This post is dedicated to Anime World Order‘s Daryl Surat, who over 10 years has pointed out repeatedly that people will bring up the relationship between the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion and Space Runaway Ideon without knowing exactly how they connect.
Love it or hate it, Neon Genesis Evangelion, is one of the most influential and well-known anime ever. The story of youths with crippling psychological problems who must fight to save the Earth resonated with many, and anime came to copy, challenge, and rethink Evangelion in the years since. However, Evangelion itself carries its own influences from shows of yesteryear. For this post, I’m going to be writing about one of the major progenitors of Evangelion, Space Runaway Ideon, because it’s often brought up as evidence against Evangelion‘s originality and innovation, without thorough understanding as to what Ideon did and did not do relative to Evangelion.
“Evangelion is just a rehash of Ideon,” the argument goes, but structurally they don’t have very many things in common. The city structure, otherworldly invaders, time limits, and the sense of scale when the titanic EVAs fight the similarly enormous Angels all come from Ultraman. In fact, if you want to see just how much Ultraman influenced director Anno Hideaki, check out the manga Insufficient Direction, drawn by his mangaka wife, Anno Moyoco (Hataraki Man, Sugar Sugar Rune). The escalation of trauma and the mistrust between humans comes from Devilman. Ideon, while bearing a few minor similarities to these series, brings something else to the table.
To understand Ideon, it’s useful to start at the beginning. Its story takes place in an era of space exploration and colonization. A group of archaeologists discover three ancient vehicles, which they find out can be brought together to form a giant robot called Ideon. During this time, they also encounter an alien race of conquerors called the Buff Clan, who possess legends about Ideon as a mighty god of ancient times. Though they take a number of casualties, the humans escape with Ideon, and spend the rest of the series fending off attacks from the Buff Clan with the help of the Ideon.
This sounds pretty par for the course for the time in which it was airing (early 1980s), but one thing made Ideon, as a mecha, different: it didn’t like to behave. The pilots from the very beginning are even unsure as to how to rouse Ideon from its dormancy. It powers up and powers down seemingly with a mind of its own, as indicated by a mysterious display called the Ide Gauge. If there’s a pattern as to how strong Ideon will be in any given fight, it is utterly unclear to the humans responsible for it. It is ancient alien technology that they are unable to fully grasp.
Then, deep into the series they find themselves cornered and at the brink of death. Suddenly, the Ideon achieves a power greater than anything seen before, and wipes out the enemy in an instant. Though they’re happy to have escaped with their lives, one important detail looms over their thoughts: it was not by the humans’ actions that they were rescued. Rather, they were at the seemingly serendipitous whims of the Ideon itself. As they continue on their journey, and as they continue to fight the Buff Clan, the heroes are made increasingly aware of the fact that the Ideon is powerful enough to destroy entire worlds, rend galaxies into nothingness, and wipe out civilizations… and they have absolutely no control over it. In the Super Robot Wars games, the power of the Ideon’s strongest attacks, Ideon Sword and Ideon Gun, are labeled as having infinite range as a reference to this, though the mechanics are gamified into something manageable).
If you’ve seen Neon Genesis Evangelion, you probably know where this is going. Some of the most iconic scenes in Evangelion are when the EVA-01, the protagonist Shinji’s mecha, goes berserk. During these pivotal moments, Shinji somehow falls unconscious or is unable to fight, and the EVA roars to life with a mind of its own. It fights like a beast, clawing, biting, and tearing. Its chilling cry becomes a wake-up call to the human characters who believed that they could control all of this technology and power. In the cases of both Ideon and Evangelion, the power granted to the heroes ironically creates a sense of helplessness because of the loss of control. Unlike older giant robot anime, such as Mazinger Z or even Reideen the Brave which featured a similarly sentient super robot, the spirit of the hero, or indeed all of humanity, is made to feel small and insignificant in Ideon and Evangelion. Where Evangelion differs is in its deeply introspective focus, of characters and the deep, torturous labyrinths of their psyches, and so it would be incorrect to say that Evangelion simply copied Ideon.
The Ideon TV series ends more abruptly than almost any other anime you will ever see, and a proper finale would be provided in the form of two movies, one recap and one conclusion. In the movies, the secrets of the Ideon are explored, and it’s through those secrets that further connections to Evangelion can be seen. The second movie, Be Invoked, reveals what causes Ideon to awaken and gain power: life energy. The Ideon throughout the series appears to respond better to children than to adults, and even better to babies. Though there is nothing explicitly written as to why this is the case, and I’m inserting my own interpretation into this to an extent, I believe that it has to do with the fact that children are both more full of life, and are not as warped by their experiences as the cold, cynical adults.
As the fight between the humans and the Buff Clan rages on, it turns out that meteors have been raining down on both planets, wiping out their homes. The implication behind these mutual apocalypses is that the Ideon itself and its Id energy have been testing the two sides to see if they can reach some sort of peace. Because the two sides refused to understand each other and just kept on fighting, the Ideon basically decided that both civilizations are not worth saving as they are. Hence, meteors. Ultimately, even as this is all happening, the Ideon fights the Buff Clan’s ultimate weapon, the Ganda Rowa. The two destroy each other, triggering a massive explosion that wipes out life on the surrounding planets. The spirits of those who died, both human and Buff, gather together as if all is behind them.
A few similarities to Evangelion appear here. First, the effectiveness of children as a source of “power” for the Ideon is similar to how the Evangelions appear to only function when piloted by 14-year-olds. Second, the protective element of the Ideon towards those children resembles how the EVAs have souls within them that (for the most part) are the mothers of the pilots themselves, who go berserk to save their children. Third, the Ideon’s desire to bring these two warring civilizations, and the final moments of Ideon itself, resemble the Human Instrumentality Project at the center of Evangelion. The Human Instrumentality Project is the idea that, by having all of humanity merge together, we will be free from the problems caused by people being unable to properly communicate their feelings. When we are all as one, there will be no suffering. Again, however, even if you factor out the newer works (the Rebuild of Evangelion movies, the manga’s alternative ending), Evangelion does not say the same things because of the greater focus on individual characters and their personal emotions. Ideon thinks on more of a macro scale than Evangelion‘s micro approach, despite the fact that both series involve the death of humanity.
Overall, the influence of Ideon on Evangelion can be summarized as the exploration of humans having to deal with powers beyond their control, and the apocalyptic consequences of those who continue to make mistakes even with this knowledge in mind. I hope this has been useful to you, and if there is anyone who would like to add new points, expand upon the existing ones above, or even argue against them, I welcome you to make a response.
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