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Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan's Island

Review Date:

Reviewed by:

Released by: Bandai Entertainment

Age Rating: 12+

Region: 2 - Japan

Length: 108 minutes

Subtitles: English

Audio: Japanese 5.1 Surround


After a covert mission goes wrong, Mobile Suit pilot Amuro Ray is stranded on a remote island. He's been sent to an island to clear off any enemy forces, only to find a group of children and an enemy mecha which attacks him. Now Amuro must find a way for them all to escape this mysterious land, but not before meeting a strange man-Cucuruz Doan


Replacing the lost 15th episode of the original Mobile Suit Gundam TV series, this feature-length story tells the story of Amuro Ray being assigned by his superior officer, Bright Noa, to investigate the island of Alegranza in the Canary Island chain off the coast of Africa and remove any Zeon stragglers that might be there. They need to be able to bring Federation forces through the Straits of Gibraltar unharmed. Investigating the island, Amuro is attacked by a Zaku mobile suit and loses control of his RX-78 Gundam suit. He awakes in a building on the island, surrounded by children and a mysterious islander called Cucuruz Doan. Now, he has to find out why these people are on the island before both the Federation and the forces of Zeon arrive.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doans Island

So, the story goes that episode fifteen of the original series was outsourced to another animation studio and the resulting effort was deemed unsatisfactory by series creator Yoshiaki Tomino. The episode was included in Japanese home video releases but wasn't broadcast (at least anywhere I could find). Over the years it took on mythic status. I've watched the episode online and yeah, it's kind of bad. As in I'm sure someone was in charge of production but whether they were keeping an eye on things is another matter entirely. In any event, the episode was forgotten about. Until the release of Gundam: The Origin, that is. A retelling of the start of the original TV series, it charts the rise of siblings Casval and Artesia Deikun (more famously known to fans as Char Aznable and Sayla Mass) before the One-Year War. Based on the manga by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (character designer and animation director of the original Gundam TV series), the manga and the show were wildly popular on release. So, Yasuhiko (or YAS as he's known to fans) was approached to direct this film. Having worked in the industry since 1970's, Yas has lost none of his verve and insight. He attacks this project with a young man's zeal but an older man's wisdom.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doans Island 2

The film deals with a lot of issues; child soldiers, the grind of war, the necessities of command, the horror of loss, and the agony of survival after a major conflict. Only a few of the Gundam titles deal with characters who've been in the series so long that they are dealing with PTSD and other problems so seeing a person like Doan who is a relatively unknown quantity in the overall story trying to live a quiet life after working for monsters is understated and welcome. Amuro also grapples with being a soldier in a war he doesn't want to be in, in command of a machine that he didn't want to use and forced to carry out the same kinds of orders that forced Doan into the silence of grief. Even Bright Noa realises halfway through his assignment that he can ignore the wrath of superiors and help Amuro because they honestly don't care what happens on the island. There's an implicit statement from Yas that Noa can't believe that his best pilot might die for nothing and yet, he's weary of the whole thing. Lots of things to think about in what is essentially a reskin of an old, crusty anime show.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doans Island 3

I'm going to say that I've always liked the main protagonist, Amuro Ray, despite him being a bit of a vanilla hero. He's the Gundam pilot despite being the worst person for the job. He's only there because His Daddy Built The Thing™. But he's the original kid in the mobile suit so he gets a pass from the audience since he originated all of the tropes. Here, he's still childish (remember the show is only a third of the way through at this point) but he's starting to understand the realities of war. When he arrives at Alegranza, he thinks he's investigating Zeon forces but within minutes he's attacked in the mobile suit and knocked unconscious. From there, he meets Cucuruz Doan, a former Zeon soldier tasked with protecting the facilities there. But really, he is protecting a large number of children that live with him. Doan doesn't act like an enemy though, holding Ray at a distance so he can understand his motives for being on the island. At the same time, both Bright Noa and the Zeon forces have been dispatched or are slipping away from their superiors to investigate the island. In Noa's case, he worried because Ray hasn't checked in. So from this maelstrom, two massive combat forces are heading right in the middle of Ray's own exploration of the island.

The thing that struck me about the film is how it's intertwined with and divorced from the TV series it is a part of. You don't need to know about the One-Year War to enjoy this (though non-anime fans will be a bit lost at the beginning) but it's also great for returning fans. We have a cast of dozens and even if you don't know them, Yas is a skilled director and knows he'll only need the minimum to get you inside the story. At the same time, he helped create most of these characters so he must have had a blast to come back to do them again with a wiser set of eyes. The animation is so good, clean, and polished. The Gundam and Zaku move with a heft and a weight in every scene. Plus, the actual animation is smooth as glass, almost as if the animators wanted to wipe the original episode from the collective fan consciousness. I would have loved to have seen this on the big screen when it got English-friendly releases in the cinema because it paints on a big canvas. I bought the English-friendly 4k release direct from Japan as there's currently no way to purchase this on disc in the US or the UK (though I'm hoping this changes soon).

Cucuruz Doan's Island is a fantastic treat for Gundam fans and Yas has stated that this will be his very last work in animation. If that's the case, with the titles he's steered (Arion, Dirty Pair, Crusher Joe, Gundam), it's a fitting send-off for him to shepherd one of his earliest works to an auspicious height.

Rating: 9/10

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