The Runaway That Ranaway: What Happened to Space Runaway Ideon?

Do you know the story of how Mobile Suit Gundam was cancelled while it was airing? Originally meant to have 52 episodes but due to low ratings was slashed to 39 and with negotiations was then settled at 43 episodes. All due to low viewership and a failing toyline. Now we know that after Bandai snapped up the rights to make plastic model kits of the series the popularity skyrocketed. A whole new hobby, Gunpla (a portmanteau of plastic Gundam), was born and we’d see Gundam return to the airwaves in 1985 with Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. This spawned a seemingly endless and at times very confusing anime franchise, securing the word Gundam as synonymous with the mech sub-genre of anime. But what did Yoshiyuki Tomino, writer and director of the series, do between the original series and Zeta Gundam? Well, even though the Gundam franchise is his baby, re-editing the series down into 3 movies (Mobile Suit Gundam: The Movie, Mobile Suit Gundam II: Soldiers of Sorrow and Mobile Suit Gundam III: Encounters in Space) and writing 3 novels that adapt the TV series (Awakening, Escalation andConfrontation), all of which he did between 1979 and 1982, he wrote and directed 4 other TV series. This guy was extremely busy in the 80s. In chronological order he wrote and directed; Space Runaway Ideon in 1980, Combat Mecha Xabungle in 1982, Aura Battler Dunbine in 1983 and Heavy Metal L-Gaim in 1984, this is along with a compilation movie of Ideon, The Ideon: A Contact and a sequel movie, The Ideon: Be Invoked, both released in 1982, a Xabungle movie, Xabungle Graffiti in 1983 and drafting Round Vernian Vifam in 1983. There’s a recurring theme with Tomino and the reason that I’ve listed his body of work during this period, almost everything comes with a story. He’s a highly regarded figure in the anime industry and community, having helped shape the Mecha sub-genre into what it’s become throughout the early 80s but as a person he’s less than favoured, to put it nicely. There’s stories of him getting into fights with animators from Studio Trigger at a fan convention, challenging fellow animator Makoto Shinkai over the success of his movie Your Name and tales from beloved composer Yoko Kanno about how his direction for the music of the 1998 series Brain Powerd wasn’t exactly helpful.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that even his lesser known work, Space Runaway Ideon, comes with a story. Similar to the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Ideon was also cancelled due to low ratings truncating the series ending but would later get a movie, Be Invoked, that would wrap up the story but this still isn’t the tale I’m going to tell about Ideon. The home video release of the series is oddly fascinating to look at, as it’s been plagued with issues both in it’s home country, Japan and in the US. The availability of Ideon up until it’s Blu-ray release in Japan was a tricky one, the first DVD box set release failed to sell the massively over estimated number of units even years after its release which meant the second DVD box set and movie box set had much reduced printing. It’s not uncommon for shows in Japan to come across multiple box sets, for instance, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam’s original “Memorial” Blu-ray box set was released in 2 parts containing 25 episodes each. However, the result of this was the second box set and the movie box set selling out quickly, meaning that second-hand copies commanded a high price. The second box set alone could sell for 80,000 yen (close to $600) or all 3 could sell for over 120,000 yen (over $1,000) which when compared to Dragon Ball’s boxset retailing at 100,000 yen ($800) brand new is a ridiculous price. To really hammer home the comparison, Ideon is only 39 episodes and 2 movies, whereas Dragon Ball has 153 episodes, meaning Ideon was costing somewhere close to 3,000 yen ($29) per episode and Dragon Ball, only 653 yen ($6) per episode. Then in 2006, Ideon was re-released on to single DVDs but similarly, the boxsets had a very limited production run, going out of print quickly. However, in 2013 the availability issue was remedied with the release of the Blu-ray boxset, which is still in print and available today.

Sadly, the same can’t be said about the stateside release of the series. Until 2017, the series was never licensed for an English release in the US but in November that year, all 39 episodes and both movies hit Sentai Filmworks’ own HiDive streaming service. Now luckily, at the moment the series is still available on HiDive (though sadly not in the UK), as with all streaming services however, it carries the ever-impending fear that one day it may just disappear. So thankfully, in July, 2018, Maiden Japan announced that they had licensed the series for home video, with a SD-BD set slated for December that year. Now, I hear you asking, “Rebel, what the hell is a SD-BD?” Never fear, I have the answer. To be brief, a SD-BD is actually a case of doing what it says on the tin, as it stands for Standard Definition Blu-ray. If you’re unaware, Blu-ray is the successor to DVD offering HD video and lossless audio over SD and lossy audio. While there’s a lot more technicalities to it, that’s the gist of Blu-ray vs DVD and generally Blu-ray is a lot more versatile as a format. Which is what leads us to the SD-BD, where you can’t release something in HD, usually because it’s impossible due to the nature of the material, you might want to opt for releasing a SD-BD over a DVD. It allows you to put higher quality versions of the SD video (oxymoronic, I know) on to the disc.

Again, this is all very brief and as non-technical as I can be. The main benefit of SD-BD for anime is better looking subtitles as well as slightly better video presentation over DVD. A good example of why you would utilise this option is an early 2000s digipaint anime, these series are hard to do in HD due to being early products of digital workflow. To produce a HD version of the material would require the footage to be upscaled which could result in detail loss among other visual problems, so the best way to preserve the series is a SD-BD, keeping the video in a resolution more fitting to the material with the benefits of Blu-ray quality subtitles, menus, etc. But the thing with Ideon, as I mentioned before, is that it got released on Blu-ray in Japan. And in glorious HD no less. This is thanks to Ideon being animated in 1980, it would have been produced mostly on acetate cells and preserved on film. In this case, my guess is most likely 16mm, as was common for shows back then. In the 90s more shows were preserved on 35mm due to it being more inexpensive at the time which would give the image more oomph when scanned in HD but I digress. Film can be scanned in HD for digital presentation and has happened with many TV shows and movies over the years, Ideon was no exception and received that very treatment in Japan in 2013. Which begged the question when it came to Maiden Japan’s announcement that they were releasing an SD-BD, why? Well, it was probably a financial decision at first, while Ideon was now generally available to anime fans in the US, it wasn’t a heavy hitter like Gundam. So, why take the risk of releasing it in HD which would take up 6 discs, when you could release it in SD taking up only 2 discs instead? This is just conjecture on my part, but is the only logical reason I can find behind the decision. But, as licensors should have realised by now, anime fans are hardcore about this sort of thing and complained to Maiden Japan, leading them to announce they were scrapping the SD-BD release a little less than 2 months before it was due to release, announcing a HD Blu-ray set in it’s place due to be released in February 2019. And can you guess what I’m about to tell you next? Yes, sadly, it’s now out of print. From what I can tell the Blu-ray set lasted less than a full year in the US and now sells for anywhere between $200 and $550, its original retail price was $69.98. My guess as to why there was no reprint is due to having to scrap the SD-BD release and re-author the discs in HD. Probably more than doubling the production cost of the release, which in turn meant the sets were most likely selling at a loss for Maiden Japan. So, they cut their losses and let the series be relegated to a streaming only series in the US and while HiDive is available in the UK, sadly Ideon isn’t one of the titles available for streaming.

A sad end for the home video release, especially for UK fans as the Ideon Blu-ray release was confirmed by blu-ray.com to be playable on UK, Region B Blu-ray player. Meaning that anyone in the UK or EU could import the series and enjoy it without buying a region free player which can sometimes cost twice the price of a normal player. I do hold a small glimmer of hope that Maiden Japan may at some point re-print the series on Blu-ray but ever the realist, I think for now it won’t be happening. While this isn’t directly related to him, when it comes to Tomino and his work, you can almost always guarantee it’ll come with some sort of story, I could probably write a set of articles just dedicated to them. Maybe next time I’ll talk about his decision to bar Mobile Suit Gundam episode 15, Cucruz Doan’s Island, from release outside of Japan.

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