FEATURE: Everything You Need to Know Before Watching Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island
Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island, which has been out in Japan for some time, is finally coming stateside courtesy of Crunchyroll. It’ll premiere in select theaters on September 27 and 28 in the U.S., with tickets available for purchase now. The film is part of Gundam’s recent resurgence, sandwiched between a film released last year on Netflix and a new series, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury, airing in October. While this latest Gundam film isn’t exploring a new story in the Universal Century timeline, it offers an updated take on the most infamous episode in the series’ history.
The original Mobile Suit Gundam aired in 1979, with 43 episodes released on the Japanese airwaves until it was canceled in 1981. Though viewership was low at the time for the show, its cancellation sparked an outpouring of support that led to the original series being split into three parts and released in theaters. A launch event for the first movie drew some 20,000 screaming fans clamoring for the attention of series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino. When a pair of cosplayers took the stage to declare “a new anime century,” it signaled a change for the anime industry that would bring it into the mainstream. Matt Alt’s Pure Invention goes into this further.
That Gundam is a seminal work is indisputable, but while the series has enjoyed success worldwide since its revival, the 15th episode of the series has remained a mystery to viewers outside of Japan. Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island is finally changing that.
The creator requested its removal for “reasons”
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Cucuruz Doan’s Island was the 15th episode of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series. The episode is much talked about not because it’s remarkable, but because the animation is not up to par. The quality of animation is by far the lowest in the span of the original 43-episode run. The animation for Amuro’s iconic RX-78-2 and Doan’s Zaku is especially bad, with scenes showing the mechas looking unnaturally thin and stretched.
Regardless of the quality of the original episode, it didn’t stop the studio from airing it, and it didn’t stop fans from loving the show. But when it came time to release the show in the U.S. in the early aughts, the episode was nowhere to be seen. The “lost episode” wasn’t lost, nor was it destroyed. The reason you can’t find the Cucuruz Doan’s Island episode on a DVD, Blu-Ray, or streaming services outside of Japan is much less mysterious: Tomino requested the episode be removed from international releases.
When asked why he requested the removal of the episode during a panel at Anime Expo New York 2002, he answered, “There’s a reason, but since the staff is still alive, I can’t talk about it.” Though he didn’t want to badmouth Anime Friend, the studio that animated the episode, all you have to do is see the image above to deduce the answer. Omitting the episode catapulted it into mythical status. However, if the episode had been included, it’s highly unlikely Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island would have been made.
One thing to note is that an English sub of the episode is available in the UC Libraries Blu-Ray release of Mobile Suit Gundam, which is only available to purchase from Japan and will run you $125.
The original animator is coming back to direct
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When the Cucuruz Doan’s Island episode aired in Japan, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, who worked as the art director for the series, was in the hospital, possibly due to working too much. He would recover later on, but while he stayed in the hospital, the quality of animation began to slip without him at the helm. He experienced this first-hand from his hospital bed when he saw the Cucuruz Doan’s Island episode and couldn’t get through it because it was so bad, he said in the Making Gundam: The Inside Story documentary (via Anime News Network). But as fate would have it, Yasuhiko would come back to direct the remake of the infamous episode.
This isn’t the former art director’s first time directing a Gundam project. Starting in 2015, he directed the anime adaptation of his Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origins manga. The two OVAs, which spanned six episodes and focused mostly on Char and his sister Sayla, were re-released as a 13-episode series called Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin – Advent of the Red Comet.
The new film is a darker take on the episode
Tomino gets a lot of the credit for Mobile Suit Gundam, but it was Yasuhiko’s art direction that captured the imagination of fans. The character and mecha designs are Yasuhiko’s biggest contribution to the original series, but he’s since gone on to take a more direct role in the Gundam narrative. Starting in 2001, Yasuhiko began to rewrite the telling of Mobile Suit Gundam with his Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin manga. The manga, which was published between 2001 and 2011 in the Japanese Gundam Ace magazine, went in a different direction, changing parts of the story to fit better with the later series’ darker tone.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island follows that tone. If you’ve seen the original series, the new film is starkly different, sharing more in common with other recent releases like Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway and the two Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt movies.
There’s a prequel
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The latest film expands the narrative of the original episode, but it’s not the first time the story has been revisited. While the Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origins manga left out the story of the island, Gundam Ace decided to publish a spinoff series that served as a prequel to the events of the episode. The story follows the unit left behind by Cucuruz Doan, who was the commander. Gundam Ace published 29 chapters of Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin MSD: Cucuruz Doan’s Island written by Junji Ohno. Although the spinoff manga was collected into five volumes in Japanese, it has not been released in any other language.
If you feel like you need to read this before watching the new film, don’t worry. Yasuhiko has stated that his film is not an adaptation of the manga, though he did admit the manga played a role in getting the movie made initially.
How excited are you to finally watch Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island on the big screen? Are you going to revisit the series? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to pick up tickets.