Japan fucking LOVES vending machines, so it’s not much of a surprise to find that UFO Catchers are a big deal there too and have been for god knows how long. UFO Catchers are what we would call ‘the crane machines’ of ‘The Klaaaaaw’ and Japan doesn’t just put cuddly toys and shit watches in them, they put all kinds of stuff, in fact a lot of the plastic models sold in conventions were made as prizes for arcades and mostly as prizes in UFO Catchers in arcades.
Sega manufacture UFO Catchers, in fact making UFO Catchers and prizes for them is a major part of their business in Japan, for years they had the lucrative Disney licence for this for instance (do they still have it?). The point of this is that they’ve made A LOT of Sonic the Hedgehog plush for crane machines over the years.
But this is just to understand the very first sets, the ‘& Friends’ sets. All plush from these set have the same tag with this artwork on it:
Innit cool that someone has found, cleaned up and made such a small thing as tag artwork available? And people shit on the Sonic the Hedgehog fandom.
Sonic The Hedgehog & Friends Set
These are it, the first Sonic UFO toys and thus the first Sonic the Hedgehog plush ever produced. The set is made up of Sonic, Eggman plus Flicky, Pocky and Pecky and debuted in cranes in July 1991 and were available in Sega’s New UFO Catcher and UFO Catcher Mini models. This set is the origin of ‘Stringy Sonic’, a popular plush commonly shown off online that use thin rope (or string) to approximate Sonic’s noodle limbs – on a personal note I saw Stringy Sonic, Flicky and Pocky on sale in an old stall called Starbase Alpha which used to be in Romford Shopping Hall (an undercover market) but my dad hurried me along because, at the time, he was rejecting Sonic and all it stood for. He’s changed since then but I still missed out on three awesoe and very collectible plushies because of him, dick.
All plushies from this set, including Stringy Sonic, have this version of the tag:
The one that says ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ in the black box.
SegaSonic the Hedgehog and Friends Set 2
The set was updated in the first half of 1992 with two major changes – the name, and the Sonic plush. The Sonic plush had the ropes replaced with actual limbs while his shoes were now made of plastic. The name change requires a little bit more explanation: Sega used the brand ‘SegaSonic’ from 1992 until 1996 on everything except games for home consoles and from 1992 to 1998 on merchandising, why? The answer is it took a long time for trademark applications to go through in Japan at the time, Sega actually filed for the mark ‘Sonic’ in December 1990 but didn’t get it until 1996, with Sonic the Fighters being the first arcade game to not use ‘SegaSonic’ after they got it. It’s thought that Taito’s arcade game Sonic Blast Man game might have also played a part in all this. The refreshing of the Sonic the Hedgehog & Friends set simply came after (or perhaps because of?) the switch to Sega using SegaSonic, as such they all use this version of the tag:
The one with ‘SegaSonic the Hedgehog’ in the black box. Flicky, Pocky and Pecky also received new eyes for this set.
SegaSonic the Hedgehog and Friends Set 3
The final revision of the set (the numbers are part of their official names btw, used in catalogues) replaced the old Sonic with an entirely new plus that came in two variants – one with his hands on his hips one in classic finger wagging pose (though a third, with him winking and wagging his finger MAY be legit), these came out in August 1992 and have the same tags as Set 2. Christmas versions of both version of Sonic were also released. Then, because why the hell not but possibly because Super Mario Kart came out in 1992, the cuddlies were put in little plastic go karts.The tags, which all the same as Set 2’s, would imply that the whole of Set 3 – Sonic, Sonic, Eggman, Flicky, Pecky and Pocky were all released in the set but no picture of a kart version of Pocky has ever surfaced, so he only MIGHT exist. We don’t have an official name for this ‘Sonic Kart’ set (if it had one).
The Sonic and Friends name was used one more time, in the wonderfully Japanese set Dressing Up Sonic and Friends in 1993, which include what is considered the first plush of Amy Rose:
While the Sonic plush would be used as the basis for the Sonics in the even more wonderfully Japanese Festival Sonic & Tails:
Though the plush would be refreshed following this.
Why did I write this? Well to help me better understand it, I do this from time to time, so I may as well share it when I do. You're all welcome. The info was taken mostly from here and here along with many of the photos, though some don’t originate from either.