Content Warning: This article will contain talk about state-sponsored executions, state-sponsored murder of children, The Military, and allusions to IRL horrific war crimes. If you are uncomfortable with any of these things, this article may not be for you.
Hello, friends, and welcome to the inaugural (possibly only, depending on my Verve) edition of “Yes, It’s Political”, where I pointlessly split hairs and explain how, yes, it’s political. Even Mario. Especially Mario. But today, Sonic. Specifically, Sonic Adventure 2.
Here’s how we’ll break it down.
First, the actual content in the game, storyline-wise, I’ll go through the timeline of events and explain to you exactly what is happening. I’m not going to be including extracanonical or alternate universe information, such as stuff from the comics — purely video game context, here.
Second, the real world context. I’ll explore the writers and script-people behind each game and the major real world events going on at roughly the same time in its development.
Third, the politics. This is where I explain to you how Yes, It’s Political. This is going to be the most opinionated part of the article, and I do plead for you to remember two things. A: I’m not very smart. B: This is my opinion on how I interpret the messages the story is attempting to deliver. You could split hairs just as much as I do and come up with a completely different conclusion, and that’s totally fine! Synthesis of ideas is how intellectual progress is made.
Anyway. Let’s get started, shall we?
1. SONIC ADVENTURE 2 IS ABOUT WAR CRIMES
Before we do anything else, let’s start with the cast and crew, for those unfamiliar with the Sonic franchise. After that, we’ll go over the background details relevant to the story of Sonic Adventure 2 (SA2) directly, in as best of an order as I can place them.
Sonic the Hedgehog — A 15 year old blue hedgehog who can run very fast. Cocky but kind and ultimately a good guy.
Miles “Tails” Prower — An 8 year old fox who is Team Good Guy’s tech person. Built his own plane that turns into a bipedal robot with a gun.
Knuckles the Echidna — A 15 year old echidna that looks not even remotely like an echidna. He is stupid and brash, and mostly irrelevant to the plot until the very end.
Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik — A genius mechanical inventor and mad scientist with a desire to conquer the world. He is a human and not literally made of egg.
Rouge the Bat — New to SA2, a jewel thief that secretly works for the president in order to monitor Eggman and gather data on Project Shadow.
Shadow the Hedgehog — New to SA2, an aloof and stoic asshole hedgehog with the ability to teleport who wants to destroy the world. More on him later.
Amy Rose — A hedgehog despite the lack of proper nomenclature. Her only purpose in the story is to fawn over Sonic and then make Shadow a good guy.
Chaos Emeralds — Not a character per se but an important plot element. There are 7 of these and they have large quantities of “Chaos Energy” that basically do whatever the plot needs it to, but are usually used as fuel for some kind of massive war machine or whatever.
Chaos — Only vaguely relevant, Chaos was the big threatening monster in Sonic Adventure 1. The ancient water god of a long-extinct, Mesoamerican-themed civilization. Of Echidnas.
Dr. Gerald Robotnik — Eggman’s grandpa. More on him later.
Maria Robotnik — Eggman’s cousin, Gerald’s granddaughter. More on her later.
??? Years Before SA2 — Gerald Robotnik is born. He establishes himself as one of the greatest scientists humanity has ever known, described as the Da Vinci of his time, which is not light praise. He constructs, or at least aids in construction enough to the point where its seen as “his project”, Space Colony ARK, a semispherical space colony shaped like his face.
?? Years Before SA2 — Maria Robotnik, Gerald’s granddaughter (and Dr. Eggman’s cousin) is born, presumably but not confirmedly on the Space Colony ARK, and is raised there for the entirety of her life. There is no evidence to show that Maria and Eggman have met each other directly.
?? Years Before SA2 — Maria develops NIDS (Neuro-Immune Deficiency Syndrome), a fictional disease that causes her to become a Frail, Steadily Dying Waif. NIDS is incurable and invariably fatal, and Gerald, extremely fond of his granddaughter, is despondent.
?? but close to 50 years Before SA2 — The then-President (of the “United Federation”, the SA-verse United States equivalent, and not the same President from Sonic Adventure 2) contacts Gerald to work on Project Shadow, a top-secret research project dedicated to discovering immortality. Gerald initially refuses out of ethical concerns, but when he realizes that this could lead to a cure for Maria’s disease, he decides to work under the President.
During this time, he develops several advances with the assistance of his government contacts as well as an alien race known as the Black Arms, working entirely in secret among Space Colony ARK — this leads to the development of the Biolizard, the first “Ultimate Life Form”. Fearing betrayal by the alien race (rightfully, since they want to eat the planet or something), he develops the Eclipse Cannon, a Chaos Emerald powered cannon that at full power can destroy planets (for the purpose of alien killing), as well beginning work on a second Ultimate Life Form, Shadow the Hedgehog, who he scientifically gives, and this is the actual phrasing used, a “heart and soul”, so that 50 years from now Shadow can body the Black Arms when they return.
During this, Gerald also creates “Artificial Chaos”, a weaponized life form based on the god of an ancient culture, at the behest of GUN (Guardian Unit of Nations), the United Federation’s military branch.
?? but close to 50 years Before SA2 — Some stuff happens with a mechanical entity called a Gizoid, which causes a momentary crisis. Then it sort of gets resolved. It’s not super relevant but it shows that the UF government and GUN is growing uneasy about their cooperation with Gerald.
?? but close to 50 years Before SA2 — Shadow the Hedgehog is Born for Real. He becomes BFFS with Maria.
?? but close to 50 years Before SA2 — No longer comfortable with Gerald’s independence, GUN (aka The Military) decides to shoot up the Space Colony ARK, taking Gerald into custody so they can force him to keep working while in prison. They also kill Maria at this point, but Gerald does not know this until later. Shadow is put in an escape capsule of some kind and sent towards Earth, but is reclaimed by GUN and put in “Prison Island” (the same place that Gerald is incarcerated). ARK is shut down.
?? but close to 50 years Before SA2 — Gerald becomes publicly vilified and forced to take the blame for the shutdown of Space Colony ARK, and also finds out about Maria’s death. This makes him Very Mad. In secret, he begins working on a project under the pretense of continuing work on Project Shadow that would instead cause Space Colony ARK to crash into the planet, presumably blowing it the fuck up. During this time, he also records some video diaries, last wills, writes in a journal, etc.
?? but close to 50 years Before SA2 — Gerald is fucking executed by firing squad (in a Sonic game!)
? Months Before SA2 — Sonic Adventure 1 happens. Sonic the Hedgehog saves Station Square (a city) from a gigantic water monster, in a very flashy, public manner — remember this, it’s important.
(The rest of this timeline is helpfully adapted from a mix of This Reddit post, Wikipedia, re-consulting the cutscenes on Youtube, and the Sonic Wiki. Thanks, Scared_Vacation, and all the various Wiki editors.)
And Now, Sonic Adventure 2 — Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik discovers Gerald’s diary, which basically says “I created a life form that will destroy the world if you release it”. He breaks into Prison Island and proceeds to Release It. Shadow is woken up, beats up the guard robot trying to stop him from waking up, and tells Eggman to meet him on the Space Colony ARK with as many Chaos Emeralds as his rotund body can carry and in return he will grant him One Wish.
SA2 Day 0, Evening— Shadow breaks into the Federal Reserve and steals the Green Chaos Emerald, which is being kept in the Federal Reserve for some reason.
SA2 Day 1, Daytime— Sonic the Hedgehog, who very publicly defeated a gigantic water monster that basically destroyed an entire city, gets ““mistaken”” for Shadow the Hedgehog by GUN and is taken into custody. Sonic then busts out of a helicopter like a badass and proceeds to be a fugitive for basically the rest of the game. Good for him.
SA2 Day 1, Daytime — Knuckles and Rouge both fight over the Master Emerald, Eggman tries to steal it for ??? reasons, and it shatters into a billion tiny pieces that you will later have to collect in the Worst Segments Of The Game.
SA2 Day 1, Night— Eggman returns to his pyramid base, Shadow evades military pursuit by running down a busy highway in plain sight of, uh, everyone.
SA2 Day 1, Night— Sonic blows up a GUN mecha-walker, meets Shadow, watches him teleport, and then gets captured and sent to prison, in Prison Island.
SA2 Day 1, Night— Rouge infiltrates Eggman’s secret pyramid base, finds his teleporter, and takes it to Space Colony ARK. He has a teleporter apparently.
After All That— Eggman makes his way to the center of Space Colony ARK, meets Shadow, and Rouge is there too. They form an alliance and plug in their three Chaos Emeralds into the Big Fuckoff Space Gun (the Eclipse Cannon).
SA2 Day 2, Daytime— Team Dark (Eggman, Shadow, and Rouge) formulate a plan to steal some Chaos Emeralds, which are helpfully on Prison Island, because that is a very smart strategic move by GUN. Eggman goes first.
SA2 Day 2, Daytime — Amy Rose, Sonic Stan, is there and mistakes Shadow for Sonic, somehow. Tails, Sonic’s cool little brother, shows up just in the nick of time to save Amy from Eggman. Eggman peaces out because he has better things to do, like blowing up an entire god damn island. Where did he get that many explosives? This Island has both a forest AND a jungle, it’s fucking big!
SA2 Day 2, Daytime — Tails and Rouge both head through Prison Island for different reasons. Tails is trying to do a jailbreak on Sonic the Hedgehog and Rouge is going to steal three chaos emeralds that are all being kept in the same place because GUN is a competent organization full of smart people. She gets them but then has to blow up another robot that GUN has and gets locked inside a vault. Whoops! Also, fuck Security Hall. I hate time limit levels.
SA2 Day 2, Daytime — Amy lets Sonic out of his cell and Sonic immediately leaves to go beat the shit out of Shadow, while Shadow, the nobler of the hedgehogs, high tails it through a jungle in order to rescue Rouge.
SA2 Day 2, Daytime — I FOUND YOU, FAKER
SA2 Day 2, Daytime — Eggman calls to remind the Hot Topic wannabe (Shadow) and the blue gumball son of a bitch (Sonic) that the island is going to blow up. Shadow rescues Rouge with, like, zero seconds left. Tails, Amy, and Sonic manage to get away in the nick of time. A pretty impressive for 2001 CG FMV plays, displaying the Entire Island Exploding.
Meanwhile — Knuckles, proving himself to be profoundly useless, is off getting scared shitless by ghosts in a pumpkin-shaped valley. Looking for emerald shards or whatever. Who cares.
SA2 Day 2, Night— Knuckles continues hunting emerald shards. This time in a mine. Spooky.
SA2 Day 2, Night — Eggman blows up half the moon and then the military shows up to arrest an checks notes 8 year old fox. Tails also has the last Chaos Emerald. Tails Flees From The Military.
SA2 Day 3, Daytime— Knuckles finally introduces himself to the rest of the plot, the main characters flag down the President and then NSA-style trace Eggman’s taunting videocall to the President to ARK. Knuckles tells them about Eggman’s secret base and they all go to Egypt or something.
SA2 Day 3, Daytime — Eggman finds out that Tails has the last Chaos Emerald and sends Rouge and Shadow to hunt him down.
SA2 Day 3, Daytime — Rouge loses track, Shadow keeps following and then loses track but warns Eggman that Team Good Guy (Sonic, Knuckles, Tails, and I guess Amy is there too) are coming to the pyramid base.
SA2 Day 3, Daytime — Team Good Guy busts into Eggman’s pyramid-shaped house. Knuckles punches a ghost. Sonic punches a giant robot erroneously named a Golem, and then the Golem tries to punch Eggman, and gets shot to death. They hijack a space shuttle and fly to space. The group formulates a plan to use a fake Chaos Emerald to fuck up Eggman’s shit.
SA2 Day 3, Night— Hedgehogs in space. Here is what happens. 1. Knuckles trips like a loser and spills his Master Emerald spaghetti all over an asteroid field. Knuckles and Rouge both go race for it. 2. Tails goes off to blow up the Eclipse Cannon. 3. Sonic races off with the fake emerald. 4. Eggman goes off to try and stop them all. Shadow is AWOL.
SA2 Day 3, Night— Knuckles and Rouge beat each other up and experience an uncomfortable amount of romantic tension. Rouge just kind of gives up and gives him all her hard-earned emerald shards.
SA2 Day 3, Night — Eggman holds Amy Rose hostage with an actual honest to god “It Shoots Bullets” pistol. Like a for real gun pointed at her anime-sized hedgehog head. What the fuck?
SA2 Day 3, Night — Eggman actually ascends to “effective villain” tier. So, Eggman suspects that Sonic has a fake emerald, and when Sonic arrives to save Amy’s life, he tells Sonic to put the emerald in the center of the room to negotiate for Amy’s release. Sonic, being a good guy, does so, but Eggman traps him in basically a glass jar along with the fake emerald and says something to the effect of “So you thought you could fool me with that fake emerald, huh?”. Tails, being an impulsive 8 year old, says “How did you know it was fake?”, to which Eggman legendarily replies “Because you just told me, fox boy!” and then jettisons Sonic into space, and then the capsule explodes.
As far as we are aware at this point, Sonic the Hedgehog is dead.
SA2 Day 3, Night — Just kidding, Sonic somehow uses Chaos Control (i.e teleportation) with the fake Chaos Emerald to escape. Tails and Eggman fight, Eggman snatches the last Chaos Emerald and bounces with it. Also, Rouge is secretly a government agent working for the president, but Shadow is cool with that so long as she doesn’t touch the Emeralds, which she doesn’t for some reason.
SA2 Day 3, Night — Sonic starts making his way to the Eclipse Cannon to blow it up. Shadow moves in to intercept. They meet and fight each other. Ultimately, Sonic is able to blow up the cannon’s main outer mechanism, but not the interior Chaos Emerald holding bits.
SA2 Day 4 — Now in possession of all the Chaos Emeralds, Eggman puts them in the cannon’s control mechanism, which turns out to be a trap set by Gerald Robotnik — remember him? The ARK suddenly begins falling from orbit, and all the important characters meet up and get to watch Gerald’s last will and testament, along with apparently every TV monitor on Earth (really). Basically, by inserting all the Chaos Emeralds, they have activated Gerald’s “fuck the Earth” protocol, and it’s going to slam into the planet and destroy it.
FOR CONTEXT — According to an eyecatch card in Sonic X, which I am using only because there’s no other source and nothing in SA2 directly contradicts it, Space Colony ARK is 15 KM in diameter and weighs 1.5 billion tons. That is about the diameter, on the low end of estimates, of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. 1.5 billion tons (or 1.5 x 10⁹) is actually surprisingly light, but suffice to say, something that big, going that fast, with essentially a bomb powered by Chaos Emeralds and spite (more on that later) inside of it, would probably cause an extinction level event. Gerald’s right on this one.
SA2 Day 4 — Eggman gives Rouge Gerald’s diary to read to the group in storytime, and she reads out loud about how losing Maria ended up driving him misanthropically insane, to the point where he devised a plan to destroy all of humanity in revenge.
SA2 Day 4 — The group comes up with a plan to use each of their skills Ocean’s 11 style in order to get to the core of the cannon and neutralize it using the Master Emerald. Shadow is moody and almost doesn’t help until Amy convinces him by somehow reminding him that Maria wanted him to not be an asshole, and that Humans Are Good, Actually. As it turns out, Shadow misremembered her dying wish and interpreted it as “kill everyone” when in reality it was “make sure everyone can be happy”. Imagine that.
SA2 Day 4 — Sonic and Knuckles make their way to the cannon’s core and find a recreation of the Master Emerald shrine from back on Earth. And then a giant spite lizard shows up, the Biolizard, aka Shadow’s older brother. Shadow distracts the Biolizard long enough for Sonic and Knuckles to do their thing, and then the Biolizard just disappears.
SA2 Day 4 — Or not! Turns out instead the Biolizard Chaos Control’d itself into Brundleflying with the ARK, becoming the Finalhazard (one word). Sonic and Shadow become Super Sonic and Super Shadow to beat the tar out of it, and then they both use Chaos Control to teleport ARK into a stable orbit back around Earth.
SA2 Day 4 — Shadow, out of energy, falls into atmospheric reentry and seemingly dies. This plot point will not get resolved this game so you can effectively treat it as “Shadow Dies”. Sonic gives Rouge one of Shadow’s rings to remember him by, roll credits.
Great! Now you’re caught up to speed. Let’s get to:
2: SONIC ADVENTURE 2 IS WRITTEN BY… A GUY.
Sonic Adventure 2’s writer is a man named Shiro Maekawa, and SA2 was his first writing gig at Sega. He’s written a small handful of Sonic games since, including, but not limited to, Sonic Heroes (as the director and scenario writer, among other things), Sonic 2006 (as a scriptwriter), and Sonic and the Black Knight (as an uncredited writer). He was also involved with Sonic X (the anime), in mostly a supervisory position.
According to an interview, his writing is inspired by Miyazaki movies and the works of Mamoru Oshii — namely, Nausicaa and Ghost in the Shell (good taste on both accounts) — and while Sonic Adventure 2 may not be as philosophically heavy as either of those two, I think you can still see, to an extent, some Deep Things sort of creep through. It has a surprisingly dark plot (again, Eggman threatens Amy Rose with an actual gun, and the villain’s plan is to commit extinction-level genocide against the entire human species), and, for what is nominally a kid’s game, is refreshingly mature, while also still being about talking anthropomorphic hedgehogs.
Other than that, Maekawa is a bit of an enigma. There’s not much to go on about him from what’s publicly available on the internet, much less any political views that could be knowingly-or-unknowingly injected into his works (although I think his favorite movies are a little telling in their own right).
Now, what was happening in the real world during this time? Well, SA2 was announced in October 1999, shown off first at E3 2000 (May 11–13, about 6 months later), and released worldwide on June 23, 2001, 13 months and some change after that.
So, we can get a “Real World Context” date of roughly mid-late 1998 to early 2000 ish. I will be perfectly honest, I am not a historian and I don’t usually research history, so my real world context is going to be a little scattershot, but I polled some friends and here’s the information we came up with that seemed potentially relevant — if you have anything else that you think might have influenced the writing of SA2, feel free to throw it at me and I will update accordingly.
At this point in world history, the dot com bubble is beginning to burst. Japan has been in a deep, painful recession, America’s own economy is starting to boom, and it feels like Japan is about to become America’s little brother protectorate once again. Always notable in Japanese pop culture around this period is the Aum Shinrikyo sarin nerve gas attacks of 1995, which colored a lot of the zeitgeist of the country for a while after the fact. The Iran-Contra scandal, even though it occurred more than 10 years ago at this point, has colored foreign views of American military operations. The Y2K bug is on a lot of people’s minds, producing fears about a technologically induced apocalypse, our wonderful scientific advancements coming back to haunt us. And the Murayama Statement gets made, attempting to apologize for the war crimes committed by Japan in WWII and reconcile their relationship with China and South Korea. While it went over decently in China, reactions in South Korea are significantly more mixed.
It was generally around this point in their existence that Japan attempted to, or at least put on the appearance of attempting to, publicly deal with their recent history, particularly their involvement in WWII, trying to show the world that they were willing to deal with the ghosts of the past. Japanese pop culture began becoming a serious export into American markets, starting to develop into more than just a niche product for overzealous American otaku, into something with actual relatively mainstream appeal thanks to Toonami (starting in 1997). The average Japanese citizen was finding themselves in a position of becoming more politically conscious, more aware of the world around them and their neighbors on a global stage, and the general consensus vibe was that the state would often take things too far in a gambit for personal security.
And, finally, Sega. Sonic Adventure 2 was a Hail Mary for the company, one of the last games they would get to make before the Dreamcast was discontinued and they transitioned from hardware + software into purely a software company. Almost immediately after SA2’s release, they transitioned into porting it to Gamecube in the form of Sonic Adventure 2: Battle.
Sonic Adventure 2, despite being made by a Japanese company with a definitively Japanese development and writing team, is a very American game. It’s discussed in interviews and obvious in some of the game’s architecture and city design that the main cityscape is based off San Francisco — City Escape has its valley-like, absurd downhill slopes, Radical Highway is based off the Golden Gate Bridge. The United Federation (unnamed as they are in this game) is run by a President who looks to be visibly Caucasian and an omnipresent high-tech military force looms over the setting. Route 280 and 101 are named after two interstates that run through San Francisco. Sonic Adventure 2 is super American. Keep that in mind.
So with all that context out of the way, let’s get into what you’re all really here for. I can hear your salivation from here. I won’t hold the gates back any longer.
3. SONIC ADVENTURE 2 IS ABOUT WAR CRIMES
Did you think I was joking the first time I said it?
To be blunt — I’m not good at allegorical readings. I’m stupid and really bad at connecting things to real life events unless it’s eye-searingly obvious. Instead, when I judge a video game’s politics, I judge it based on the implications of what it is telling you with its story. For example, as video essayist Jacob Geller explains in his video “Does Call of Duty Believe in Anything?” (link timestamped),
“Again, the game doesn’t actually force you to agree with the actions of the characters here [performing a no-knock raid]. You could play this level and be horrified that a state military would carry out this kind of action. You could, reasonably, point out that it’s an understandable response to try and shoot back when you wake up and find your house full of men with guns.[…] But if you were to do that, you would be fighting against every message the game is giving you.[…] The game doesn’t say all no-knock raids are effective, but it shows you one, and that one inarguably was.”
So, instead, what I’ll be doing, is explaining the things that I think the game is trying to tell us, whether intentionally or through presentation.
And what Sonic Adventure 2 tells us, again and again, over and over, is that the military is fucking evil. 50 years before the story starts (so, if in real time, approximately the late 1940s), GUN slaughters the population of an entire space station the size of a small city, every single man, woman, and child aboard, imprisoning those they don’t kill indefinitely, in order to hide the existence of their research from the world at large — a war crime almost without compare in the real world.
In an attempt to eliminate everyone even tenuously connected to Project Shadow, they kill a small ill girl who could not have possibly posed a threat to them, incarcerate Project Shadow’s head researcher and basically force him to keep working on it more or less at gunpoint (and then kill him anyway), and then, 50 years later, try to kill the hero of Station Square, his 8 year old friend, Gerald Robotnik’s grandson, a spy also working for the government, and I guess tenuously they’re not a fan of Knuckles either, all in an attempt to ensure not a single scrap of knowledge of Project Shadow or their massacre makes it out into the rest of the world.
GUN is unambiguously monstrous, and frankly, one of the most vile antagonists in video game history, despite not receiving a single slice of comeuppance within Sonic Adventure 2 (and, in fact, in later games they are even rehabilitated somewhat, a decision which I find baffling).
It’s not like popular media doesn’t use the military as villains — they’re a frequent favorite, in fact, but usually, such as in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, working under the imperialistic assumption that the military apparatus would be fine so long as it was working under the correct person, and it’s just One Bad General sending ill orders throughout the structure, or One Rogue Squadron fucking things up.
There is no general. There is no squadron. There is only GUN, and violence. There is no attempt to provide them clemency. They oppose the “heroes” and “villains” in equal measure. In fact, there’s even compelling evidence to show that they’re working outside the authority of the President himself. Assuming that the United Federation operates similarly to the USA, the President must be the commander in chief, and yet GUN regularly tries to kill one of his own agents. In addition, Rouge’s major assignment is to gather data on Project Shadow, a government-sponsored project that the current President should be aware of, but is not. The necessity of Rouge’s espionage implies that information about Project Shadow is kept entirely internal to GUN, and thus, their violent suppression of potential witnesses is also being done outside the purview of the President. (Watch Khonjin’s “Competitive Review: Sonic Adventure 2 Part 1”, it lays out the evidence for this particular theory way better.)
There is no contextualization of GUN. No internal struggle. Only faceless machines fueled by artificial dead gods (Chaos Drives), and the occasional voice of a human operator to remind us that, oh yeah, there are people here performing this violence. Let’s not forget, the Echidna ancient civilization (from which Chaos, and, ultimately the Chaos Drives from which it is derived) is clearly modeled off ancient Mesoamerican civilizations (see: Sonic Adventure 1. If you don’t know, it’s a whole thing, don’t worry about it too much). The fact that recreated pieces of a dead god worshipped by a Mesoamerican-modeled extinct race are used to fuel very American-seeming Literal War Machines is something you can read into in your own time.
Also, let’s all be real here. Sonic and Shadow look nothing alike. As the video linked two paragraphs up says so eloquently, it’s very clear that GUN knows that Shadow exists, knows that Sonic is not Shadow, and is trying to capture Sonic as part of the ongoing coverup of Project Shadow. Shadow was being kept in stasis at a GUN prison base! All their security alarms went off and Shadow destroyed one of their mecha! They absolutely know that Sonic is not Shadow, and they do not give a shit.
There is no attempt to justify GUN. They are evil and violent because evil and violence are what the military enacts. It is their seemingly sole purpose for existence. They are destruction, decimation, imperialism, personified.
GUN is omnipresent and omniviolent.
Alright, the military sucks super hard. What else is the story telling us?
The military is more than just guns and robots, of course. There is research and development — they have to get new guns and new robots somehow — and it’s not like military science and government R&D haven’t produced some of the most disturbing atrocities of our modern age, some of which, about 50 years before Sonic Adventure 2’s development, are very relevant to the cultural context we are working with.
But the science, as nebulous of a term as that is, has to come from somewhere… and we never see any military scientists in the story. We don’t even get a hint at faceless labcoats. There are three scientists in Sonic Adventure 2: Gerald, Eggman, and Tails.
All three of them are civilians.
Gerald is contracted by GUN, yes, but at no point are we given the impression that he has been subducted into the military apparatus. At most, he is a begrudging participant hoping to use the military’s resources in order to save his granddaughter’s life — his intentions are wholly peaceful, he builds the ARK as a resource for humanity and is trying to cure a named, known incurable disease, and his self-stated reason to even exist (pre-Maria’s death) is to bring mankind happiness and hope through the power of science.
Even Eggman, megalomaniacal world conquerer, states that he entered the scientific field out of admiration of Gerald, and it’s implied that his conquering tendencies spring from a desire for revenge for the mistreatment of his grandfather. Perhaps in another world, with a less criminal military apparatus, Eggman would be engineering humanitarian marvels like the ARK instead of trying to destroy the government.
And I think it goes without saying that 8 year old engineering wunderkid Miles “Tails” Prower is Not Evil. Probably.
If Sonic Adventure 2 says, wholeheartedly, with gusto, the military requires no context, it is a violent force of oppression, destruction, and lies, it says with equal gusto that the motivations of their weapon manufacturers are worth our consideration.
The military sucks hard, but the individual civilians working under its thumb are given an amount of pathos that makes their plight more understandable than that of the anonymous mechanized goon. No, Gerald should not want to blow up the world, but in his diary he describes in haunting detail just how heavily the death of Maria weighs on him, how it becomes an intrusive ghost that consumes every waking thought until he reaches a point where he is terrified by his own mind. Gerald is given reason, justification, and context that GUN is never afforded. It never tells you he is right (because he isn’t), but invites you to ponder the lengths you would go if the military killed your loved one, covered it up, incarcerated you, and then forced you to continue doing the work they killed your loved one for while imprisoned.
And Gerald is ultimately right about one thing. The military wants to weaponize his research, this is unambiguously true, with the clearest example being the Chaos Drives used to power every GUN robot in Sonic Adventure 2, a power source that Gerald designed. Gerald builds the Eclipse Cannon as a defense against hostile aliens and his posthumous rage turns it into an instrument of extinction. He builds the Artifical Chaos directly at the behest of the military looking to create a weapon, and they end up going out of control and almost causing a catastrophe aboard the ARK.
At every junction, the weaponization of science is displayed as something catastrophic, tragic, and painful. Even the most benevolent of sciences can be perverted towards the military-industrial complex, regardless of initial motivation, and the tragedy therin lies in the perversion, not just the existence of the weapon. The military utilizing these weapons is bad, but it’s even worse because they turned something with potential to be good into a tool for violence.
Sonic Adventure 2 takes the side of the civilian contractor. The physicist whose new energy discovery is used to fuel destructive new weapons. The security engineer who designs a robust defense system that is used for murder. The biologist looking to create panacea having their work perverted into a biological weapon. Sonic Adventure 2 suggests to us that these individuals are not the guilty parties, that they are not responsible for what is enacted by their operators, that the responsibility of gunfire lies on the one pulling the trigger. Whether or not you agree with this is an individual stance, but this is, I believe, what it says.
Okay, peaceful science is good, and weaponized science is awful. What else?
Sonic Adventure 2 is a game about legacy and perversion (not in the sex way). Gerald is reticent to work for the Government because he believes they would take any research he uses on Project Shadow and use it for war — and he is ultimately vindicated when they kind of attempt to do exactly that. He attempts to use their desires to acquire a way to cure his granddaughter of a fatal illness on the sly. Maria’s final words get twisted in Shadow’s brain until they become a haunting death-drive that leads him to attempt to carry out her assumed wishes of genocide. Maria’s death, once discovered, drives Gerald into the depths of misanthropic insanity, a once-philanthropic doctor who “wanted to make everyone happy through science” now planning his ultimate revenge from beyond the grave through that very same science. Eggman’s belief that his grandfather’s experiment can be used to conquer the world almost blows it up, and he has to save it just so that there’s something left to conquer.
Sonic becomes Shadow becomes Sonic becomes Shadow.
The message becomes mixed up. The original intent and the final outcome become disconnected from each other, to disastrous results, frequently and often. No plan survives contact with the enemy, and no message survives contact with that which we know of as “other people”. Your interpretation is not my interpretation, although they can align and potentially be similar, perhaps even to the point of identicality.
And how do you solve this? Well, if there’s one thing that Sonic Adventure 2, I think, is absolutely certain of, it’s that you can’t solve it alone. Everyone, hero and villain alike, works together to save the world at the end. Long time nemeses who hours if not minutes ago attempted to kill each other have to put aside their differences when a bigger foe with bigger stakes comes into play. And, finally, empathy and kindness can breach through the veil of misunderstanding to reach the true message underneath — a pleasant aphorism made literal and manifest through Amy’s pleading unlocking Shadow’s true memories of Maria’s final wish, a desire for Shadow to act as a carrier of peace.
If I wanted to be cynical, of course, I could bring this all back to war crimes. So, what the hell, let me bring it up so I can put that little seed of doubt in your head. “People will always misinterpret you, what you do, and your wishes.” seems like perhaps an eyebrow-raising message to send when regarding a country struggling with its ghosts of war, denying the crimes of its government and military, only selectively apologizing for atrocities as they become necessary to apologize for. Just food for thought.
But let’s not bury the lede too deep. This is still a kid’s game — I’m being cynical to make you think, but I ultimately think its intentions are good. And for a kids game, it has a lot to say. This is what I think it’s telling us:
The military is perhaps the worst thing in the world,
Science being perverted for the purposes of the military is a deep, painful tragedy, and,
Other people will always misinterpret you. What you say will be misconstrued, taken out of context, and acted upon accordingly. The solution cannot be to act in your lonesome, but to rely on others, and allow their kindnesses and viewpoints to round off your sharpest edges and remind you of the goodness that does, emphatically, exist in the world.
After all, the Chao Garden is still there. And no world with Chao can be that dreary.