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.
After colonizing the planet Solo of the Andromeda galaxy, earthling scientists uncover ancient mechanisms built by a lost civilization from long ago. They name this vanished culture the Sixth Civilization as it is the sixth example of intelligent alien life the human race has encountered. What the earthlings do not realize, however, is that they are soon to encounter the seventh: the Buff Clan, humans from a world other than Earth who have come seeking a legendary power source known as the Ide. Fortuitously, just as first contact with the Buff Clan turns violent, the earthlings discover that the mechanisms of the Sixth Civilization can combine to create a giant mecha called Ideon powerful enough to protect them. But is Ideon in fact the power source of legend, and what is the extent of its might? The earthlings can only hope to discover the answer before it is too late.