Any sizeable pop culture franchise will likely reach the point where it has at least one piece of lost media, an instalment lost to time. Reasons for this vary but all tend to stem from behind the scenes politics. After the success of Gundam Wing in America in the early 2000s Sunrise and Bandai decided to release the 1979 originator in that market. However, one episode was missing- episode 15, ‘Cucuruz Doan’s Island’. A largely throwaway story concerning Amuro encountering a guilt ridden Zeon deserter, the episode boasts some of the most infamously poor animation in the entire series. This has long been given as the chief reason for its exclusion and indeed it’s still absent in more recent releases in Western countries. So nobody saw it coming when a full on theatrical redo was announced.
In the midst of downtime between campaigns the White Base crew are assigned to scout out a remote island from which Federation patrols keep failing to return, with suspicions it’s a secret Zeon base. The ship’s mobile suit compliment investigate and Amuro is taken out by a frighteningly powerful Zaku. He awakens to discover the island is home to a number of war orphans, overseen by the magnanimous Cucuruz Doan. The island seems like a miniature paradise away from the war but Amuro has his suspicions. Who exactly is Cucuruz Doan?
Placing this movie is a little awkward because although it easily fits into roughly the middle of the original series it carries visual and story beats drawn from Gundam The Origin. Not at all unsurprising given the film was directed by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko but a minor hurdle depending how deep your Gundam knowledge goes. This is comparatively minor, however, as this is a gentle story rather than some huge game changer to the canon. A cosy reunion special.
Indeed I think it’s best to manage your expectations going in. I’ve seen other reviewers complain this isn’t two hours of back to back mecha action, a complaint I think misses the film encapsulates Gundam’s very human heart. The focus here is on Amuro, Doan and the orphans, not warfare. There are some thrilling fight scenes peppered throughout but Yas actually does a brilliant job of showing war as terrible. Amuro spends most of the movie trying to reclaim his lost Gundam and when he of course inevitably does the movie makes it clear he’s being forced to take lives. The movie is keen to present the Gundam as a necessary evil. We see it defend the innocent but the price for doing so is paid out of Amuro’s very soul. In an era where the franchise seems to be increasingly sold on the violent spectacle of mobile suit combat it’s incredibly welcome to have one of the original creators shout out a warning against glamourizing war.
Doan himself is interesting but the film sadly doesn’t pry into him quite enough. He’s compelling and an interesting update of the original but his motivations are never quite fully communicated and most fans I’ve spoken to have come away with the exact same questions about him. Indeed I think the film could have sacrificed a few of the scenes of his charges just acting like kids in order to communicate his deal better.
In typical Yas fashion a lot of the supporting cast are fairly comedic. A conceited pencil pusher acts as the voice of self serving Federation bureaucracy and Zeon has the Southern Cross Corp, a team of elite pilots who have history with Doan. They’re effective enough as antagonists but don’t really get enough time to shine. Indeed one of their number was used far more effectively in the recent Code Fairy video game, only making her usage here look worse.
The film will run on alternate sub and dub screenings, with me seeing the former. In an era where many of his 1979 peers have retired or sadly passed it’s always a treat to hear Toru Furuya return as Amuro Ray and indeed similar sentiment towards Toshio Furukawa returning as Kai. I have to imagine the recently cast actors stepping up to voice a cast full of iconic characters feel pressure but not a beat is missed here and you could easily believe it has always been these performers the past 40 years. Even Shunsuke Takeuchi manages a commanding presence in his scenes with Furuya, despite the age gap running the other way in reality.
If you’ve seen The Origin OVA you’ll know exactly what to expect. The animation is like Yas’ original work brought to life, with traditional 2D animation for characters and settings whilst celshaded CGI is used for mechanical elements. Sunrise have come a long way with the latter in the past 20 years and it adds an incredible depth and choreography to the fight scenes. On a related note, Doan’s Zaku has the infamous extended snout that has become the most iconic animation error of the original episode. They didn’t have to add that but it’s a cute reminder this production hasn’t forgotten where it comes from.
Cucuruz Doan’s Island is an enjoyable palette cleanser after recent Gundam productions. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Hathaway but certainly far more than NT. This is a nice, enjoyable story that highlights exactly why even four decades later new audiences are finding enjoyment in the Gundam that started it all. Indeed I’ve heard many positive things from attendees here in the UK for whom this was their first Gundam experience.
And now, in anticipation of your insight into the future…
Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island will show in both sub and dub screenings September 27th & 28th in America, September 29 & October 1st in Canada and September 29th in Australia. Screenings will be at select theatres.