gotta go fast

There’s a Lot of Sonic the Hedgehog Fetish Art Online. Why?

A screenshot from the fan-made video game Sonic Inflation Adventure. Photo: Newgrounds

Here is what I know to be true as a lifelong internet user and only occasional watcher of boys playing Sonic games on Segas in basements: Sonic is a hedgehog, which is cute. Sonic is blue, which is cool. Sonic has friends, who are also sometimes hedgehogs (cute!) but not blue (lame!) And above all: Sonic. Goes. Fast.

Sonic arrived on the Sega Genesis in 1991, in time to lead ’90s kids into the new millennium, where things moved faster and farther than what we could have possibly imagined in our wee 16-bit brains. Mario was an everyman, holding down the good, sturdy job of plumber. Sonic was the next generation, with the made-up cyber-job of ring collection, a spiky-haired rude dude with attitude.

Then came DeviantArt in 2000, the amateur art-sharing website on which different fandoms could develop and share in deeply specific kinks and proclivities, using trademarked characters as the building blocks for their own budding interests. The Sonic franchise is patient zero for this. Sonic was already positioned as the counterculture option to Nintendo’s roster of goody two-shoes, so it made sense that he’d become the character to corrupt and debase. Also, and this is key, the Sonic style is fairly easy to draw, automatically lowering the barrier to entry for creating strange, illustrated erotica.

The Sonic franchise also benefited from its adjacency to furry culture — he and his pals are anthropomorphic animals with big, cartoony expressive features. As furry blogger Patch O’Furr said to me for Vulture in 2019, “having crushes on cartoons is where all furries come from.” For a subset of millennial furries, the Sonic universe was the same sort of gateway that Disney’s animated film Robin Hood was to others: the basis of childhood affinities and crushes that led to more active online participation. One key feature of both the furry and Sonic fandoms is the creation and cultivation of an anthropomorphic cartoon animal alter ego. Furries often commission artwork of their fursonas and elaborate custom fursuits from artists in the community, and their fursonas are treated as projections of their innermost or idealized selves. In contrast, one of the more amusing features of Sonic OCs (“original characters”) is in just how many earnest, scribbly self-made attempts can be found with a simple Google search of your own name. The fursona-ish idea of embodying one’s own hedgehog variant is so central to Sonic fandom that it is widely parodied with ironic creations like Coldsteel the Hedgeheg and in 2017, a character creator element was introduced in the official game Sonic Forces. 

Stemming from the hyper-personal nature of both furry culture and the Sonic fandom is a current of extreme (and often extremely creative) horniness. While furries have grown more mainstream and welcoming to kids and families over the past few years, sexuality is still a core component of furrydom. As Patch explained, crushes and sexual fantasies are often key to adopting furry affinity. Regarding The Masked Singer, he told me: “One thing I was thinking is, this show is kind of tamed down from what could be if you gave it to a bunch of furries. Because celebrities, you know, they’ve got to play safe. And they’re not going to have sexual awakenings with their new selves.” Elements of furry overlap with the pup play subsection of leather and BDSM kink, where people adopt puppy and master personas, act as dogs, and wear leather canine masks. There are servers for Discord (a Slack-like chat app) devoted to “Diaperfur” and “Babyfur” kinks. Embodying an animal, alternate identity allows furries to engage in creative sexual fantasy and roleplay, and enact it online in cartoon pornography. This extends to Sonic fans, both with their Sonic OCs and through fan art and ships of their favorite characters.

Of all the subsets of Sonic kink out there, one of the most well-represented is illustrations and videos wherein Sonic and his friends gain impossible amounts of weight in an undeniably sexual way. There’s feeder art (where a character is fed too much and grows massive), vore art (where a character or sometimes the artist gets eaten by Sonic or friends), inflation art (think Willy Wonka’s Violet Beauregarde) and, of course, mpreg (“male pregnancy”). These works slow him down a peg, and soften his spiky edges.

Just as the Virgin Mary and the immaculate conception are the basis of so much of the last millennia’s Western art, so too is mpreg Sonic a fundamental text of the internet canon. Mpreg is a fantastical body mod extension of slashfic (fan fiction concerning same-sex relationships), depicted with characters ranging from Draco Malfoy to Louis Tomlinson from the boy band One Direction. Mpreg fan art, though, makes the latent Alpha/Beta/Omega dynamics in those ships physical and transformative, and also more complex. Fans who imagine pregnant Sonic characters often fixate on the power dynamics of pregnancy: a third-trimester Sonic is helpless in some ways, but can also create impossible life. These ships act as a commentary on how the ensemble casts of franchises like Sonic are woefully lacking in gender parity. It falls to characters like Knuckles to shoulder the brunt of childbearing in the Sonic Universe.

Just as mpreg opens Sonic up to bodily impossibilities, so too does it allow for cross-franchise pairings that could never be seen outside of fan imaginings. Take, for example, the common ship of Shadow the Hedgehog and Shrek, sometimes with Spongebob as a third. On the surface, these works seem like trolling, eroticizing what are traditionally sexless children’s characters. It can sometimes be hard to know to what degree these works are ironic parodies of fan art, or sincere erotica. Either one assumes a deep knowledge of the characters and requires a great deal of time and effort on the part of the artist, but it’s hard to imagine the Spongebob throuple, in particular, as anything but a trolly joke about Rule 34, principle that “if it exists, there is porn of it.” Roleplay Tumblr accounts like askmpregsonic, on the other hand, seem sincere in their affinities.

In a similar vein, feeder is one of the most prevalent and variable types of fat Sonic hentai. Part of this is built right into Sonic’s lore: the guy loves chili dogs. Like Popeye’s spinach, chili dogs power him up. But this fan art takes it to the extreme, punishing the characters for their gluttony like Homer Simpson in donut-hell. In the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers have suggested that the feeder/feedee dynamic is just a weight-focused variation of sadomasochism, centering around physical punishment, humiliation, and power. Unlike the fantasies of vore or mpreg or inflation, feederism is a fetish that many in the community enact in real life. In a work like “Mattress” by Nemo-hana, which depicts a large Tails, however, the artist and the viewer can shift between those dom and sub positions, depending on where they identify. Artworks like the kind found in the fat-sonicgirls-club group show characters so large that they are rendered immobile. They make Sonic characters like Big the Cat look downright … small.

One of the preeminent works of Sonic crackfic (deliberately nonsensical fan fiction), is the 2014 Flash game Sonic Inflation Adventure by the mysterious Jimberly-Chaotic, and it functions as an elaborate troll of the exact sort of kinky Sonic art we’ve outlined here. Character names are misspelled and canonical designations are thrown out the wind (Tails, here, is Sonic’s son). It’s made with such specificity and mid-aughts detail that it belies a genuinely fanatical and intense engagement with inflation kink. In this interactive self-insert porno-game, you wake up as Sonic the Hedgehog and enter a point-and-click nightmare world in which Knuckles rails against the Bush administration and court is presided over by Shadow the Judgehog. The game skirts a few genres: at first, it’s a dating sim, where you can hook up with low-res JPEGs of Rouge the Bat and Amy Rose, and if the date goes well (which it does because, as we’ve established, Sonic is sexually irresistible) they’ll want to engage in some light inflation-play. This means, of course, getting pumped with air until they blow up like uncomfortably large balloons.

When Amy Rose inflates up so large that she pops and Sonic is charged in her death, the game shifts into a playable courtroom drama (loosely based on the Phoenix Wright series). Eventually, the game becomes a prison escape room, ending with Sonic’s liberation through self-inflation. The game’s homespun aesthetic evokes the childlike amateurism seen in countless works of Sonic fan art, but repurposes that sensibility for an aggressively mature story. It’s either a crude cartoon masterpiece in the vein of the films of Ralph Bakshi — or a reason why the First Amendment was a mistake.

Then there are the works of the Sonic soft vore community, which basically means one character gets swallowed whole by another. To a vore fan, a work like “Vore vs. Cream Wins” by MidNightOwlArt is the highest form of eroticism, like an Ingres odalisque. The root of Sonic vore once again overlaps with furrydom: the same cartoons that are seen as foundational furry texts or canon also feature the trope of a predator hunting prey, or getting eaten by another, Looney Tunes style. It’s worth noting that the first Kirby game dropped a year after the first Sonic; themes like inflation, feeding, and eating other characters were written directly into the gameplay. Soft vore is also, in certain ways, a counterpart to mpreg, shifting the power dynamic of who’s inside of who.

All of the above works are Sonic or a pal — eroticized as larger-than-life. In these images, they are against SEGA, against speed, against God. Furry-adjacent and anime-lite, horny Sonic art persists because it offers a recognizable face and visual language for people to use in their exploration. Sonic is a one-size-fits-all franchise, although I guess that size is always in flux.

There’s a Lot of Sonic the Hedgehog Fetish Art Online. Why?