Reviews of Space Runaway Ideon (1980) and related work
Space Runaway Ideon (1980)
A woman of alien humanoid nobility descends without permission to investigate a human archaeological excavation on the planet Solo. While looking for her, the military of her clan find it safest to fire on the primitive, comparatively medieval humans in the area, to get them out of the way. However, the humans have not only been underestimated, they have also recently uncovered a series of large artifacts from the alien Sixth Civilization. The artifacts are in the shape of three vehicles, refitted by human scientists over the course of a year with an “Intention Automatic” control system. They move when occupied by young civilians in the fighting, as if awakening almost of their own accord to meet the aliens. United, the artifacts constitute the Ideon, one of the gods, known to the aliens through legend, and greatly feared by some.
The alien clan is trapped in an escalating hunt for those pesky humans, who get little help from their own kind as they flee through the galaxy on a lone Sixth Civilization ship with an atrium on its bridge. The situation worsens step by step, but each crisis seems to trigger some new ability from deep within the Ideon. Eventually, its power is so great that it takes the fate of both entire species into its own hands.
A more bitterly tragic and bizarre sibling of Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), similarly cancelled before the end of its planned original run. Its titular mecha is a cosmic id machine, one of the most powerful in the genre.
The original title, Densetsu Kyojin Ideon, uses a neologism (巨神, kyojin, “great god”) in place of its common homonym (巨人, “giant”), thus meaning “Legendary God-Giant Ideon”. “Space Runaway” seems to be a studio-mandated English title.
Underneath all of the crappily animated, pointless combat of the far too many episodes, there is a sublime and morbid infantilism, transcendentally geeky and occasionally quite effective. For instance, the technobabble used to describe FTL travel is consistently abbreviated as the “DS drive”, pronounced “desu doraibu”, homonymous with and clearly alluding to Freud’s sinister death drive. “I think,” he wrote in Civilization and its Discontents (1930), “the meaning of evolution of civilization is no longer obscure to us. It must present the struggle between Eros and Death, between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction, as it works itself out in the human species”. Behold the roaring, bestial Ideon of episode 14, the light-based mindrape of episode 26, and the ship named Crap (in English) in episode 36. Some good character design, consistently atrocious mechanical design.
‣ The Ideon: A Contact (1982)
Changes include prominent references to the role of children in activating the Ideon, known even to the archaeologists on Solo, and Cosmo dreaming about the voice of the Ideon’s countless consciousnesses.
Compressed recapitulation of the major plot points in the TV series, released theatrically as a double feature with the alternate ending. A few significant omissions, but more entertaining.
‣ The Ideon: Be Invoked (1982)
As inevitable doom claims more and more lives, both home planets are laid to waste, but the dead are apparently assimilated into the Ide’s afterlife following the psychic manifestation of a “Messiah”. In the end, both species head for a new, primordial Earth.
An alternate ending based on the original scripts, it still recycles quite a lot of the crappy TV animation. The last ten minutes are hardcore apocalyptic stuff, even uncomfortably so. It actually feels intended to provoke a religious experience, like Robert Bresson and unlike the somewhat similar finale of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985). The closing scenes are eerily cultish, reminiscent of Aum Shinrikyou propaganda, which has to be seen as artistically interesting if nothing else.