Bridging The Gap: The Spectre Of Beautiful Death

And to the faithful, death the gate of life. - John Milton
And to the faithful, death the gate of life. - John Milton

WARNING: This spiel contains potential spoilers for Superdimension Fortress Macross, as well as IDEON.

Okay. Fess up time. I love brevity in storytelling. Some creations go on far too long for my taste, despite the public’s often endless rabble-rousing for more. There’s just something to me that speaks greater volumes by leaving the viewer/reader with the faintest hint of more outside the page/frame. More often than not, the delivery of more tends to leave me disapointed, and more convinced that things would have been better off left behind, while new mythologies formed. That said, I am a big fan of when characters exit in the most dramatic way possible. That’s right. I love it when characters die. And die well. Call it sadistic, call it what you will. There’s just no way to describe the value of a good, wrenching character exit to throw the protagonists’ future into greater uncertainty.

So…If the cultural cornerstone of character death was going to make a deeply ingrained wound in my young psyche,it would definitely have been the death of Roy Focker in MACROSS (1982). It was an event so unexpected, so jarring that for a 12 year-old boy coming off of the kind of spoiling that only George Lucas could have provided, it was as if Han Solo bought the farm mi-series.True to samurai-style, the man ignored his injuries,only to die on the floor of his beloved’s living room. I remember going to my room to cry that afternoon. It was official. The scene had done something significant. He was Big Brother,a paternal figure for Hikaru, a boy who by and large, had no family to speak of. Being the eldest out of my younger brothers, this character held a certain role for me as well. He was not only a caring elder character, but a razor-sharp ace of a pilot, as well as ladies man. The loss of Aniki signaled an end to innocence, leaving the young warrior without a master. So when MACROSS eventually concluded, I was more than enthralled, I was for lack of a better phrase, transformed. It was a tale large in scope, strong in style, and yet personal in a way that no american comic or movie could ever provide.

So upon growing with the medium over the years, I essentially expected there to be a grand finale where many characters would meet their fates fighting toward their respective goals. But no ending had prepared me for how Evangelion would wrap up. Whatever I imagined through those last two episodes were a walk in the park in comparison to how the film visualized a physical, and psychological apocalypse. This was no longer the cliched “final battle to save humanity” schtick.This was a valid rail against not only cliches, but fan expectations themselves. Admission time, friends already know this..I was out of commission for the rest of the day after my first time watching EOE. Despite what I had already figured,the visual representation of it was pretty unforgiving,and again important for me to witness.

So when I heard that Tomino’s Desnsetsu Kyojin IDEON (Space Runaway Ideon) was a major influence, I knew I would eventually have to see it. Now,it can be said that 2006 was a good time to witness it’s impact, as an older,more world-weary person who had already become accustomed to unconventional narrative. Had I seen this series as a kid, I would most definitely have been scarred for life, and likely suspended in a somatic rigor of some kind. Even now it can be argued that there are things in this series/movie that are near nightmare inducing.


In a none to unfamiliar future, where interplanetary colonization has led humanity far into new galaxies, an archaeological expedition has unearthed what seem to be the near-perfect remnants of what appears to be a trio of functioning vehicles. Also found is the intact cruiser, Solo, making this significant find all the more perplexing. The head scientists initially classify these components as separate, until it is soon revealed that upon attack from the long-in-pursuit invaders known only as the Buff Clan, the vehicles unite to form the ominous god mecha, Ideon. Led by the scientists’ son, Cosmo, and his friends Deck & Kasha, their sudden discovery comes amidst a fiery attack, leaving the expedition in ruins, the scientists dead, and the survivors on the run. And as they struggle to survive, the mystery of the Ideon deepens as members of the Buff Clan begin to see that their knowledge of this quarry only goes so far, and is likely being clouded by their hatred of those now in possession of it.

Tomino-san didn’t earn the ubiquitous Minagoroshi No Tomino ( “Kill ‘Em All”) title for nothing. This is the series that demented his reputation as tv anime’s grim reaper. It has to be remembered that this was his first major post-Gundam series.(1980) From the early episodes on, we’re given what looks to be a combining space robot series with a healthy dose of character, mythos, and narrative chicken-playing. But rest assured, upon reaching the halfway point, it is saliently clear we aren’t in for the cheeriest of endings. Even our titular Super God Mecha, cannot be trusted. The further the crew of the Solo go..the more mired in fate matters seem to become. Not even the children caught in the crossfire are safe. After all, kids perishing in war is a daily reality whether we acknowledge it or not. Ideon revels in the unprecedented, milking matters of faith to the bitter end.  I can see why this show was so unpopular,and near-impossible to market towards the primary demographic, children. This beast of a show doesn’t know when to say enough, building,and building toward a point where viewers know where they’re headed, but morbidly cannot help but peek through their fingers, hoping for some kind of white flag of comfort. A sign of relief that never seems to come.

And then…silence…Draining ratings inevitably killed off the series itself, leaving Tomino’s vision unfinished.

That was until two feature films were produced. A Contact, and Be Invoked. In true original EVA fashion, the series climaxes with a pair of films that contain a slightly retold recap of the series, followed by an uncompromisingly grim finale of a second film. A film that only makes sense as a theatrical release, and is still hard to imagine working on the small screen. Nothing is spared, and we are treated to one of the most profoundly bizarre (& perhaps transcencent) anime endings ever created.

I’m still at a loss to grasp what Tomino was thinking upon creating this, but I can attest to always wanting to create a story with such a similar throughline. Going back into this show was borne out of a conversation I had with a pal in which she told me she’s always wanted to tell a short tale that made us love a character, only to have that character killed abruptly at the end. It probably also helps to know that endings like this are probably anathema to most anime studios who would rather have a long running franchise on their hands. And they’re welcome to that assessment. But for me, it is a lot less about the law of returns so much as anime’s hidden ability to ingrain potent ideas. To inspire discussion, rather than mere toy sales, which is probably another reason for this series’ initial failure. The design work is of the campier, Star Wars, fantasy breed, with a mecha that looks more comfortable in a Tonka line. It’s clear that this series was something borne out of passion rather than commerce.

So Tomino and crew stuck to their guns and offer a parable more evocative of spiritual texts than of classic robot-fu. And Space Runaway Ideon delivers the goods, giving us a unique spin on classic mecha melodrama, and then some. As both the crew of the Solo ship, and the Buff Clan hordes are given more examination, the distinction between races becomes blurred, leaving us to question everything. It becomes hard not to see both sides of this conflict as equally justifiable and repellent. What Tomino seems to be railing against is blind altruism, a searing condemnation of fundamentalist dogma, as well as shining a halogen beam on the waste of war. The Ideon franchise, while not a series to be embraced by the general public during the time of its release, is akin to an overlooked jewel, requiring a generation’s maturity, and a deeper love of story over gimmicks. Because unlike Gundam’s Magic Doorknobs-like journey into infinity, Ideon embraces life with a passion rarely seen, and deserves more respect as a pivotal experience in the medium.

Rebuild? No Way.

3 thoughts on “Bridging The Gap: The Spectre Of Beautiful Death”

  1. I see. Now I can see why Zeta Gundam was very violent and tragic, much darker than First Gundam. I didn’t know Ideon was the major cornerstone for Tomino to earn that notorious title. Yes, I didn’t hear much about this series. It’s cool that it was made out of artistic passion rather than commercial interests. Now I want to see Ideon, since it influenced Neon Genesis Evangelion, my favorite show.

  2. Oh yes. Zeta Gundam, and even series like Vifam owe a great deal to Ideon as well. It is definitely not the most visually pleasing Tomino series, but it makes up for it with some truly thought provoking drama. But nothing truly prepared me for the spiritual & psychological pummeling of Be Invoked.

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