Space Runaway Ideon
by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,
I'm sure I'm just adding to an already loud chorus here, but y'all really should be watching Mob Psycho 100 (or catching up on the first season if you missed it). I can already tell I'm going to go back through this show a second or third time just to appreciate the animation, because holy crap it's impressive. The story's also smarter than the average action series, which never hurts. Welcome to Shelf Life.
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Space Runaway Ideon
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Shelf Life Reviews
James is back in the review seat with a look at the classic '80s mecha series, Space Runaway Ideon.
Ideon's plot starts off very simply at first, almost to a fault: The colonists of Planet Solo have recently unearthed the advanced technology of the lost Sixth Civilization of aliens, and before they can make heads or tails of it the planet is attacked by a race of aliens known as the Buff Clan. Preposterous name aside, the Buff Clan is hunting for the mythical power of Ide, and it just so happens that the machines uncovered by the Solo Colonists form an unstoppable war machine called the Ideon. This sparks an immediate conflict that destroys the colony on Solo and sends the colonists fleeing on a massive Sixth Civilization vessel they've dubbed the Solo Ship. The Buff Clan pursues the colonists into deep space.
For most of the series, the thrust of the plot in every episode is nearly identical: the Solo Ship is running away from the Buff Clan, the Buff Clan finds the colonists anyways, and a fight ensues that is inevitably ended by the Ideon's ever-increasing power. Every now and then we get a Star Trek-esque alien planet that mixes things up on the battlefield, but the formula rarely deviates too much. The show's cast is similarly simple: Cosmo is a headstrong leading man whose most unique characteristic is his giant fire-red afro, Kasha is the perpetually disrespected pilot who just wants Cosmo to take her seriously, Bes is the captain, Sheryl is the dispassionate scientist, and Karala is the beautiful Buff Clan woman who ends up switching sides to defend humanity. There are many other cast members, but all of them tend to possess only one or two character traits, and they tend to only show up when it serves the plot, at least at first.
Initially, I was put off by how safe and straightforward Space Runaway Ideon felt, and it took getting past the sluggish first ten or so episodes for me to tune into the show's particular rhythms and tone. Once I did, though, I found myself surprisingly engaged with the Solo Ship's endless quest to be free from the Buff Clan's destructive warpath. The characters became more well-rounded and likable, the battle grew more perilous, and the colonist's desperation for peace and safety grew ever more palpable and complicated. The multi-episode arc that sees Karala trying to prove her loyalty and good intentions to the human crew of the Solo Ship was in particular the exact kind of classic sci-fi melodrama that I like to dig in to, and I also appreciated Cosmo's gradual maturation into a less selfish and more empathetic hero. Even the show's style improves – while Ideon's visuals are never what I would call “impressive”, the show's storyboarding and direction becomes noticeably more ambitious as the Solo Ship makes its way further and further into space.
The show isn't perfect by any means. The repetitive and broad scripts are very much a foible of serialized 80s-anime, and the show really suffers in how it characterizes the Buff Clan. While the antagonist force has a small handful of interesting villains to toss our heroes' way, we barely get any real sense of their culture or motivations outside of their one myth of Ide, and their constant referring to themselves as “samurai”. The Buff Clan are bad because the show needs them to be, and by the time Space Runaway Ideon ends it feels like we haven't learned much more about them than we did in the series' first episodes.
Then there's the ending, which truly is a letdown, because it barely even exists. The final episode gives us a limited climax of sorts, and then two minutes before the credits roll the narrator comes in and explains in an incredibly vague manner how things would have ended if the show had the extra four episodes that were originally planned. It finishes Space Runaway Ideon on such a sour note that it threatens to devalue all of the goodwill the show managed to accumulate in spite of its many roadblocks. Thankfully, that ending isn't the one we have to live with, because this Blu-Ray set also gives us the two Ideon movies: A Contact and Be Invoked. To my knowledge, this is the first time the movies have been legally available to own in the U.S.
A Contact is just a recap film, and while it does its best to rearrange and reanimate the most important scenes from the show, it's still trying to cram thirteen hours of story into a ninety-minute run-time. The movie is nice to have for the sake of completion, and it might be useful if you ever need a quick refresher before watching Be Invoked, but that's about it.
Be Invoked is a different beast entirely. While it never quite escapes the aesthetic limitations of its television origins (and budget), this movie is still gorgeous to behold, a radical reshaping of Space Runaway Ideon's original ending that is so good it retroactively makes the entire series better. Be Invoked takes the humanist and anti-war themes that Space Runaway Ideon had always been working with and pushes them to their most confrontational extremes. The series had its moments of shocking violence before, but the movie is grimly devoted to depicting the graphic and cruel apathy of war in all of its senseless death and destruction. It's bit messy in its construction, and the Buff Clan never quite attains the depth of character I think they need for the story to truly sing, but the payoffs to our heroes' relationships and character arcs are equal parts inspiring and heartbreaking. And lest you think that the nihilism might be too much to bear, there's enough joyful optimism on display in the movie's final moments to justify all of the anger and despair that fills the preceding ninety minutes.
Maiden Japan's Blu-Ray set is predictably bare bones – these kinds of collections are historical artifacts meant for a very specific audience, and that they exist at all is enough of a bonus for some fans. Given that the series is nearly forty years old, the sound and picture were bound to be rough no matter the format, but the show's color grading is noticeably improved over what's available on streaming via HIDIVE (at least it looks that way on my devices).
Rating a show like Space Runaway Ideon is always tricky, because the audience for an older series with such a niche appeal will always be relatively limited. While it is far from perfect, I ended up really loving Space Runaway Ideon, warts and all. The quality of Be Invoked was in and of itself enough to cement Ideon as a flawed but earnest passion project in my mind, which I can't help but admire. For a lot of 21st century anime fans, I suspect Space Runaway Ideon might be too janky and repetitive to capture their imaginations. For fans of Tomino's work, or for anyone who enjoys the classic giant robot anime of yore, the Rental I'm giving Space Runaway Ideon comes with my highest recommendation. If you have any interest the anime that have built a small but deserved legacy in the fandom's cultural consciousness, Space Runaway Ideon belongs on your shelf.
That wraps up the review section for this week. Thanks for reading!
This week's shelves are from Crisha:
"The-user-formerly-known-as-willag-now-Crisha reporting in to share her collection. And it's probably not going to take you long to notice a few obvious influences and think to yourself that this fan might have a teensy-weensy bit of a small OBSESSIVE PROBLEM. And I really only have two things to say to that.
1. If Princess Tutu actually had a decent selection of fan merchandise, I'd have the other half of my sloped ceiling space dedicated to it alongside my Yuri!!! on Ice merch. As it is, I had to get those two framed artworks commissioned, I bought the DVD box from Paul Champagne, and the book in the background is a fan book of a fanfic released by the author and artist themselves.
2. I conferred with a panel of psychologists, and 9 out of 10 psychologists agree that I fall just shy of the clinical definition of an OBSESSIVE PROBLEM. (Just give it half a year, I'm sure I'll be there by then).
So, yeah, I love Yuri!!! on Ice, particularly Yuuri and Victor. What else is new? Regardless, I take pride in my collection of anime, manga, figures, fanzines, and wall art, and always try my best to display them in an aesthetically pleasing way.
Also, have a picture of a kitty in a box, my darling Willow."
Yuri on Ice is such a good show that having a ton of merch from it qualifies as the exact opposite of a problem. I love the display-style setup of those shelves, thanks for sharing!
Want to show off your own anime collection? Send your photos to [email protected]!
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