Our protagonist Yuuki Cosmo is gazing out at a sunset framed by the Ideon and the Solo Ship, those seemingly invincible relics of the deceased Sixth Civilization. He wonders idly why people who created such incredible technology no longer exist. It's a little moment and one that caps off an episode of random robots punching each other, but it's questions like this which drive what basically works in this series.
Even by the standards of mecha anime, the Ideon is a formidable robot. It is huge and has a seemingly limitless energy and capacity for destruction... but what makes the mecha cool as a concept wrecks a lot of the show's early tension. The Ideon typically battles mecha half its size, and the antagonists renewed optimism each episode that their new plan will finally bring victory makes suspending disbelief difficult.
What also hinders Ideon, besdes the bland adherence to formula, is a lack of direction. Our heroes spend a lot of time fleeing their opponents without a clear aim beyond escape and our villains have no broader objectives then defeating them. While these are recurring motifs in the 1980s mecha genre, Ideon lacks an overarching narrative - like Gundam's war - to tie together its string of robot battles.
To the story's credit, there is a depthless cynicism that undermines what could have been a simple tale of good and evil. The Buff Clan operate on a warrior ethic that rewards credited success with promotion in rank but failure can bring demotion just as swift. A desire to avoid demotion through failure leads to combat; a desire to achieve promotion through victory continues the campaign even after it has been made clear peaceful alternatives exist. In another series these battles could have been the arch plans of a master villain, but here the Buff Clan's underlings and middle men stumble into battle with the higher ups responding only by providing increasing numbers of men, mecha and battleships as grist for the mill. The Earthling authorities hardly prove any more competent or trustworthy than their Buff Clan equivalents.
Further, while the evolution of the initial myth arc is slow and piecemeal, the second half of the series ratchets up the tension inherent in the scenario with a few key, catastrophic events. Ideon may often stall and pad out its plot, but when it finally gets down to the meat of the narrative it proves worth the considerable wait.
Ideon was cancelled before its final episodes could be shown, resulting in a very abrupt ending in the middle of the series' climax... which transitions better than one would expect. The mild confusion of Ideon's out of left field ending can be remedied by checking out the feature film The Ideon: Be Invoked, which gives a more thorough finale to the saga.
The Ideon and Solo Ship are both ancient relics of the Sixth Civilization. The introduction of the Solo ship shows it covered in grime and debris. The Ideon, by contrast, is a shiny red and white robot from the moment it appears. One could rationalise this by saying it had been cleaned off by those who discovered it while the Solo Ship was a more recent discovery, but clearly, being toyetic is the priority here.
Not that being toyetic is a bad thing. Ideon has a thoroughly passable design, even if I don’t care for the bulky shoulders and antennae. The animation frequently emphasizes the mecha’s sheer scale - Ideon is often either shown in fragmentary glimpses or looming above the point of view.
Most appealing to me was the entire Buff Clan wardrobe. They dress as aliens ought: white spandex and helmets with redundant antennae, and their leaders may wear exotic, alien robes that could have come off the Star Trek back lot. While the designs are frequently nothing too original – Yuuki Cosmo is essentially his Gundam counterpart Amuro Ray with an afro – they’re quite appealing, all the same.
Anyone else love those old synthetic noises that were the purview of every other science fiction movie and TV series from a certain age? Those familiar hums and drones were the united soundscape from the future. From Forbidden Planet to Gerry Anderson to Star Trek, we were pretty sure that this was the audio of the space age. The best thing I can say about Ideon aurally is a few of these old friends are in evidence, though one's taste here varies.
The rousing opening song is rather reminiscient of Space Battleship Yamato, and the soothing light pop of the ending song is an appropriate closer - though the eyecatch's obnoxious blaring of 'I-day-ON!' managed to annoy me for all thirty-nine episodes. The young boy who voices Deck, the youngest of the mecha pilots, can never seem to manage anything other then yelling into the microphone, but mostly the cast acquit themselves with a reasonable timbre.
Karala Ajiba, a Buff Clan woman who has been captured by the Earthlings, has the best development and character arc of anyone in the ensemble. Her inherent reasonableness speaks volumes as to the unnecessary nature of the war; although her reckless and self-serving acts at the beginning lead to the present violence, she eventually becomes a sturdy moral compass for the series.
Ajiba aside, the Buff Clan are represented by a typically broad palette of characters, from laughably overconfident villains to the dutiful elder servants; from the practical stoicism of Gije Zaral to the spiteful cunning of Karala's sister Harulu Ajiba.
However, do not think I am here to sing praises of the Ideon cast. Like Amuro Ray, Yuuki Cosmo has been orphaned by the first episode. While Amuro's relationship with his father became an important part of the character, the very existence of Yuuki's parents seem like an afterthought. So too does basically his entire arc. As for the rest of the Solo Ship crew, most are good, upstanding and unremarkable. While some get quite interesting development over time, many others simply mill around in the background speaking technobabble or waiting for a convenient moment to get killed.
Space Runaway Ideon is definitely showing its years but remains a thoroughly respectable classic mecha yarn. If older mecha anime bore you, Ideon won't prove any different, but for fans of 1980s shows this may prove a reasonable watch.
ANIME EVOLUTION SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Ahhh, The late 70’s! The decade where disco was beginning to become a trend and mecha were starting not to look like round bulky buckets. This series is a fine example of that time; everything feels like those plastic toys the older of us were playing with 20 years ago. Long before computer games had 3D objects or even multiple colors, miniature robots, cars and spaceships were the only way to play war with each other without throwing rocks or stabbing others with wooden swords. Yup! The feeling is there in the series. A combining Transformer-like leading mecha, fighting ships that reminded me of a hundred cheesy sci-fi b-movies of the 50’s. I’ll be damned if those aliens ain’t a variation of the Valkans in Star Trek or if the leading mecka ain’t a rip-off of that red Gundam from the original series. It looks completely ridiculous by today’s standards (Ideon is supposed to be of alien origin? Not with those looks!) but it is not awful. It has a childish silliness to it, which was pretty mainstream back then.
But what is Ideon anyway? It is another work of Tomino, the guy who made the Gundam franchise. He tried to pull out something more ground braking with this work but unfortunately he didn’t manage to get the needed support to keep trying and thus pretty much returned to his Gundam franchise. But it is really praising how he tried to take the social-political drama of Gundam to a more in-depth level and to even attempt to insert psychological breakdowns. It was a very experimental work indeed that the few who still remember it today appreciate it for its aesthetics and the KILL THEM ALL finale and not for the action or the character dramas.
As I said, disco fever is all over the place and that shows in the anime all the way. Huge afro? Check! Big sideburns? Check! Funky outfits with lifted collars and bell wide trousers? Check! The detail of the character figures is quite low and full of inconsistency errors, the outlines are annoyingly big and the colors bluntly few. Not to mention how stupid everyone’s faces looks. But the facial grimaces are pretty good for their time and the animators made a fine job with what they had. You really do understand how somebody feels by his/her body language; fear, sadness, happiness, it’s all clear. That’s something quite rare in old series.
Voice acting was ok in terms of dialogue, although many characters sounded too fake, which seems to be an ever present curse with all Tomino’s works. THE GUY JUST CAN’T WRITE NATURAL DIALOGUES! Music themes were silly bood-boiling attemps to make everything sound serious but without much success.
In the story, humans find ruins in a far away planet and are attacked by aliens that consider them invaders and looters of forbidden technology. Some youths find three vehicles that combine into a powerful mecha in the ruins and use it to defend their people. Yes, it starts quite typical and ridiculous but becomes very good soon after. The aliens are not monstrous inhuman freaks, bound on destroying humanity and ruling the galaxy. They are in fact humans themselves that simply evolved on a different planet. And unlike those lame megalomaniac villains of idealistic series, these guys have emotions, ideals and positive traits as well. It is not a series about good humans versus bad aliens; it is more of a civil war amongst people who have different ideals and refuse to collaborate out of sheer egoism. You don’t think “Take that you damn aliens!”
The story is essentially a war drama, without clear good guys and bad guys, a lot more mature than most other series of its era. At the same time, it has many similar themes with the original Gundam and even seems to make some back steps in terms of interest. For example, the lead mecha is again one, when the original Gundam had dozens different ones. Plus here it is a clash between humans and aliens while in Gundam it was humans vs humans, and although there are no actual differences in practice, it still felt harder to sympathize with.
A major problem with the series is its very slow plot development. Almost 70% of its total duration is essentially dead time and pointless battles around a single unbeatable mecha, which again makes it less thrilling than the Gundam. Still, the in-between time is not completely boring; just repetitive and thus prone to skipping.
Almost all the characters have a story to tell, including most minor ones. Although none has an in-depth personality or a believable backdrop story, none is without one as well. Humans are your average liberal, open-minded Japanese people of post-war Japan. Aliens are the usual stuck with honor and ideals samurai of feudal Japan. In fact, the entire war feels like a clash of the two different lifestyles Japan experianced in a flash; 20th century way of thinking versus 17th century way of thinking. And there aren’t favors for any side, since both concepts have bad apples amongst them. Down to it, it is just people who want to live happy and people who do not want others to interfere with their way of life. There aren’t any imposing megalomaniac idiots who simply want to kill everyone and rule supreme. But there are many who are willing to sacrifice or humiliate others in order to win or take a promotion. Very good as a whole; since most series just separate the cast into the obviously good guys and the obviously bad guys and makes one-sided assumptions about their ideologies.
There is development for most of them. It takes its time but there is some. Romantic relations that transcend species, change of hearts and going crazy over the death of a loved one are included by the dozens. If only they weren’t so far apart… A huge minus is also the plastic way they behave; a trademark of Tomino storytelling. They don’t feel like they have the proper emotions in the proper moments. Most of their personal stories are similar but it does colorize the story nicely in those in-between episodes. As I said, they all feel too slow and similar and thus the feeling fades away if a good concept gets dragged for so long. Ok to look at but nothing great to bother remembering them.
It also brings out several issues around realism, which in an otherwise superficial mecha show they would go unnoticed. But this anime is actually trying to be mature and intellectual at times, thus many questions arise from time to time. Such as:
- How the hell do a few kids learn to pilot an alien Earth-like robot in a few minutes, during an invasion?
- How do the robot and the flying base take up human weaponry without any adjustment when they are otherwise made by aliens thousands of years ago?
- How do they refuel and fix damages for years while being chased all the time?
- Why do humans and aliens sound so surprised to find out both of them are so similar when they ARE SIMILAR LOOKING?
And many, many, many more like these will cross your mind.
The originality here is that instead of an open happy ending, we have a dreadful holocaust! Heck, Ideon is probably the first anime to kill practically everyone in the finale. It will feel quite stupid, depressing and miserable if you don’t understand the whole reincarnation fuss Japanese people believe in but it is otherwise implementing a very interesting concept around life and emotions. After that massacre and the cataclysmic event in the conclusion, you feel like the cast was given a second chance; not really a solution for all their worries. So it’s a half-good catharsis.
Still, that 70% of dead time was a toll to my patience. There were some good ideas and concepts in it; but I have seen many similar series that present them in far better ways. And Tomino’s storytelling is just not appealing to me. But I will admit that this series is the archetype used in many later famous anime, which greatly improved its formula.
Birth, Windaria, Andromeda Stories and Neon Genesis are dealing with the premise of rebirth through total annihilation.
The original first Gundam and Super Dimensional Fortress Macross are using the same core themes in a better way.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 5/10
General Artwork 1/2 (generic)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 1/2 (basic)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 6/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (erratic)
Complexity 2/2 (rich humanitarian context)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (KILL THEM ALL)
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10
Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 4/10
Historical Value 1/3 (still remembered by some as an interesting retro title)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too much dead time)
Memorability 2/4 (generic today but has its charm)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 5/10
It would be great with less episodes and faster pacing.