The 15th episode of the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime aired in 1979 and was terrible.
It was heavy with mistakes in the plot and in the visuals. It only made it to broadcast because people were in hospital and the demands of animating for a TV schedule insisted on it.
In response, the director ensured the episode would never be seen again.
You can probably guess what happened next. The hard-to-see episode became a legend and something desirable to see. And so, some 40 years later (but before thinking about having a female lead) to keep Gundam going, the production company decides to remake the whole episode. Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island is that remake, and it’s a feature-length.
Despite having seen a few, I’m not up to date with Gundam, and straightaway Cucuruz Doan’s Island fits the model. Where Cucuruz Doan’s Island is good, it is good despite being a Gundam; there’s no reason for any of the backstory to exist. Where it’s weak is when the Gundam legacy tries to surface.
Take away the Gundam baggage, and it’s the exciting story of a renegade trying to stop his own side from committing war crimes but endangering others by doing so.
The renegade in question is Cucuruz Doan himself, but I’m not sure how much of a hero he is. For reasons unclear to me, he’s keeping an orphanage on a military target, prohibiting the use of electricity and needing to work with a bunch of kids to survive. In fact, there’s a ready source of energy and safety nearby, and I can’t figure out why he doesn’t use it.
I’m not sure the other side is much better, even though I think they’re the series’ protagonists. They, too, pack a group of kids into an attack craft and fly them into a military encounter, and no explanation is given for this. This group engages in espionage to avoid unpopular orders and joke at the idea of being court marshalled.
Look and feel
I do like the animation style, though; it manages to invoke the style of 1970s without being terrible. I think that’s the reason why all the women are dressed in pink. Actually, no, there’s a female soldier on the other side who seems to have had a history with Cucuruz Doan and is then killed, without hesitation, by Doan. She doesn’t wear pink.
War makes monsters of us all, I suspect, is the message. Turning swords into ploughshares should be the moral of the story. The Gundams don’t quite manage to get that far, but Cucuruz Doan’s Island is an anti-war episode.
I suppose there’s also a comment here about not blindly following orders. The soldier’s defence is no defence.
There are moments of humour that actually work. There’s the goat. A single, solitary goat is the island’s sole milk supply and seems to be the queen of the bare bundle of rocks. She kicks ass and takes no prisoners either, which puts her in the same league as the two warring sides. We can count on her goofy defiance for bizarre moments of laughter.
It’s a Gundam movie, and if you’re a fan, then I imagine you’ll want to watch it. I doubt you’ll be disappointed, but this is no Iron Orphans, even if it steps a few places into that darkness.
If you’re not a fan, Doan won’t convert you. However, if you’re trying to give Gundam a go or sample it in small doses, then it’s a pretty good place to test the water.
I watched it at Scotland Loves Anime which meant great sound, a big screen and an audience laughing at the goat. It all helped. I doubt it would have held my attention if I had a smartphone to play with.
The original might have been infamously bad, and the remake isn’t on that level. It’s about as effective a rescue as the one attempted in the new plot manages to be.
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