I'm a Fantasy writer, essayist, and overall nerd with big dreams.
I've been an otaku (AKA an anime fan) for as long as I can remember, much longer than its been "cool" to be one. Which shows how old I am. And while I don't watch it as much as I used too, there are still anime that I just love to death, and Space Runaway Ideon is one of these. Never heard of it? You're not alone. Ideon was sadly never officially released outside of Japan. And the only way I learned about it was by way of another favorite of mine, the original Mobile Suit Gundam. What do I mean? Well, Gundam and Ideon have the same creator, Yoshiyuki Tomino. Ideon was the first anime that he made after finishing Gundam, and in my opinion, it's probably one of the best things he's ever put to film. Why do I say that? Well, let's take a look.
Oh and one more thing, there really isn't anyway for me to talk about this anime without spoilers. And while I think that a spoiler warning for something over 30 years old is kinda silly, I'm putting it here anyway. You have been warned.
The story takes place in the year 2300, where archaeologist of the Earth colony on the Planet Solo in the Andromeda Galaxy discover the remains of both the Ideon, three transformable armored trucks that merge into a giant god-like mech, and a massive space ship dubbed the "Solo Ship." For the next six months, they go about rebuilding and restoring both, but they haven't been able to get them to work. And then a race of aliens called the Buff Clan (yeah I laughed too) arrive to investigate the planet. The Buff Clan is searching for the Id, an energy source that is said to be infinite. Not expecting to find human's on the planet, their initial response is to just observe them and see if they pose a threat...annnnd then the daughter of the Buff Clan's supreme Military commander, Karla, and her aid decide to go planet side and observe the humans close up. You can probably guess where this is going. The head of the expedition sends scout planes to find her, one of them loses their cool and attacks once they find a military presence, a bunch of teenagers and a soldier climb into the Ideon, beat back the Buff Clan, and then they and the surviving colonists climb into the Solo Ship and escape.
I have to admit, it did take me awhile to actually get into Ideon. The early episodes are so formulaic that it's almost boring. Of course they have to take forever to actually get the plot moving, because it's required by law that they have to show every second of them figuring out how the ship and mecha works, and they and the Buff Clan have to have the arbitrary robot battle every other episode. Some of the characters are unintentionally hilarious too. Like for example, the three main pilots of the Ideon are Cosmo Yuki, a teenage boy with a stupid first name and an even dumber red afro (...really), Kasha, who confuses bitchiness with being a strong independent woman, and finally Deck, the kid who carries his two-tailed squirrel pet with him everywhere...yeah, that's kinda what we got to work with here. To be honest though, the characters aren't actually that bad and they develop as the show goes on and gradually become more interesting.
But my favorite of the bunch is Karala. She's the slightly naïve "Can't we all just get along"-ish type character. When the colonists find out who she is and what she's done, naturally she's treated with a not so undeserved hostility. But as the story progresses, most of the humans gradually stop viewing her as an "alien" and, gradually, both her and the inhabitants of the Solo Ship in turn start to see that the Buff Clan and humanity have more in common than they thought. And that, in some cases, the Buff Clan can be more human than we are. She even falls in love with, and eventually gets pregnant by, the ship's captain. So In a way, she symbolizes the good side of the human race.
But of course the Buff Clan aren't having that. When it becomes kinda obvious that Karala has no intention of returning to her people, their motivation shifts to not exterminating humanity, just the branch that's on board the Solo Ship. Why? Well, having a legendary weapon of galactic destruction might have something to do with it.
Meanwhile, the Solo Ship's crew isn't doing much better. They try to get back to Earth but they can't seem to shake the Buff Clan. And wherever they go, destruction is not far behind. Eventually, other colonies start to turn them away or sell them out. Hated by the Buff Clan for their only means of defense, and shunned by humanity for bringing a war that no one wanted to their doorstep, the Solo Ship becomes a ship of exiles, runaways if you will.
It might seem like the Buff Clan are the bad guys here, but in reality, there doesn't seem to be a central antagonist. Both the humans and the Buff Clan are presented in a way that shows that they are only doing what they think is right, and it's hard to find fault with their reasoning, even if it is hurting everyone. Yeah, it sucks that the Solo Ship has no control as to what's going on. But this approach is the reason why Ideon's story actually works. It doesn't glorify war, or make any of the characters out to be especially heroic. In Ideon, war is painted as awkward, cruel, and ultimately senseless. And none of the characters have, as one of my friends describes it, that oh so invincible "plot armor." When a character dies, that's it. They're gone, never coming back.
With that said, if anything could claim to be the antagonist, it would be the Ideon itself. Remember that whole "unlimited energy source" thingy I mentioned earlier? Well if you can't tell it, it's actually the power source behind the Ideon and the Solo Ship. As the story progresses, we learn that what the Id actually is; a living consciousness made of of the consciousness' of thousands upon thousands of civilizations. Basically it's another version of Childhood's End's 'Overmind'. But whereas the Overmind wasn't good or evil, the Id is really kind of a bastard. It uses its god-like abilities to manipulate the humans and Buff Clan into fighting each other so that it can judge the two species, and if it finds them unworthy...well...it's gonna wipe them both out.
Ideon originally aired on Japanese TV from 1980-1981 and was originally planned for a total of 43 episodes. But sadly, despite much critical praise and being awarded anime of the year for 1980, it was canceled after 39 episodes because of poor ratings, resulting in a rushed and nonsensical ending. Unhappy with this, and in response to fan demand, Tomino got his team back together one year later and made two feature films based on the show; entitled A Contact and Be Invoked. Both films were released on July 10, 1982 as a double feature. The former was a compilation film that retold the first 32 episodes of the show with some minor new scenes, retouched up animation and so on. It was kind of a mess. The latter on the other hand opened up with the final episode of the show, and then it turned into all original material, showing us the unaired episodes and the ending that Tomino originally intended. And, in my estimation, it's one the best things he has ever made.
By now some of you might be asking: "How come this was never released outside of Japan if it was so good?" and the answer to that is....well I might as well just show you: SPOILER WARNING!!
Yeahhhh.... And that video didn't even show all the deaths. Anyone familiar with Yoshiyuki Tomino's work is probably familiar with his nickname, Yoshiyuki "Kill'em all" Tomino. And with the possible exception of 1993's Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, Ideon is one of the most violent bloodbaths he's ever filmed. And while all the violence is backed up by context and is considered tame when compared to anime that would come after it like Akira, Tomino's own Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, and especially Genocyber (*shudders*) it's still all kinds of uncomfortable and can be kinda disturbing.
Of course, one could also make the argument that we've become desensitized by this sort of ultra-violence and officially releasing Ideon in English would be ok today. And while I agree with that statement, I highly doubt that it will ever happen. Let's be honest here, by today's standards, Ideon is a hunched over old man who's been beaten with the ugly stick since the day he was born. Not so much on a story level but more on a visual level. The Ideon and the some of the other mechs look beyond ridiculous, the character designs are horribly out of date (need I remind people of Cosmo Yuki's Afro), and the animation really looks its age. Even Be Invoked, as good as it is, looks like it was made in the 1970s, and that had the best animation quality in the entire series.
But fortunately for westerners, all is not lost. In February of 2019, Sunrise and a company called 'Maiden Japan' released both the TV series and the films on in a single six-disc set on Blu-ray in the west. All of the episodes and movies are presented fully restored, uncut and in high definition. While admittedly the HD does further emphasize the show's age at times, it nonetheless looks sharp, clear and it sounds brilliant. The only downside? There's no English Dub, so this is a sub only watch. But I wouldn't have it any other way at this point. And regardless, Ideon is well worth seeing. I highly recommend it for anyone who's a fan of either giant robot anime or just good Science Fiction in general. So check it out, you'll be glad you did.
© 2013 Will English
Will English (author) on August 07, 2013:
By some, I'm assume you're referring to Zeta Gundam and Genocyber (in addition to Ideon, obviously). I can't really recommend Genocyber. Trust me, you don't wanna. But I hope you like it if you end up watching any of them. Glad you liked the article =).
Zach Kaer from Ohio on August 07, 2013:
Wow, definitely some I have never heard of, worth checking out.