Yoshiyuki Tomino has something of a reputation as an anime director, for multiple reasons. Tomino has a reputation for being full of himself. His interviews about Brainpowerd in Animerica magazine demonstrate this. Anyone who has gone to an anime con and asked a Japanese guest who worked with him for a “Tomino story” can attest to this. Tomino also has a reputation for his absolute ruthlessness for killing off characters in his work. The normal examples of this are Zeta Gundam, the last half of ZZ Gundam, and Char’s Counterattack. However, the work that started Tomino down this road was Space Runaway Ideon. (Pronounced E-day-on).
The setting is an unspecified point in the future – sort of. Earth is subject to meteor bombardment. Humanity has been forced to increase their interstellar colonization efforts in response. One of the worlds that Humanity has chosen to settle is one that had been inhabited at some point in the past. This civilization, called the “Solo” civilization after the planet, had a massive city and had even built a starship, along with several vehicles. As of the start of the series, an archeological expedition is underway, lead by Sheryl Formosa (Yō Inoue).
Meanwhile, the homeworld of an alien race known as the Buff Clan, who are indistinguishable from humans, has also been subject to meteor bombardment. They trace the source of the meteors to Solo, and go to investigate. The leader of the expedition, Karala Ajiba (Keiko Toda), goes to investigate, but her escorts lose track of her. Fearing the worst, they launch a massive attack on the human settlements, killing hundreds.
The human settlers, lead by Bes Jordan (Hideyuki Tanaka), fight back. They load a bunch of weapons on three tanks recovered from the Solo ruins. The three tanks combine into a giant robot, to the surprise of their pilots, teenagers Cosmo Yuki (Yoku Shioya) and Kasha Imhof (Fuyumi Shiraishi), and refugee child Deck Afta (Tatsuya Matsuda). The refugees find Karala on board the Solo ship and capture her. However, she sympathizes with the refugees and offers to help them understand the mysterious ship and the giant robot that is their only defense – naming the robot the Ideon.
Super Robot vs. Real Robot
The action of the series is what I’d describe as “Super Robot vs. Real Robot”. The Ideon is a combiner, a common trait of Super Robots. Over the course of the series it ends up wielding a devastating amount of firepower, and it’s practically invulnerable. On the other side, the forces of the Buff clan are predominantly made up of Real Robots. On their own, they don’t stand a chance against the Ideon. They can only pose a challenge through numbers and tactics.
This leads to the sort of formula of the series. The Solo Ship and her passengers try to find somewhere, anywhere, to take refuge. The Buff Clan launch an attack against the ship. Part of this plan is some new strategy or weapon they can use to negate the Ideon. The Ideon manages to counter the strategy. Sometimes this is through the cunning of our protagonists. On a few significant occasions, the Ideon spontaneously develops a new ability which saves our protagonists bacon but leaves them less reassured, and more worried about what this ship and robot are.
What keeps this from being monotonous is the toll this takes on the ship and her crew. The constant onslaught is emotionally and psychologically draining on the refugees. It’s very reminiscent of the early seasons of the new Battlestar Galactica series. What makes things different is that there are other Human colony worlds and outposts that the Solo Ship tries to turn to to help. However, those worlds end up getting devastated in the fighting. By the third act of the series, the Solo Ship has become an undeserving Flying Dutchman – endlessly pursued throughout the cosmos, and attacked whenever they seek landfall, whether by the Buff Clan or by their fellow Humans.
A Premature Finale
As with Mobile Suit Gundam, Space Runaway Ideon ended prematurely. The network canceled the series after 39 of the planned 43 episodes. Gundam was canceled after the exact same number of episodes. However, rather than having enough notice to do a truncated version of the final arc, Ideon ends extremely abruptly. An alternate ending was made into a film, Be Invoked. However, I am limiting myself to the TV series for the purposes of this review – I will get to the film at a later time.
Still, the series that we get, while it does have some of the rougher animation quality of late ’70s anime, works emotionally. It doesn’t feel like Tomino is being excessively cruel to the protagonists. There are reasonable reasons for the Buff Clan’s actions – as opposed to concepts like “The Old Way” from Game of Thrones.
Where it falls down somewhat is the ways in which the Human government turns on the Solo ship later in the series. I get settlements denying them refuge. I’d even get the settlements firing on the Solo ship in an attempt to drive them off. I also get the Human government trying to trick the Solo Ship’s refugees into leaving the ship so they can study it and reverse engineer it and the Ideon. What I don’t get is when the Earth government decides that now the refugees onboard the Ideon are traitors and should be executed. It comes more or less entirely out of the blue and seems to exist to escalate the stakes further.
Other than that – this was a show that had been on my watchlist for over a decade, and I’m ecstatic that I’ve finally gotten the chance to watch it. I think it was worth the wait.
It’s also available for streaming on Hi-Dive.