The following may contain spoilers for Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island.
Director / Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Screenplay / Toshizou Nemoto
Production / Sunrise
Release Date / June 2022
During the second Gundam Conference held in September 2021, everyone found themselves scratching their heads when a theatrical treatment for “Cucuruz Doan’s Island“, the infamous episode 15 of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, was announced. If you’ve been a fan of the Gundam franchise for quite a while, then you must’ve heard of this infamous episode in one way or another. Especially the story of how it got cut from the North American release of the series citing Yoshiyuki Tomino basically saying it’s not good enough. And he did have a point as the episode was known for its questionable animation quality and a basically filler storyline. Inspired by the lackluster episode, as well as the manga Mobile Suit Gundam THE ORIGIN MSD: Cucuruz Doan’s Island (though the movie doesn’t adapt the manga’s story), what we got is a modern and fun treatment of the original episode and brought forward human characterization, which made the original series such a classic.
The plot basically revolves on the White Base when it’s sent to investigate an anomalous island where a mysterious enemy seems to be defeating every Federation Forces squad sent there. Amuro, Kai, and Hayato are then sent to investigate and are surprised to see the island inhabited by mostly children, and a single Zaku II piloted by Zeon deserter Cucuruz Doan. Upfront, the movie immediately tells that this story is an adaptation of the infamous episode, so it immediately jumps into action with the assumption that the audiences have seen the original and are already familiar with the characters. It does give context of some of the stuff that happened prior, like seeing the “Bright slap” with modern animation is definitely a treat, but you are immediately thrown into the action as if the film is directly replacing episode 15.
Now I know there are folks who will ask if this fits the canon of the original series as while this is a modern adaptation of episode 15, it does introduce elements that’s specific to the Gundam THE ORIGIN interpretation of the same events. Some of these include the earlier appearances of the GMs which are supposed to be revealed in episode 29 of the original. Personally, I’ll just say that don’t let specific canon concerns ruin your experience of the film and just take it as a great standalone piece.
There are only two set pieces in the movie, at the start and at the climax, with the bulk focusing on character dynamics between Amuro, Doan, and the rest of the children. The movie dumps a lot more children in the mix than just the three or so in the original, but the ones who stand out are Cara and Marcos. Cara is the motherly figure of the group and provides the voice of reason for the otherwise very antagonistic treatment of the group to Amuro. Then there’s Marcos who’s the complete opposite but in the end turns around and sees how cool Amuro really is. As for Doan, he’s pretty much the same person with the same backstory on why he defected from Zeon. He does get an additional plot element with the mission he’s been getting from Zeon as well as a few interactions with the Southern Cross Corps, the squad he defects from.
We also get some witty banter and interactions from the White Base crew, including Bright, Sayla, Mirai, and Sleggar with the unofficial mission to save Amuro. Oh, and yes, M’Quve is also there for other Zeon presence. They were also able to include a little Char action through flashbacks so his fans should be able to get a little kick from this movie.
The animation is top notch, as expected from the same folks who did the Gundam THE ORIGIN movies and is a stark contrast to the abysmal animation of the original episode. Heck, they even incorporated the off-model animation of Doan’s Zaku II as a legitimate design detail of the updated version. As mentioned earlier, there are two set pieces/battles in the movie, both using CG mobile suits which I’m fine with. Especially in the climactic battle you I legitimately experienced awe and wonder upon seeing the RX-78-02 Gundam on top of that crater coming to the rescue of Doan. I felt like this was the same feeling those watching in 1979 got upon seeing the Gundam in battle each episode.
Overall, Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island is a really fun movie you can watch by itself without having to think of some major implications of the events to the ongoing One Year War. Would I recommend it as a gateway Gundam movie to new fans? Not really but it does show how a modern reanimation of the original series would look. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening, but I wouldn’t be surprised if other standalone stories, possibly from other series, may get the same treatment too.