echidna, the protector of Angel Island. The island is floating in an ocean of Mobius instead of the sky where it belongs because Robotnik stole the Master Emerald and conveniently blamed it on Sonic. The trouble is, Knuckles finds an immediate attraction to Sonic. He can clearly see from the very start how Tails is always trying to catch up with Sonic, with love in his eyes, but Sonic refuses to acknowledge him as anything more than a friend. Knuckles uses this to his advantage to taunt Tails while teasing Sonic every chance he gets.
Knuckles represents the cool, confident, open homosexual who sees what he wants and is willing to make an effort to take it, unlike Tails, who is too shy and respectful to force Sonic to a make a decision. Knuckles wants Sonic all to himself, teasing him every chance they meet. He’s the big buff new boy in town and won’t let Sonic ignore his advances. Sonic, however, doesn’t know how to react at Knuckles’ brash form of flirting. He can’t figure out why this hot, muscular piece of meat keeps insisting on giving him a tour of the Mushroom Hill Zone that he runs away. He does what he does best and runs, with Tails silently following behind, seething in guilt at his own feelings. Seeing that reaction to Knuckles, Tails now knows that Sonic must be straight as an arrow. He’s afraid that Sonic will leave him forever if he lets his feelings be known, so he suffers in silence.
Sonic himself is running from his feelings every step of the way, unsure of what to think. He’s surprised that Knuckles is so unashamed in his display of sexuality. Assuming that he was supposed to be straight by default, as many queer kids do before they discover themselves, he’s scared to face the idea that he might like guys in return. So he runs.
By the end of his two-cartridge saga, Knuckles is relieved to learn that Sonic and Tails are not his enemies, but having watched them at every step of the way, has come to realize that the two are meant for each other and decides not to intrude. Seeing this gesture, Tails must have gotten the confidence to confess his love to Sonic at the end of the game.
Sonic doesn’t know how to react to the confession, so hurting his friend’s feelings, he runs away. Again. He’s so distraught by the realization that his best friend is in love with him that he decides to run away to clear his head and affirm his heterosexuality once and for all.
This is where Sonic CD comes in. Depending on which timeline theory you accept, Sonic CD is either a precursor to Sonic 2, as evidenced only by this secret image found on the disk:
Or you accept the ‘official’ timeline that SEGA’s Ken Balough implied, making Sonic CD a precursor to Sonic 4 Episode 1. Either way, three facts are apparent: Tails is missing, we’re introduced to Amy Rose, and this takes place before Sonic Adventure.
Let’s talk about Amy. Amy Rose is the first female love interest for Sonic, at least that made it into the final games. The moment she lays eyes on him, Amy throws her arms around Sonic but the player is forced to run from her. She’s kidnapped by Metal Sonic and Sonic, despite not really caring for her, is honor-bound to play the hero and save her. To Sonic, this is his chance to play the knight in shining armor. If he can save her and stop Robotnik without the help of Tails or Knuckles, he can prove to himself that he’s straight.
The problem is, he doesn’t really like Amy. The games try to play it off like he’s too young to understand love, or that he’s just simply grossed out by her like a little boy might be afraid of cooties. This idea is supported by the fact that, after saving her, he simply sets her down and runs away from her as fast as he can. We later learn in Sonic Adventure that he’s really just annoyed by her presence and quite simply wants nothing to do with her. It’s not cooties or naiveté, he is just not interested in her romantically. He’s depressed by the slap-to-the-face realization that he may not be into women afterall, and aches to run alongside his old friend once more. He’s just too ashamed to face him, and too afraid face the demons within himself. So he’s gotta speed, keed, and go on a solo journey to try and find himself. Sadly, it doesn’t last long as life has a funny way of making him face his troubles again and again. He can’t run forever.
If Sonic CD takes place, as most fans think, between the first game and the second, then immediately after running from Amy, he meets his new friend Tails. Someone he’d rather be around. Someone he can be himself around. Someone who will eat chili dogs with him and collect rings. So when Tails admits his love for Sonic at the end of 3, Sonic is in the same boat. The only difference is that in this timeline, he already knows he doesn’t really like girls before Tails confesses. Sonic still has to do the only thing he knows how to do and run from his problems on a quest to find himself.
The first half of the Sonic 4 saga has Sonic by himself. He needs a return to form to clear his head. To run through the meadows and jump on springs all by himself, just like in the olden days. But his heart is empty. It drags him down with guilt for how he abandoned Tails. The new danger in his life requires that he swallow his pride for the first time in his life. Little Planet from Sonic CD is back and this time, he needs help to take out Doctor Robotnik. He returns to Tails’ workshop to make amends because he needs his help. He’s surprised to learn that Tails was one step ahead of him and was already building a rocket to help Sonic save the day. The gesture touches Sonic’s heart, knowing that even after abandoning his pal, Tails was right there waiting for him to come back.
Sonic is torn by his own feelings. He tells the young fox that he just wants to be friends. He just wants to be by his side again. Everything starts off just fine and the two are getting along just like old times, but things eventually get awkward between them. During the final moments of the game, Sonic and Tails share an escape pod that sends them right into the new Death Egg in space, yet during their escape from the Death Egg, they take different pods. There had to have been some tension building throughout the game as Sonic slowly realizes that he might be feeling more for Tails than he wanted, and the fact they’re forced to share an escape pod proves too much for him. He can’t handle the tension and to avoid Tails from taking advantage of the moment, or worse, he makes a move himself, the two take separate pods at the end. Sonic’s afraid that he may not be ready to be that close to Tails again so he tells his pal that he needs a vacation and decides to go off on his own adventure. He runs from his best friend and his own feelings once again. Gotta go fast.
The moment he arrives in the totally happenin’ Station Square, Sonic runs into trouble. Trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes. After stopping a new watery threat, he spends the following day relaxing near the beach when he sees Tails crash the Tornado off in the distance. He may have been a little afraid to be near him, but he had to save his friend.
The Adventure games have the most character development in the whole series, so there’s a lot to digest here.
Tails is blurry-eyed, recovering from his wreck and looks up to find none other than Sonic the hedgehog offering a hand to help him up. Tails was disappointed in Sonic for running away from him again but his kokoro couldn’t help the dokis that happened when he saw the light of his life before his eyes, reaching out for him in his time of need. Fate had brought them together again, it seemed. Sonic’s no fool and quickly picks up on this, deciding to keep his distance as they collect the chaos emeralds.
Every level they face together, Sonic tries to keep his distance from Tails. He laughs it off, calling it a playful race, but Tails realizes it’s because Sonic’s trying to avoid his feelings. Then the repaired Tornado gets shot down by the Egg Carrier, causing a touching little memory to play in Tails’ mind, reminding himself why he fell for Sonic to begin with. The simplicity of running through the woods together. No drama, no outside influence, just to the two of them having the time of their lives. Just admiring Sonic from behind. Best friends. He decides to fix up his prototype of the Tornado 2 and, his heart be damned, try to forget his feelings for Sonic. He runs off on his own, hoping that the next time he runs into Sonic, it can be as the friend he needs and nothing more.
Tails chases down the Egg Carrier in the Tornado 2, ready to save the day on his own, but happens upon Sonic on the way so they fly towards the Egg Carrier together. After a rough crash landing, the two run through the Sky Deck to try and get to Robotnik and Tails finds that their time apart wasn’t nearly as progressive for Sonic as it was for him. Once again, Sonic’s turned their mission into a race. He tells himself that he can be strong. This isn’t so much Sonic trying to run from him as it is Sonic running from himself, and he realizes it.
He thinks he has everything under control, until who shows up but Amy Frickin’ Rose.
The jealousy is instant. While Tails was away, Sonic runs into Amy and gets roped into taking her on a date to Twinkle Park. Sonic still finds that he wants nothing to do with the crazy girl, even after all this time, but he saves her once more, keeping his emotional distance. Sonic is now sure once and for all that he’s not interested in girls. When the two people after his heart finally meet face to face on the Egg Carrier, he gets scared. Despite not saying a word about it, he thinks they’re putting him on the spot, making him choose once and for all: should he force himself to be with Amy because it’s the right thing to do, or should he open his heart and follow his rainbow? Instead, he chooses neither. He tells Tails to take Amy to safety while he runs off after Eggman alone. If he can just focus on the mission at hand, he might be able to forget about his heart.
Meanwhile, Tails and Amy are alone together for the first time. They immediately register each other as rivals in love, but Tails is done fighting. Rather than fighting ‘Eggman’ together, Sonic ditched him once again. That was the last straw. Tails decides he really needs to be his own fox. To be strong for himself. He’s a strong, independent fox boy who don’t need NO hedgehog!
He leaves Amy by herself on a street corner to chase down Robotnik’s last-minute effort to destroy Station Square and saves the day all by himself. He’s so proud, he runs around in a victory march while the citizens of Station Square cheer him on. He’s done it; he’s validated himself. He’s saved the day and did it all without Sonic. He doesn’t need Sonic anymore.
And Sonic doesn’t need him, or so he tells himself. When Angel Island falls again, Tails tells him the bad news and the two act professionally in using the emeralds to stop Perfect Chaos. Sonic takes off into the sunset after Robotnik and Tails doesn’t chase him. He lets him go. Sonic needs to go on a journey for himself. Tails hopes that Sonic will eventually open his heart, and once he does, it’s going to be alright.
But it still hurts Tails deep inside; that little part of him that still loves Sonic. His song in the game plays at the end of his story, with lyrics that sound of a high school girl with a crush on the coolest guy in class, but he’s done with that. He’s finally ready to get ahold of his life and start a journey of his own. Everything is a brave new challenge for him, but he will believe in himself because this is the only start for him. This is the time for him to get over his crush and move on.
Some time passes and Sonic’s really starting to come to terms with himself. He’s had his hard times, his run-ins with the law, but he’s come to terms with himself. He’s a gay hedgehog, and that’s ok. His next adventure starts him off with a new lease on life, embracing who he is and truly feeling free for the very first time. He’s gotta follow his rainbow as he runs through a city that’s clearly inspired by San Francisco, knocking out any homophobic opposition from the government on the way. He can’t stick around with his old feelings of sexual insecurity, he has to keep moving on. There’s no telling what lies ahead, but there’s only one way to find out. And that’s to follow his rainbow. So he runs, following his rainbow and running from the law, until he’s stopped dead in his tracks by his antithesis: a gay-hating lab-grown ultra-hetero hedgehog named Shadow.
Just as Sonic has accepted himself, Shadow comes in and questions his very right to existence. Sonic calls him fake, but Shadow insists that Sonic’s the fake. Shadow, the representation of heterosexuality, says that he is the ultimate life form. The only true way. According to him, Sonic is unnatural and an abomination unto all hedgehog-kind. Throughout the entire game, the two are butting heads. Sonic sees Shadow as a sad representation of his old self; a shadow, if you will. This shadow represents all he hates about his closeted self, and worse, Sonic still has that reputation. He’s out and proud now but everyone, from Amy to the military agency hunting him, still sees him as Shadow. He sets out to correct that but is captured and thrown in prison by a homophobic military.
Shadow, however, is scorned and out for revenge after the death of his female human love Maria. Seeing Sonic act so carefree, open, and ready to love sets him on edge because he’s under the impression that the only love in the world is the kind he once had: hetero bestiality. He can’t accept it being any other way so he holds a personal vendetta against Sonic while at the same time fighting against him to make his ultimate plan come through.
When Tails hears the news on this strange new technology called ‘satellite TV’, he makes haste in the Tornado 2 to rescue Sonic but is shocked that Amy beat him there. How DARE she steal this opportunity away from him! He may have earned his self-respect in the last game and decided he was over Sonic, but he couldn’t let his moment of need go by. He has to clear his first love’s name and if that means busting him out of jail, so be it.
Tails rescues Amy from Robotnik but insists that he be the one to save Sonic and that Amy should go home. Amy runs along anyway, still under the illusion that she can turn Sonic straight, but she hasn’t met the new Sonic yet. Amy reaches the jail cell before Tails and after a brief interaction, we see that Sonic still wants nothing to do with her. She even offers Sonic a deal to marry her but he says “No way!”. Amy opens the cell and moves on with the plot, but as soon as Sonic finds out what he needs to know, he runs from her, making it clear where he stands. After this scene, Amy starts to back off her pursuit of Sonic a little.
Tails is a new fox who don’t need no man, so when it comes to Sonic, he tries to remain purely professional. He wanted to save Sonic because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’ll score him points, or so he tells himself. The two keep their distance for the whole game. They don’t even act as friends. The only time they’re ever together is when they have to chase the President and even then they act as if it’s strictly business and part ways once again. They can’t stand to be around each other because the tension’s too much for them to handle. This all comes to a head at the end of the game on the space colony ARK.
Tails and Amy are left to watch from the relative safety of the ship as Sonic and Shadow put their differences aside to fight for their lives and the lives of all Mobians against a common enemy. By now Shadow has acknowledged, by getting his ass beaten a few times, that Sonic being gay is perfectly fine, and maybe even superior to his own closed-minded conservative self, though he’d be too proud to admit it. Sonic doesn’t hold a grudge, knowing from experience that it takes time to accept these things, and they put their differences aside to save the world.
However, Shadow doesn’t make it. They saved the world, but at the assumed cost of Shadow’s life. Sonic returned to the ship to greet sullen faces as everyone, including Amy and Tails, mourns for their fallen frienemy. Sonic holds his chin up though, and offers words of encouragement, finally acknowledging that Shadow was a true hedgehog. Everyone has a moment of quiet reflection on the choices in their lives, with even Doctor Robotnik finding words of encouragement from Tails. Shadow may have been a homophobic dick, but in the end, he brought everyone together.
Despite putting on a brave face, Tails’ heart is broken. He realized that it could have just as easily been Sonic who died, and decides that holding a grudge and being angry is a waste of a life. It was time to forgive Sonic from running out on him and truly enjoy just being by his side. Sonic’s ready to face Tails again too. Life is too short to run away from your friends. You should run beside them, together, towards the same goals. They return home together, unsure of what their future holds but ready for anything because for the first time in months, they are truly at each other’s sides. Live and learn, or so they say.
The two decide to hang out together, just like old times, but as friends. Knuckles is invited along as a third wheel, to keep everything from getting awkward between them. Slowly, through Sonic Heroes, Sonic Riders, and a few side stories we don’t talk about involving a magic book, a creepy human girl, a sword, and a werewolf, the two learn to be around each other once more without having the tension. They can be pals without it being awkward once again, just like when they first met all those years ago.
Sonic offers to have a night out together, just him and Tails. He decides to take Tails to the latest greatest offering in the world, or out of this world, Eggman’s Incredible Interstellar Amusement Park. Tails is awestruck at the gesture and excited to spend time alone with Sonic for the first time in ages, and Sonic swears up and down that this isn’t a date. He did admit that it put Amy’s Twinkle Park date to shame, though. Sonic turns to Tails as they approach the landing and says, “Just take my hand, we’re gonna reach for the stars tonight”. Tails reluctantly grabs his hand and together they explore the fantastic amusement park that they have all to themselves.
Danger lurks its head around the corner as soon as they arrive when they witness some aliens being captured by Robotnik for use in his newest evil plot, a giant mind control beam he aims to use on the entire planet below. Sonic and Tails help each other out as they work to stop Robotnik’s plan, destroying one mechanical menace after another.
At one point in the story, their friendship is really put to the test. They’d just finally rebuilt it to what it was years ago, but Robotnik, being a gay-hedgehog-hating asshole, has a plan to ruin this bond and ultimately defeat Sonic. He wants to use a prototype of his mind control beam on Sonic to make him do his hetero bidding, but Tails’ heart jumps into his throat and he manages to knock his love out of danger’s way. This results in Tails being hit with the beam. Sonic doesn’t know how to react. He refuses to hurt his friend.
Luckily, before Sonic is forced to make an unforgivable decision, the beam runs out of power. Sonic catches Tails in his arms and after making sure he’s ok, they have a quick laugh at the situation before Sonic goes off to defeat Robotnik again. It’s one thing to trap his animal friends in robotic shells. It’s one thing to revive an ancient evil and unleash it upon the city. But you dare threaten to break him apart from Tails? This time, it’s personal. Sonic defeats Robotnik not just for himself, but in a victory for all gay animals everywhere who dared to be themselves.
By the end of the game, Sonic and Tails have grown closer than ever and set to the romantic backdrop of the most wonderful park, beautiful friendly new aliens, and saving the day together just like old times, Tails finally allows his heart to beat once more. Tails proved in his heroic moment that he truly loved Sonic and Sonic finally reciprocated by avenging Tails and beating Robotnik for trying to tear them apart. They reached for the stars alright, and found something magical. True love.
Which brings us back to Generations and that cute shot of Sonic protecting the love of his life. Their journey was incredible and had its ups and downs, but they made it through together. In the end, they’re running side by side, hand in hand, just how it should have been. Confronting their past and reliving all of their brightest and darkest moments in Sonic Generations only steeled their resolve that their feelings were true and just. When they part ways with their past selves at the end of the game, Sonic gives his past self a thumbs up and in a really forced tone of positivity, choking back the guilt of all of the running his past self has yet to do, he offers simple words of encouragement. “Enjoy your future- it’s gonna be great!”
So there you have it, why Sonic the Hedgehog is the best story in gaming and the most positive and accurate representation of homosexuality in gaming this side of Mass Effect. His struggles were real and identifiable with anyone whose ever explored their feelings and been scared of what they found, just as he had so many times before, but just like Sonic, you can embrace those feelings and turn that running into something positive. Run towards your goals and who you really are, not away. Run towards them and be free. Follow your rainbow.
Who knew all of this was hidden in a kids’ game? I guess SEGA does what Nintendon’t.
Special thanks to Jen Sterling, Leah Smith, and Ben Avecilla for helping with that glorious banner