By all accounts, Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island is an oddity. The movie is based on the 15th episode of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, an episode which was marred by production issues and omitted from the show’s international release at the behest of director Yoshiyuki Tomino. Yet 40+ years after its initial airing date, the episode is adapted into a full-length theatrical feature, and unlike the original episode, the movie was released in multiple countries.
Indeed, the episode itself has become a cult favorite among fans. The titular Doan and his Zaku appeared in Gundam’s many media spin-offs, such as the Extreme Vs. series of fighting games. The Zaku, infamous for its hilariously off-model appearance in the episode, is lovingly recreated for the movie using 3D animation while still keeping its iconic long visage. Original Gundam staff member Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, who was hospitalized in the middle of the original series’ production, came back to the director’s seat just for the movie, even though he mentioned that the 2018’s Mobile Suit Gundam: the Origin would be his last anime production “whatever happens”. Needless to say, second chances to revisit a past work like this are highly unusual and rarely happen.
Those who’ve endeared themselves to these characters, yet haven’t seen the TV series in quite some time, should get a kick out of hearing Toru Furuya once again voice 15-year-old Amuro Ray. Not only him, Toshio Furukawa’s Kai Shiden still sounds almost exactly the same as he did in the show. Likewise, it’s fun to revisit familiar faces such as Bright Noa at a point in time when he’s not quite the experienced captain yet; or the suave-yet-ruthless commander M’Quve. Plus, hearing the musical callbacks to Takeo Watanabe‘s original score will make the fans feel that they are indeed watching the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Despite some new additions here and there, one might even consider the movie to be something akin to a mid-season, movie-length TV special that could fit right in within the original series, albeit with a slightly different flavor. The self-contained nature of the movie’s plot certainly helps. The movie never feels out of place or disturbs the status quo of the larger story.
That said, perhaps the biggest draw to Cucuruz Doan’s Island is a chance for viewers to see what fans have been wondering for all these years: what would the original Mobile Suit Gundam looks like if it was made with today’s technology? Not counting Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Cucuruz Doan’s Island is probably the closest answer to that question. It’s a joy to see the highly-detailed mobile suits animated in 2D and 3D, while still keeping the organic quality of their depiction in the original series. The same goes for Yasuhiko’s iconic character designs, but this time, with the amount of quality it rightfully deserves. It’s great to see all the small things that were part of the show’s classic charm not only survive a modern retelling but are elevated by it.
But perhaps the one thing that truly stands the test of time, which is evident across both iterations, is just how much Mobile Suit Gundam cares about the interpersonal drama of its characters. The movie is a good reminder of how seeing the White Base crew as a “found family” was a big part of what made the show so appealing, especially early on. It was interesting to see the contrast in how Amuro & Doan cared for their respective families, and how they cared for them back in return. It’s something that even people who are unfamiliar with Gundam should also be able to appreciate. If the dated animation of the original series is what keeps them from experiencing Mobile Suit Gundam, then with the arrival of Cucuruz Doan’s Island, there’s no more excuse to do so.
The original Mobile Suit Gundam was a show that managed to succeed later on, despite its initial lukewarm reception. As told in the NHK documentary Making Gundam: The Inside Story (2019), low ratings ended the series earlier than it had hoped for, but then a rebroadcast, followed by theatrical retellings, managed to turn it into the massive cultural machine that it is today. So while Cucuruz Doan’s Island is certainly something only a few would have expected or asked for, I’m glad that it exists. Sometimes good stories just need another chance to prove themselves the second time around.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island arrives in select Indonesian theaters on June 10, 2022.
The Indonesian Anime Times | Review by Caesar E.S.