“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” –G.K. Chesterton
Following the battle at Jaburo, the Federation prepare to capture Odessa, a Zeon stronghold. After arriving in Belfast, Amuro and White Base resupply before receiving unexpected orders to eliminate Zeon forces stationed at Alegranza, a remote island, after Federation forces sent there were wiped out. When Amuro arrives with Kai Shinden and Hayato Kobayashi, they are shocked to learn that there are children on the island, and moreover, rather than Zeon forces, Amuro encounters a lone Zaku that overcomes him in combat. After coming to, Amuro meets the Zaku’s pilot, a man named Cucuruz Doan, and sets off in search of the Gundam, which he’d lost during the encounter. Although he is unable to find the Gundam, Amuro finds that the islanders, many of them children, live a life of moral simplicity, working with one another to maintain the island’s infrastructure and their very means of survival. Meanwhile, after an overwhelming performance at Casablanca, Zeon’s Southern Cross team is assigned to assist with an operation – Zeon General M’Quve begins negotiations with the Federation’s General Gopp as a ruse for his plan to decimate critical Federation cities using a hidden MIRV. As it turns out, Zeon had placed a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile there as an ace-in-the-hole, but find themselves unable to utilise it because of communications jamming. Thus, the Southern Cross are assigned to investigate Alegranza and determine if there’s a saboteur there. As Amuro’s gone missing, Bright Noa quietly orders a search team sent out to search for Amuro even as the Federation begin preparing for their attack on Gibraltar, delaying their launch to give his team a chance to find Amuro. Amuro himself comes to understand Cucuruz and impresses him when he is able to help fix a broken water main. While searching for his Gundam, Amuro learns that Marco, one of the oldest boys on the island, also wants to help Cucuruz fight. Surprised that Amuro made it to Cucuruz’s workspace, Marco and Amuro briefly engage in fisticuffs. Cucuruz sends both back, forbidding them from going further. It turns out that Cucuruz had once been a formidable pilot, but deserted Zeon after being ordered to fire upon children during a battle. When another storm hits Alegranza, Amuro repairs power to the generator, giving the children light for the first time in a while. He also reactivates the lighthouse, impressing Marco. The power confirms to White Base’s search party that the island is inhabited, but it also eliminates any doubt in the Southern Cross’ mind that Cucuruz is on the island. They begin their operation to launch the ballistic missile; Danan, Selma and Egba engage Cucuruz with their custom Zakus, while Wald and Sanho infiltrate Cucuruz’s silo and manually prepare the missile for launch. While they are successful, Amuro manages to retrieve his Gundam with help from Marco. He eliminates both Wald and Sanho before stepping in to fight Egba, who’d disarmed Cucuruz. Recalling how Cucuruz had defeated him, Amuro uses island’s geography to surprise Egba before finishing him off. In the aftermath, the missile launches, but its payload detonates harmlessly in the atmosphere – Cucuruz had been successful in sabotaging the missiles. M’Quve laughs off their failure to destroy key Federation cities, and Amuro reunites with Fraw Bow, as well as the others on White Base. He realises that so long as Cucuruz keeps the Zaku, trouble will continue to find him, and offers to discard the Zaku. Cucuruz consents, and the two group part ways on amicable terms, with the islanders hope that they can preserve peace in their home the same way Amuro and Cucuruz do.
Cucuruz Doan’s Island is the latest Gundam instalment, returning to the Universal Century’s One Year War and Amuro’s journey in fighting for what he believes is right. However, at this point in his career, Amuro is still very much a novice pilot unfamiliar with the horrors and demands of warfare; he only pilots the Gundam reluctantly, and Bright Noa expresses as much, stating that he’s only as strict as he is with Amuro in order to remind him of the importance of doing his duty to protect those around him. When Amuro is defeated and meets Cucuruz, Cucuruz’s words to Amuro are simple: he fights to protect those on his island as a means of atoning for the sins he committed on the battlefield. By having Amuro meet someone whose actions are motivated by nothing more than a desire to defend life, Amuro comes to realise that Cucuruz wasn’t so much fighting to kill those who were on the other side, as much as he was trying to keep the islanders safe from whatever conflicts the outside world might bring with them. The reason why Cucuruz spared Amuro was because he recognised the machine that, even at this point in the war, developed a fearsome reputation for mangling Zeon forces despite its pilot’s inexperience. Meeting Amuro and hearing him out allows Cucuruz to similarly realise that warfare only results in bloodshed. While Gundam series are best known for their mobile suit combat scenes, exploring the human stories for both Federation and Zeon characters alike is meaningful because it shows how wasteful warfare is, and how where given the choice, rational individuals would very much prefer to live their lives peacefully, free of armed conflict. In every Gundam series, conflicts are motivated by a combination of ideology, greed and a lust for destruction perpetrated by those who are in power and have every reason to cling onto this power. Through their perverse desire, corrupt politicians and military leaders manipulate soldiers into dying, often needlessly; when soldiers are freed from their obligations and given a chance to see their opponents’ faces, to talk things out, they often find that they are more alike than different. This is precisely what happens in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, and although it represents only one detour in Amuro’s journey, understanding Cururuz helps Amuro to become a more resolute pilot. While he still values human life and only reluctantly pulls the trigger, Amuro understands that there are circumstances that demand he act decisively. These learnings allow Amuro to help stop the Southern Cross from escaping and potentially giving his allies further trouble, and ultimately would impact how he fights his counterpart and arch-rival, Char Aznable, as the One Year War rages on.
Cucuruz Doan’s Island is a fantastic addition to the Universal Century for showing one step in Amuro’s growth. In addition to this, it also brings to light a side of Gundam that is rarely seen – even somewhere as grim as the Universal Century, there can be humour, as well. Bright Noa arranges for a series of phoney delays to give White Base the justification they need to stick around and look for Amuro while Mirai suppresses her laughter. When Sleggar Law attempts to convince Sayla to operate the Core Booster, he words things in such a way as to earn himself a slap to the face. Upon arriving on Alegranza, Kai and Hayato manage to escape their damaged Guncannons, and for their troubles, are rammed by a rampaging goat. The presence of children do much to to lighten the mood in Cucuruz Doan’s Island: a war might be raging, but the combatants and civilians alike are still human, able to experience both sorrow and joy. Seeing the characters smile and laugh gives additional weight to Amuro’s fight. Amuro is defending the children’s smiles the same way Cucuruz was defending Alegranza’s residents. Humour is a fantastic element to employ because it humanises the characters and gives weight to their goals. Jun Maeda is no stranger to this approach, and although people attribute his stories’ emotional impact to over-written scenarios, the reality is that Maeda gives characters a chance to see what individuals are like before tragedy strikes. Here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, the approach taken is unlikely to satisfy individuals who believe that grim, dark tones equate to realism, and that tragedy corresponds to maturity. However, to suppose that only suffering can create meaningful context for growth would be to eliminate an entire aspect of one’s being. Here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, Amuro’s growth is precisely driven by the fact that viewers have a chance to see what peace brings to people, and why it’s worth defending. By giving viewers a chance to laugh at Kai’s antics, or the daily lives of the children on Alegranza, a juxtaposition is created between the atrocities both the Earth Federation and Zeon governments are willing to commit in order to achieve their supremacy, and the everyday lives of both Earth Federation and Zeon citizens would rather live.
Screenshots and Commentary
- I’ll open this post with the combat between Cucuruz and an unnamed Federation pilot running a GM. The RGM-79 GM is the earliest mass production Federation model, being a cut-down RX-78 II with superior acceleration and the ability to equip various weapons – its design and role would later inspire Gundam SEED‘s GAT-01 Strike Dagger, which was similarly a cut-down Strike Gundam designed for mass production. Although the GM is made cannon fodder in Gundam and slaughtered en mass by named pilots, the design paradigms follow closely how real-life prototypes enter mass production. In Cucuruz Doan’s Island, the film opens with a group of GMs attempting to fend off Cucuruz’s Zaku. Before delving further into this discussion, I note that Cucuruz Doan’s Island premièred on June 2 in Japanese theatres, but the BDs became available shortly after for overseas viewers to check out. Unlike other publishers, Sunrise understands that a short release delay is the best way to maintain interest in a series and drive sales. Other studios (especially CoMix Wave and Showgate) could take a leaf from Sunrise’s book – rather than waiting eleven months to release BDs, strive to release them within a few weeks of the theatrical opening date.
- Although the original Zaku is technically inferior to a GM in terms of durability and firepower (a single shot from the beam spray gun would be enough to neutralise the Zaku), Cururuz is an uncommonly talented pilot, and despite lacking any ranged weapons, makes use of his heat hawk to completely destroy the GM team, as well as their landing craft. The loss of forces that stumble upon Alegranza is what prompts the events of Cucuruz Doan’s Island: Federation forces become convinced that Zeon remnant forces occupy the otherwise uninhabited island and therefore, may pose a threat to their operation.
- At this point in his career, Bright Noa is a junior lieutenant, although after an attack on White Base kills much of the original crew, Bright becomes the de facto captain of the ship. Bright would subsequently go on to bring the White Base to Luna II while evading Zeon forces, before crash-landing on Earth and attempting to reach allied territory. The elements of the original Mobile Suit Gundam eventually make their way over to Gundam SEED, with the Archangel, Murrue Ramius and Kira Yamato replacing White Base, Bright Noa and Amuro Ray, respectively.
- Bright presents himself as a strict leader who does his utmost to rally those around him, and believes in discipline. This is how he’s able to maintain order and a command hierarchy amongst the civilians that have boarded White Base; besides Amuro, Fraw Bow, Kai Shinden and Hayato Kobayashi also join White Base’s crew. In The Origin, Kai Shinden and his friends are portrayed as minor delinquents who get into hot water with authority figures owing to their curiosity and disregard for rules, but when the events at Side Seven force them into combat, Amuro and his friends, however reluctantly, do become an integral part of the Federation effort to repel the Zeon forces.
- Mirai Yashima was previously seen as a helmsman of sorts in Gundam Origin and becomes White Base’s helmsman, as well – she offers advice to Bright where appropriate and is seen guiding him whenever he doubts his own leadership; being astute and driven to improve, Bright often reflects on the way he does things. Here, he wonders if he’s being too strict on Amuro and the others. From an external point of view, Bright is doing precisely the right thing. I recall a similar conversation in Tom Clancy’s Locked On, where John Clark reminds Jack Ryan Jr. that chains of command exist so soldiers act cohesively under stress, but he understands how can be difficult for civilians to get used to this fact.
- Bright’s orders are simple enough: his higher-ups order him to send out a reconnaissance team to investigate Alegranza, and to this end, the Gundam, plus two Guncannons, are sent out. The island appears uninhabited, until children suddenly appear and begin throwing rocks at Kai’s Guncannon. The presence of children on Alegranza foreshadow what Cucuruz Doan’s Island deals with, and meanwhile, Amuro himself wonders at what awaits them on an island that’s a little too quiet. The designs of the cockpits in Cucuruz Doan’s Island and The Origin speak volumes to how quickly mobile suits advance. Here in UC 0079, cockpits use flat-panel monitors and analogue controls, but by the events of UC 0093, cockpits are immensely sophisticated and provide a full 360° panorama.
- When The Origin concluded back in July 2018, I was a little disappointed that the series hadn’t given viewers a cameo appearance of the RX-78 II, which had been shown to be in development as being the answer for Zeon’s Zaku mobile suits. The Origin did give viewers a glimpse of Bright Noa and White Base as they set off on their first assignment to retrieve the RX-78 II, and overall, when I finished The Origin, I was immensely satisfied. The Origin began back when I was in graduate school, and originally, I’d figured that it would finish similarly by the time I was graduating; the third episode aired a month before my defense, and the fourth episode was scheduled close to my convocation.
- However, the producers determined that more episodes were needed to adequately present the story. Two new episodes were added to the line-up, greatly expanding things and also giving The Origin a chance to showcase the large-scale battles between Zeon and the Federation. Here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, viewers get their first look at the completed RX-78 II, a revolutionary mobile suit that uses mega-particles to drive its weapons system, giving it exceptional firepower. Amuro is prevented from using his beam rifle at close quarters, which is capable of destroying any mobile suit of its time with a single shot, and when facing off against Cururuz’s Zaku, he is forced to switch over to his beam sabres.
- Pushed against the cliff, Amuro attempts to attack, only for the ground to give way. He tumbles into the ocean and is knocked unconscious, but later reawakens in a small hut and is surprised to learn that the door isn’t locked. The islanders look at him with hostility – it turns out that the children on the island were orphaned by the One Year War and dislike soldiers for failing to protect the people. Cururuz does nothing to stop Amuro from leaving, knowing the island’s harsh conditions will soon result in Amuro returning to them.
- Since he’d had a rough idea of where the Gundam had fallen, Amuro attempts to trek across the five kilometre wide island on his own. He ends up at a massive crater in the island and is forced to turn back as both night and exhaustion sets in. Early on, it was clear that Amuro would not find the Gundam this quickly: had he simply located it, he likely would’ve left and rejoined White Base as they prepared for the operation at Odessa. This wouldn’t allow Amuro to see the One Year War from a different perspective, which is the crux of Cucuruz Doan’s Island‘s story.
- Knowing that Amuro would be struggling in the island’s desolate landscape, Cururuz sends Cara out to look for him, and she is shocked to learn that Amuro had made it all the way to the crater. He gratefully accepts the water she’s brought, along with her invitation to dinner. In his position, Amuro quickly realises that he must make his way back to White Base, without the Gundam, things will become trickier. His heart never strays from locating his machine, but for now, Amuro also spots that he’s probably going to be here for a while.
- The children on the island initially do not take kindly to Amuro’s presence. As an outsider and a soldier, Amuro is seen as being a threat and unaccustomed to the way Cururuz does things. However, Amuro appears to show no objection to Cururuz’s suggestion that he’ll need to earn his keep on the island, much as the others do. While the island life would deviate from what Amuro is used to, spending time in the armed forces, under Bright’s eye slowly begins imparting a shift in him, too; Amuro becomes acclimatised to doing what he’s told and living a spartan life.
- I would imagine that landing on the island and doing what he can to survive reinforces what Bright had been trying to show Amuro; although Bright had been vehemently opposed to Amuro piloting the Gundam early on, he quickly spots that Amuro has a natural affinity for the machine and is the only one capable of using it to keep the Zeon forces off their back. Thus, when Amuro refuses to pilot the Gundam and evade his responsibility in Mobile Suit Gundam, Bright motivates him in one of Gundam‘s most iconic moments with the now-legendary Bright Slap.
- That Cururuz Doan’s Island brings this moment back (in flashback) with modernised visuals would represent a welcoming call-back to the original series. The moment is referenced in numerous other series – Amuro’s “not even my own father hit me” is as well recognised as the Bright Slap itself, and as a curious bit of trivia, Amuro’s voice actor, Tōru Furuya, similarly was struck by author Yoshiyuki Tomino after Tomino became displeased with the recording sessions’ progress. Tomino then told Furuya that all of the shock and indignation he’d felt there was how Amuro would be feeling, which in turn became Furuya’s now-famous delivery of those lines in Mobile Suit Gundam.
- Upon learning that Amuro might’ve been shot down, Bright struggles to do what he believes is right (delaying departure and rescuing Amuro), and following orders from the top. Bright is in an unenviable position; although there is a war to fight, the Gundam has become a significant asset in their arsenal and, together with White Base’s cutting edge equipment, has been the reason why a novice crew has been able to give Zeon forces so much trouble. As Bright contemplates following orders, Fraw Bow loses composure and breaks out in tears at the though of losing Amuro.
- Meanwhile, M’Quve and Gopp enter negotiations about Gibraltar: M’Quve wishes for the Federation to hold off on their operation and indicates they have an ace-in-the-hole in event of the Federation’s refusal to comply. Gopp appears unconcerned with M’Quve’s threats, but M’Quve is confident in his ability to make good on his promises should the invasion proceed. At this point in time, the Antarctic Treaty prevents both Zeon and Federation forces from resorting to weapons of mass destruction, but M’Quve indicates that Zeon isn’t particularly respectful of their terms. Although prima facie giving Zeon a massive advantage, Zeon actually had limited resources to wage war long-term, and this would buy enough time for the Federation to rebuild their forces, including the development of their own mobile suits.
- M’Quve’s plan is contingent on something stored on Alegranza, and whatever this is is important enough to warrant withdrawing the elite Southern Cross team. With their high mobility Zakus (which would inspire the high mobility Tieren in Gundam 00), the Southern Cross are able to turn the entire tide of a battle on their own. At Casablanca, they rescue a detachment of Zeon forces that were slowly being overrun by Federation forces: high mobility Zakus are equipped with thrusters on their legs that allow them to hover and move with a far greater speed than standard Zakus.
- Each of the Southern Cross’ Zakus utilise a loadout suited to the pilot’s preferences, and here, one of the members fires an anti-materiel rifle against a Federation GM, blowing its head unit apart with a single well-placed shot. The team’s members only nominally get along with one another, but in the battlefield, their coordination and teamwork are sufficient to overwhelm the comparatively disorganised Federation GMs. GMs have the unfortunate distinction of being easily destroyed, and in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, their simplistic design belie the fact that they’re still sophisticated machines meant to act as the Federation’s answer for the Zaku.
- The disparity in machines appears to be the fact that, while Zakus are technically inferior to GMs, Zeon possesses better pilots – The Origin shows that Zeon’s mobile suit program has existed for longer than the Federations, giving them additional time to train pilots. While the Federation’s Gundam and the GM derivatives are excellent machines, their pilots are significantly less familiar with them, nullifying any technical advantage the GMs possess. Mobile suit combat in Cucuruz Doan’s Island might not be as frequent as one might expect, but this is in keeping with the film’s themes, and moreover, what combat sequences that are shown are wonderfully animated, really showing the weight and scale of each engagement between individual pilots.
- The lack of mobile suit combat in Cucuruz Doan’s Island was a point of contention for Anime News Network, who suggested that the Southern Cross are “shallow filler” and the film as a whole was “[lacking] of variety in the action”. As previously noted, the emphasis on the human side of things in Cucuruz Doan’s Island means that more time is spent on Amuro interacting with Cucuruz and the islanders. The Southern Cross are therefore less of a foe than Amuro’s own doubts; while he was knocked out, Amuro dreams uneasily of his own mother rejecting his decision to take up arms, and Amuro himself is torn between using force to defend those important to him.
- As such, it is plain that Anime News Network’s expectations of Gundam clearly differ than my own, and I’ll remark that folks looking for intense mobile suit combat set in the Universal Century won’t be disappointed by works like Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt. Back in Cururuz Doan’s Island, Cururuz is seen working on the schematics to what appears to be an MIRV, but there is never any doubt in the viewers’ minds that he’s no sleeper operative; in a flashback, Cururuz refuses to fire on civilians, and this is what led him to desert. When Amuro sets off to try and find his Gundam, Cururuz lends him his hat and canteen – he knows that Amuro can’t stay on the island forever.
- Back on White Base, the children have barricaded themselves in the bathroom and refuse to come out until the crew promise to rescue Amuro. Although there is little Bright can openly do about things, he clandestinely authorises a search and rescue mission. Sleggar Law, an ace pilot, decides to help out, and after managing to convince the children to come back out, organises the search team. Sleggar forms the basis for Gundam SEED‘s Mu La Flaga: both are amicable and exceptionally skilled pilots, but also have a tendency to flirt with the ladies. When Sleggar explains his plan to Sayla here, he earns himself admonishment to the face.
- In the end, Sleggar is able to convince Sayla to operate the Core Booster, although Kai and Hayato are exasperated that Sleggar used such a means to accomplish his goal. Moments like these quickly indicated to me that Cucuruz Doan’s Island was going to incorporate humour together with the more serious moments, and while this seems out of place in Gundam, it is effective because it reminds viewers that behind every machine is a human being. Later Gundam series are all-business; there are some moments that may elicit a chuckle here and there, but on the whole, comedy is not something Gundam is known for. Thus, in an episode about the human aspects of warfare, it is appropriate to give the viewers a few more laughs.
- Amuro reaches the end of the island, and upon finding the spot where there are mobile suit footprints, he realises that his Gundam must’ve fallen into the ocean. He turns back, defeated, and soon, finds that the islanders have encountered a new problem: despite a massive rainfall, they’re out of fresh water. Cucuruz and Marco are heading off to fix things, and without anything else to do, Amuro decides to accompany them. This decision turns out to be a good one; Cucuruz quickly identifies that while their water supply is fine, the line itself has broken.
- Cucuruz is too broad to fit through the opening in the cave, and Marco hesitates upon seeing how tricky the walls are. Conversely, Amuro volunteers to go and does his task admirably; after reaching the break, he seals it and repairs the line, allowing water to return to the islanders. Marco ends up growing resentful of Amuro, feeling that his thunder was stolen, while Amuro’s stock among the islanders improve. Between his prior experiences on White Base, and his own skill with mechanical systems, Amuro is well-equipped to deal with some of the islanders’ problems.
- It turns out that Cucuruz’s main work on the island is devoted towards altering a launch system belonging to Zeon. Through his work, Cucuruz is able to jam any external communications to the weapons, preventing Zeon forces from remotely firing the ballistic missile. This control room notably has what appears to be a .30 calibre machine gun port, allowing the launch controls to be defended in case of an attack, but the flipside is that such a system could also be used by unauthorised forces to fend off anyone trying to stop a launch; it shows Zeon’s faith in their own soldiers’ loyalty.
- The Southern Cross’ Egba Atler is their current leader. A hot-blooded and brash pilot dead-set on proving that he’s a superior leader to Cucuruz, he becomes violent when Danan Rashica expresses interest in their latest assignment. Danan seems to be star-struck at the prospect of meeting Cucuruz, a consequence of hearing about the latter’s legendary exploits when he’d been a pilot, but all Egba sees is a traitor who discarded his duty. For Egba, nothing would give him greater satisfaction than squaring off against their former leader to settle who’s the more suitable pilot once and for all. To save their teammate from a physical beating, Danan’s teammates restrain Egba and buy him enough time to escape.
- Pilot Selma Livens, on the other hand, had similarly respected Cucuruz, but is more reserved about things. In combat, she’s confident and capable, but she feels that Egba is not as effective as Cucuruz had been. Egba resembles both Dozle Zabi and the Black Tri-Stars in temperament. While Anime News Network’s reviewer found the Zeon pilots to be “filler”, I disagree with this sentiment on the grounds that the Southern Cross are simply a team of pilots who were sent in to advance M’Quve’s plans as a part of a larger political game. The choice to pick the Southern Cross rather than a generic outfit is deliberate; a special forces team would create additional tension in a way that unnamed soldiers would not.
- Generally speaking, I don’t place much stock in Anime News Network and their movie reviews. Given what I’ve seen there for film reviews, it appears that criticisms are doled out for criticisms’ sake, rather than as a result of any legitimate shortcomings in a given movie. In a review, the negatives end up being only touched upon, as though all reviews are subject to a quota of criticism in order for Anime News Network to appear informed and relevant. This was most apparent with their reviews for Non Non Biyori Vacation and Violet Evergarden: The Movie: both film’s successes are callously brushed off in a few sentences, and no additional justification (or evidence) for the remarks were given.
- I’ve long found that criticisms in a vacuum are meaningless; if one is to criticise, then one must also either offer suggestions for improvement, or acknowledge the reasons behind why a given work may have turned out the way it did. For me, I only will make remarks on improvements if a limitation particularly noticeable, and the Southern Cross don’t come across as such. Back in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, Sayla and Sleggar prepare to launch. The search and rescue mission is something Bright has approved of – he was originally shocked to learn that the operation at Alegranza was called off after Gibraltar became a larger priority and struggled to make the call. In the end, Bright places his faith in Amuro and the Gundam.
- To this end, Bright stages a scenario where White Base is still attempting to prepare for take-off: with just about every part of the ship seemingly seeing delays or problems, Bright gives the impression to Federation command that they’ll need a little more time before they can go anywhere. This charade buys White Base enough time to recover Amuro from Alegranza: Salya, Sleggar, Hayato and Kai have all taken off for the island with the goal of bringing Amuro back, and this time, Fraw Bow and the children accompany them, as well.
- Mirai’s suppressed laughter speaks volumes to the light-hearted nature of their ruse, and reinforces the fact that outside of Zeon and Federation atrocities, the soldiers are ultimately human. Bright’s decision here also speaks more loudly about what’s in his heart: while he voices doubt about pushing Amuro too hard or even treating him harshly, choosing to delay departure, against orders, shows that Bright places great stock in Amuro and the Gundam. This is something that will later impact how Bright operates; in Gundam Unicorn, Bright’s been around the block long enough to know that any worthy Gundam pilot can achieve whatever they set their mind to and as such, places his faith in their ability and resolve. This is what motivates his speech to Banagher shortly before the Garuda transfer, and there, Banagher would prove that Bright’s intuition is on the money, a result of years of working with Gundam pilots.
- When a massive storm slams into Alegranza, Amuro decides to look around and see if he can get the power up and running: while life on Alegranza is relatively cozy, the residents don’t have access to power. Some of the children are deathly afraid of the dark, and when the storm appears, they become inconsolable. With a deft hand for repairs, Amuro ends up not only restoring power to the cottage, but also fixes the lighthouse. Marco and the others are overjoyed with this; the residents have long discussed fixing the lighthouse but lacked the knowhow to do so.
- With the lights back on, the children are much happier, and Marco admits he’s happy to have Amuro around. The two reconcile here, but when Cururuz arrives, he states that Amuro’s actions were a mistake – he deliberately kept the lighthouse and electrical power offline to avoid drawing any attention to the island. The addition of power would broadcast to the world that the island was inhabited and worth looking at. Shortly after, both Amuro’s allies and the Southern Cross spot the lighthouse, removing any doubt in their mind that Cucuruz must be there.
- Kai and the others’ original plan had been to land on the island and quickly retrieve Amuro, along with his Gundam. However, the mission suddenly becomes considerably more dangerous when they spot the Zeon forces approaching the island. In previous Gundam, mass production units have been presented as a bit of a joke: unnamed pilots are typically slaughtered whole-sale, and often presented as standing still when under fire. I appreciate that this is done to illustrate a disparity in power, similarly to how in Hollywood films, exotic machines and monsters can make short work of F-22s and M1A2s, which are, in reality, impressive machines.
- However, seeing Zakus in The Origin was a reminder that even the mass production machines can be formidable. I would’ve liked to have seen more battles between basic Zakus and GMs, but here in Cururuz Doan’s Island, the final battle feels tense even with only a squad of machines; having spent the whole film seeing the children in Cara and Cucuruz’s care, it always felt that Cururuz would have his hands full in trying to keep the battle away from the other islanders. I imagine that for the Southern Cross, they’ve got no information about the islanders and are here purely to neutralise Cururuz and get the launch mechanism working again.
- When Sayla and Sleggar arrive, an iconic Mobile Suit Gundam theme begins playing. It’s titled “Fear of Battle”, and here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, the song has been modernised while at the same time, retaining the aesthetic of the original, which had been composed with a disco-opera tone, blending the grandeur of space opera music similar to John William’s Star Wars with 1970s disco elements. The modernised version has a slightly heavier tenour and a richer sound, but beyond this, is immediately recognisable. Overall, the music in Cucuruz Doan’s Island is of an excellent quality – Takayuki Hattori repraises his role from The Origin as composer.
- Unfortunately for Kai and Hayato, Sayla and Sleggar’s arrival do little for them: the Core Booster’s taken damage and Sayla is forced to make a crash landing, dislodging Sleggar’s GM and causing its head to pop off. Sleggar is thus unable to contribute in a meaningful way to the combat after shooting down the aircraft carrying the Zakus, and while this puts the Guncannons in a difficult position, this moment also creates comedy reminiscent of what is seen in a 1970s anime. Both Hayato and Kai manage to escape their machines’ destruction, and before the Southern Cross finish them off, Cururuz finally arrives.
- One of the joys about writing Gundam posts is that there’s almost never a shortage of screenshots to draw from, and correspondingly, no shortage of things to talk about. For this post, I started with a screenshot collection totalling 258 images, and had to cut it down to a more manageable sixty. While I could, in theory, find enough content to discuss regarding the mobile suits themselves, this would result in exceedingly long posts that I’m certain readers would have no interest in reading (and writing extremely long posts takes an inordinate amount of time, as well).
- Wald disembarks his Zaku and enters the control room, where he finds Cucuruz’s handiwork. He quickly overrides the changes Curucuz had made and re-arms the ballistic missile, which begins counting down for a launch. Confident he’s done his duty, he prepares to his Zaku. Meanwhile, Marco and Amuro have managed to sneak into the hangar; Amuro is unaccustomed to swimming the underwater passage and ends up swallowing water. Marco revives him, and the pair manage to reach the Gundam. They are noticed by Yun, who sets off to investigate.
- Yun ends up following Amuro and Marco into the hangar, where he finds a curtain covering a mobile suit cage. Upon pulling the curtain back, Yun is horrified to find himself face-to-face with the White Devil. Amuro swiftly activates the Gundam’s beam sabre and burns a hole in Yun’s Zaku, killing him instantly. At this point in time, the Gundam’s already developed a fearsome reputation amongst Zeon’s pilots. It is here that Marco realises that Amuro is similar to Cucuruz – he’d developed a respect for Amuro after the latter had repaired the island’s power supply, but to see Amuro willfully use a mobile suit and deal lethal damage shows Marco the sort of resolve Amuro must have.
- For Amuro, operating a mobile suit is a morally tricky duty because it entails taking lives during the line of duty. During a flashback, Amuro recalls his mother’s shock that he would pick up a weapon and pull the trigger. However, the flipside of this is, if Amuro lets an opponent live, they might return and kill others important to oneself. Thus, when Amuro spots Wald trying to reach his Zaku, he decides to trample him with the Gundam. This kill mirrors how in war, difficult decisions must be made, and also shows how Amuro is prepared to take a life if it means saving other lives, although he retains enough of his humanity to feel remorse for what he must do.
- Back on the surface, Cucuruz decimates the Southern Cross. Danan is positively honoured to die at the legendary Cucuruz Doan’s hands, while Selma wonders why things had to turn out this way when Cucuruz smashes her Zaku. While Federation GMs use beam sabres as their melee weapon, early Zakus are armed with heat hawks: these hand-axes have a super-heated blade that utilises thermal energy transferred from the Zaku’s main reactor, and generate enough energy to both cut through armour and resist a beam sabre, although its small size means it’s a weapon that takes skill to wield effectively.
- Soon, only Egba remains: he’s a cut above even the other Southern Cross pilots, and is intent on taking Cucuruz down himself. His Zaku is equipped with a heat sabre, a blade composed of a shape memory polymer that allows the sabre’s blade to be stored while not in use. Heat sabres work on the same principle as a heat hawk, with the polymer conducting heat from the Zaku’s reactor to augment its cutting ability. For their efficacy, superheating the polymer would cause it to degrade rapidly, meaning that heat sabres ultimately have a limited lifespan and are thus discarded after use.
- While Egba is focused on fighting Cucuruz, Kai and his team encounter Cara and the children, who are chasing after the island’s one goat. Cucuruz Doan’s Island had hints of humour interspersed throughout its run, but it is here that Kai and Hayato’s misfortunes are made light of – the goat lifts them into the air and the moment is frozen in stills for posterity. Gundam employing humour to this extent is uncommon (Gundam SEED and Gundam 00 were, for the most part, deadly serious), but the presence of children creates the opportunity for creating lighthearted moments that act as a break in tensions.
- However, even with the bit of comedy offered by a goat and White Base’s more hapless crew, Egba’s determination to finish off Cucuruz is real; he hammers into Cucuruz’s Zaku, and while Cucuruz is able to hold his own, Egba ends up disarming Cucuruz. Cucuruz refuses to give up, but a hail of 60 mm rounds suddenly distract Egba. With Cucuruz disarmed and nearly beaten, Egba turns his attention towards the Gundam, confident that he can beat it.
- The moment had felt grim when Cucuruz had fallen, but with the Gundam’s arrival, the mood tangibly shifts. Fraw Bow is overjoyed to see the Gundam arrive, and the heroic incidental music speaks to the fact that this is Amuro’s time to shine. Use of music is a classic storytelling element, and longtime viewers can often guess at what will happen next based purely on what themes play. Of course, in shows where the hero’s theme plays, the outcome of a battle will almost feel preordained; in Gundam Unicorn, for instance, whenever the Unicorn motif is heard, Banagher is certain to do some damage.
- For this fight, Amuro has access to only the Gundam’s beam sabres, having discarded his beam rifle earlier whilst fighting Cucuruz. The Gundam’s beam rifle was a first for mobile suits. Up until this point, mobile suits had carried kinetic weapons. Zeon’s Zakus carried machine guns that were powerful enough to puncture the hulls of Federation ships and shred their fighters, but against the Gundam’s armour, these weapons proved ineffectual. Conversely, the Gundam’s beam rifle fired rounds as powerful as those of a battleship’s main gun, allowing it to destroy mobile suits trivially.
- Without the beam rifle, Amuro is pressed into close quarters combat, and while Egba is a powerful foe, Amuro holds his own, counting on the Gundam’s superior technology. However, after landing on a ledge, Amuro quickly spots that he’s in the same scenario he was in when he first fought Cucuruz – the perilous cliff edge overlooking the ocean had been his downfall earlier, and now, Amuro realises he can use the terrain to his advantage. This is significant because it would show Amuro learning to think tactically and utilise every element available in a fight, rather than purely depending on the Gundam’s power.
- To this end, Amuro utilises the Gundam’s vulcans to force Egba off-balance, creating an opening in which to strike him down with. Vulcans in Gundam are typically 60 mm, and fire at very high rates. However, in Gundam, rounds appear to deal much less damage than their calibres suggest: 60 mm rounds are considered to be only really useful for soft targets and point defense against missiles. Similarly, Zakus fire 100 mm rounds that do negligible damage to the Gundam’s armour. However, in reality, even 30 mm rounds have anti-armour capabilites, and 100 mm rounds are approaching the size of the shells used in tank guns. This likely speaks to the necessity of using beam rifles and beam sabres, given the defensive capabilities that mobile suits possess with respect to their armour.
- The advent of beam weapons lead to a paradigm shift in mobile suit design: less emphasis is placed on armour, and newer designs will favour speed. Although cutting-edge mobile suits like the RX-93 ν Gundam and RX-0 Unicorn possess an I-field, capable of deflecting beams, even these have limitations. As such, for newer mobile suits, firepower is life, and speed is life insurance. Of course, in 0079, mobile suits are still a nascent technology, and so, Amuro has the advantage where weapons are concerned. While successful in defeating Egba, Amuro is unable to prevent the ballistic missile from launching. In the heat of battle to protect the islanders, the ballistic missile and its MIRV payload is forgotten.
- For M’Quve, the Southern Cross appear to have succeeded in their efforts to reactivate the ballistic missile on Alegranza. In this moment of triumph, he watches the missile launch, while the horrified Federation Navy hastily launch cruise missiles in a bid to intercept the ballistic missile. Ballistic missile interception during the boost phase is desperately tricky – while the missile is vulnerable during this time owing to its fuel stores, it is rapidly accelerating, limiting the intercept window. Unsurprisingly, the missiles the Federation send out cannot reach their mark, and the ICBM manages to disperse its nuclear warheads.
- To everyone’s surprise, the warheads suddenly detonate shortly after they enter the mid-course phase. Gopp is relieved; although M’Quve called his bluff, Cucuruz’s intervention single-handedly saves tens of millions of lives, and with Zeon’s bargaining chip gone, the Federation is able to push forwards with their assault on Gibraltar ahead of their plans to capture Odessa. In the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Amuro’s visiting of Alegranza was plagued with production issues, and while it aired in Japan, never was shown in English releases. The story, while seemingly a detour, contributes greatly to Amuro’s growth and also shows some of the behind-the-scenes of how the Federation’s counteroffensive against Zeon begins.
- For Cucuruz, although he was beaten in mobile suit combat, he was successful in preventing unimaginable casualties. The fact that Zeon was willing to resort to such means speaks both to their disregard for life and perception of the Federation’s people as being little more than obstacles; The Origin had shown the Zabi family as being quite divided on how they wanted to handle the war. Degwin had been hoping for a quick war and negotiations until the “Zeon is Exhausted” speech spurs him to keep fighting, while both Gihren and Kycilia had more militaristic ambitions. On the other hand, Dozle is a loyal soldier who genuinely fights for his people’s survival. Cucuruz is relieved to have survived, and that his actions have prevented the war from escalating.
- The dynamic between Fraw Bow and Amuro is probably one of the more subtle but relatable aspects of Mobile Suit Gundam: early in their journey, she sticks with him, but as Amuro begins developing feelings for the other women that come into his life, and Fraw Bow begins seeing Amuro’s best friend, Hayato, instead. This is a natural progression in life, and both friendships and crushes do not endure forever. For now, however, the two are still relatively close – Fraw Bow tearfully embraces Amuro after he defeats Egba, relieved he’s alright. In the aftermath, the White Base crew part ways with Cucuruz and the islanders after Amuro chucks Cucuruz’s Zaku into the ocean, feeling that the only way to really be free of the fight is to live a peaceful life on the island without any weapons.
- With this excursion over, the children on board White Base bid farewell to the islanders on Alegranza, and White Base itself prepares to head on over to Gibraltar for the next step of its operation. Cucuruz Doan’s Island ends up being a meaningful, self-contained story that helps viewers to see one set of events that would come to shape how he fights as a pilot, and for this reason, Curucuz Doan’s Island can be seen as a necessary stop rather than a detour. Seeing the growth and evolution of Gundam pilots is something that always captivated me: from watching Setsuna F. Seiei become more mindful and attuned to those around him, Kira Yamato become increasingly willing to fight once he realises he can do so without unnecessarily taking life, or Banagher realising that he has a responsibility to see something through, Gundam series have typically done a fine job of showing how people can rise to the occassion.
- As such, when it comes to the autumn’s Witch of Mercury, my expectations remain consistent with what they’ve been for every other Gundam work I’ve seen previously. To be an enjoyable series, Witch of Mercury must deliver on three fronts. Firstly, the protagonists must mature in a meaningful way to mirror the interplay between responsibility and capability (as a pilot experiences things, they become more suited for using their power to defend what is dear to them). Second, I do not wish for unnecessary drama at the interpersonal level, since Gundam has always been about individual response (and eventually, rising up) to challenges at scale. Finally, combat choreography must be of a high calibre, at least as smooth and visually fluid as Gundam 00. Gundam 00 is now more than a decade old, but it set the bar for what’s possible with Gundam, and therefore, is the yardstick I gauge other Gundam fights against. In the Universal Century, mobile suits are heavier, but the fights are still well-choreographed.
- Cucuruz looks on as White Base departs from Alegranza; his encounter with Amuro leaves him a changed man, as well, and without the burden of a Zaku to maintain, as well as a Zeon silo to sabotage, a great weight is lifted from his chest, allowing him to fully devote himself to a peaceful life on Alegranza without worrying that Zeon or the Federation will show up again. It is here that I will note that Cucuruz’s name sounds quite similar to that of Kukuru Misakino from The Aquatope on White Sand – the two are prima facie about as different as night and day, but on closer inspection, both Cucuruz and Kukuru care very much about the things around them.
- A look at the blog’s archive finds that mid-June does seem to be the month when I write about Gundam films: in 2019, it was Gundam Narrative, and then last year, I had the chance to watch Hathaway’s Flash. This year, the streak continues with Cucuruz Doan’s Island, and I finish this discussion just in time to celebrate Father’s Day with the family; my parents were treated to a Korean fried chicken dinner from a nearby joint. We ended up going for chicken three ways (crispy, garlic-soy and Gang-Jeong style) with a side of fries; Korean fried chicken is a bit pricier than our go-to Southern fried chicken, but the cost is reflected in the fact that the chicken is fried to crispy perfection while remaining tender and juicy.
- Cucuruz Doan’s Island concludes with Cucuruz fulfilling a promise of properly celebrating a young boy’s birthday, complete with a cake. It’s a fitting close to the film and shows that Cucuruz is determined to preserving the peace on his island. Even without a Zaku, Cucuruz can still do this by looking after the island’s children with Cara. Altogether, Cucuruz Doan’s Island is a superb and insightful addition to the Universal Century timeline, and I would count this film an A (4.0 of 4.0, or for folks more familiar with the ten point scale, 9.0 of ten): this movie is a chance to see the RX-78 II remastered, something I’d wanted to see since The Origin ended, and on top of this, tells a meaningful story. While yes, it would’ve been nice to see more mobile suit combat, I appreciate that this isn’t the story’s primary objective, and what combat we did get was still of a superb quality.
Altogether, Alegranza Cucuruz Doan’s Island represents a remarkable show of how the original Mobile Suit Gundam was set in a universe that could tell a compelling story, and how with a fresh coat of paint, the classic story of the One Year War and the first Gundam could reach new audiences: Mobile Suit Gundam introduced elements that are now iconic in the Gundam franchise, but it has not aged particularly well. Inconsistencies in animation resulted in some segments of the story being removed, and Cucuruz Doan’s Island is one of them. However, seeing Cucuruz Doan’s Island brought into the present, while at the same time, remaining respectful of Mobile Suit Gundam‘s original aesthetic, sets one exciting precedence for what could be possible. A fully remastered portrayal of White Base and Amuro’s exploits during the One Year War would not only introduce new fans to where the story began, but for existing fans, it would be a phenomenal experience that breathes new life into memorable scenes. Such a project would be fraught with challenges: for one, some die-hard fans would be unwilling to accept any remaster that isn’t completely faithful to the original. Similarly to how Halo: Anniversary was criticised for altering the aesthetic in some missions, reducing the suspense the level designs conveyed, there is always a possibility that a remaster may make changes that could disappoint some. On the other hand, when a remaster is respectful of the original while modernising the visuals, it can be successful. Halo 2 Anniversary is one such experience, being a direct upgrade to its predecessor without dramatically changing the aesthetic that was present in the original. A Mobile Suit Gundam remaster that is done similarly to how Halo 2 Anniversary was done would be a welcome experience, and I’d certianly watch it in a heartbeat. In the meantime, Cucuruz Doan’s Island has been a superb experience, one that places a greater emphasis on the human sides of warfare and at the same time, portraying mobile suit battles as being a very intense and personal experience in ways that are possible now thanks to significant advances in animation methods and technology. Cucuruz Doan’s Island becomes an essential experience for Universal Century fans, updating all of the visuals in the Universal Century to modern standards and presenting excellent insight into Amuro’s character through a detour that would ultimately contribute to how he fights his battles, giving him the resolve and strength needed to stand toe-to-toe with Zeon’s legendary Red Comet.