Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island can be described as one of the most elaborate shitposts ever.
This doesn’t mean the film is bad—quite the opposite, in fact. But it’s precisely because Cucuruz Doan’s Island turns out to be a solid work that makes it even more of a shitpost.
Cucuruz Doan’s Island was originally Episode 15 of the 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam TV series, about an AWOL Zeon soldier who is now raising orphans on an island that the protagonist, Amuro Ray, crashes on. It’s infamous for a variety of reasons, not least of which are its abysmally off-model animation quality, and the fact that Director Tomino refuses to let it be included in releases outside of Japan. It’s an early instance of a yashigani crab episode, the kind of thing that seems to embarrass all involved. Well, what if 43 years later, they decided to turn it into a feature-length piece with the budget of a full-fledged animated film?
It’s about as cheeky a move you can make, especially because the idea of re-animating something from First Gundam like this isn’t really done. Sure, there’s Gundam: The Origin, but while the manga is a retelling of the entire story of the One Year War, the anime version mainly covers events before that conflict, making it a prequel of sorts.
Doing More with More
So how do you stretch a 20-something-minute episode into a full movie? Well, you give it More of Everything. There’s more fights: Doan is shown in his Zaku to be fending off unwelcome island visitors from the start, and even has a tussle with the Gundam early on. There’s more plot: The White Base crew’s visit to the island, as well as Doan’s former role in the Zeon forces are given greater context. There’s greater stakes: The threat of worldwide catastrophe looms in this film in a way it never did as a TV episode. There’s more characters: Doan goes from having four orphans to having about three times as many (including an older boy who’s jealous of Amuro), and a whole new platoon of Zeon soldiers is incorporated into the story. Also, Char Aznable shows up (of course), but only in a literal fever dream.
On top of all that, Doan’s Zaku for the film has been purposely designed to be thinner and with a different head construction compared to the standard. This is actually a reference to it being horribly off-model in the original TV series, which has now become the catalyst that has transformed artistic mistakes into the baseline for a unique mobile suit design. This is perhaps the biggest indicator of the somewhat trolling nature of Cucurzu Doan’s Island.
Hindsight and Evolution
Yasuhiko “Yaz” Yoshikazu, the original character designer from the TV series, is actually the director of this film, and it shows. In many ways, it feels more like an episode of Giant Gorg than Gundam in the way characters interact with and explore their environment. The character designs in the film are very clearly based on Yaz’s more modern work a la Gundam: The Origin, but there’s also something about the way characters move that evokes their personalities more powerfully than even some of the best episodes of First Gundam. When Amuro walks around the island, he does so with an awkwardness that really hammers home the fact that he was originally an introverted tinkerer who got thrust into piloting the most powerful weapon of the time. The ways he walks, runs, and reacts come across as possibly even neurodivergent, and makes him feel that much more out of place in the world where he lives.
In this way, one of the remarkable things about Cucuruz Doan’s Island is the way it acts simultaneously as a nostalgia piece and a work that reflects on Gundam’s long history. In addition to being an opportunity to see the old White Base crew in action again, there are all sorts of details that convey a kind of homecoming. For example, when you see Zeon soldiers (Doan included) react to the presence of the Gundam with fear and awe, it both makes sense in the context of the story and as a nod to the fact that this is the RX-78-2, the Ur-Gundam. Pretty much all the old characters are there with their original voice actors (provided they’re alive). It’s very clear that Furuya Toru and Furukawa Toshio are four decades older and can’t quite play teen characters as naturally as they used to, but they also bring just as many years of experience and refinement to the roles.
There’s another aspect of Cucuruz Doan’s Island as a do-over that stands out to me, and perhaps to anyone who cares about Gundam lore: Despite being a remake of a TV episode, the movie places itself more in the original film trilogy’s version of events. In addition to the complete absence of the Core Fighter—the cockpit plane that was used as part of the “docking” sequences used in the TV series to give it more of a “super robot” aesthetic like Gundam’s predecessors—Cucuruz Doan’s Island also features the Core Booster vehicle that was created for the trilogy. And while I can’t remember offhand the exact sequence of events, the flow of the story seems to place it more in the trilogy’s timeline of events as well. This, too, feels like Yaz trying to correct past mistakes.
Beyond the Time
I’m not sure which would be funnier: this movie leading to an international release of First Gundam with the missing episode, or if we actually end up with the movie available to purchase but still no Episode 15. Either choice would add onto the legacy of Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island as arguably the ultimate shitpost, and I have to wonder if other properties might attempt something similar.