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Space Runaway Ideon: A Contact – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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After colonizing the planet Solo of the Andromeda galaxy, earthling scientists uncover ancient mechanisms built by a lost nation from long ago. They find that these mechanisms can combine to create a giant mecha called Ideon. They name this vanished nation 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 assemble Ideon and discover the ancient robot is 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.

Perhaps most prominently known for being the creative mind behind the highly influential 1979 anime series Mobile Suit Gundam, director Yoshiyuki Tomino had already developed quite the reputation as a skillful director by the time Space Runaway Ideon came to fruition in 1980. Initially starting out as a television series—and similar to his previous work Mobile Suit Gundam—was unfortunately never fully broadcast due to low ratings, ending at episode 39 instead of the intended 43 episodes. Considering the rather sudden conclusion at the end of the episode 39—in which a relatively short segment was inserted to quickly draw the series to a close—the outcry from the viewership wanting a more appropriate ending was certainly felt by Tomino and his staff at Sunrise. Their wishes were answered with the release of the 1982 film Space Runaway Ideon: A Contact, a film that revised and combined segments of roughly 32-episodes of the original television series with that of newly created footage, culminating in a film experience that reflects upon the emotional power of the original series while taking it into drastically new directions.

As a director, a significant amount of Tomino’s works have always derived from a sense of realism coupled with that of what would be known as “super robots”, a sub-genre of mecha animation. A Contact is certainly no exception and continues this tradition, wherein the drastic realities of the situations in which the characters find themselves in are explicitly dark and very humanistic. As a film, A Contact works on multiple levels concerning such realism, offering a look into the often times futile nature of war and its destructive ramifications on the innocent. Given that backdrop of the film takes place primarily within the frontier of space, the film’s elements of science fiction are heavily imbued into the framework of its narrative, but it remains relatively grounded given the focus on the drama of its characters more than anything else. While the film does showcase an abundance of galactic skirmishes and warfare, the film is centered on giving the audience a look into how such disarray and chaos can hurt everyone involved, both emotionally and physically.

Perhaps it’s this look into the uncompromising nature of war that distinguishes the film from many of its animated predecessors, going even further than that of Mobile Suit Gundam. While Tomino’s Gundam may have been one the first series to present the grittier aspects of war and its negative influence, A Contact is considerably darker in conveying the desperate situation of its characters. The film is relentless in its exhibition of conflicted individuals attempting to justify their roles within a war that was started through a rather simple misunderstanding. Stemming from that misunderstanding comes the focal point of the film; that vengeance simply creates a vicious cycle without much end. In fact, the bleak nature of the film is constantly reinforced as we view the struggle between two opposing alien races that are recklessly pursuing and destroying each other for the sake of possession over the powerful Ideon. Whether it’s through the destructive actions displayed by the Buff Clan in nondiscriminatingly murdering innocent individuals or the Solo’s use of Ideon to utterly vanquish a majority of the Buff Clan’s forces, the disparity often faced by the characters is relatively tragic and in many instances authentic.

Paralleling the character development found within Tomino’s Gundam though, we can see that A Contact certainly suffers. Given that this is a compilation of 32-episodes into the small confinement of one film, many sequences that were present within the television series have been amply removed. Battles found in the series are combined, character deaths are omitted and new ones added and even plot line divergences are expressed. Considering the large cast of characters within the television series, the film doesn’t attempt to garner much introduction towards them as well. Unlike Tomino’s three theatrical Gundam films—which were also a compilation of their respective series and were roughly six hours total in combined length— A Contact seems entirely too compressed at times—mainly because it’s simply is. This is not to say that film is grossly undervaluing the strength of the television series, but it does provide a more streamlined version that is unaffected from many of the odd contrivances and filler of the series, which may or may not appease some viewers. With its displays of furious space battles—which take up a majority of the film’s running time—the film does elicit a strange sense of expansionism as it nears its conclusion. This tonal shift is viewed through the characters discovering that the Ideon may appear to have an incorporeal presence that defies their original assumptions regarding its true power. Strange material indeed, but it does elevate the notion of the film simply being about individuals piloting giant robots and the follies of war.

As a plot device, this was certainly original to see within a mecha series at the time and truly broadened the scope of what mecha series can offer—even if it is somewhat construed given the constricted nature of the film. Tomino shows considerable prowess here again though, presenting a darker, more mature tone than his previous works, focusing primarily on the humanistic qualities of the film’s cast more so than their political implications or ideologies. And while there are some setbacks that are detrimental towards the continuity of the film’s narrative—where significant portions of the television series is absent—it still presents an appreciable introduction towards what’s to come in the more memorable and unconventional sequel, Space Runaway Ideon: Be Invoked. Eclipsed by the popularity of Gundam more than anything, Space Runaway Ideon: A Contact is a solid work from the mind of Yoshiyuki Tomino and showcases his considerable talent for blending the fantastical elements of mecha with that of realistic human dilemmas and faults.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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