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‘Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island’

Mobile Suit Gundam is a Japanese animated (anime) franchise that has been around since 1979, predating other popular series like Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z. It has spawned several other anime series, manga (Japanese comics), movies, games and more, with the latest being a movie titled Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island.

When most Americans think of giant combat robots, they probably think of the Transformers franchise, but Mobile Suit Gundam was in Japan about five years earlier. The basic concept of each iteration of the show is that in the distant future, humanity is building city-sized satellite communities known as colonies into which people have immigrated by the thousands.

Along with these dwellings, mankind has also invented large mechanical weapons for warfare, controlled by humans. They are called Mobile Suits, with the strongest being called Gundams. Common themes in the Mobile Suit Gundam shows include pacifism, war, Earth vs. Colony conflicts, and the negative effects of active combat on teenagers drawn into the conflict.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island fits right in the middle of the original MSG series, which first aired in 1979. In fact, the original premise for this film was included in an episode of the TV series, but when the show came to America, the Cucuruz Doan’s Island episode was not included. Fast forward to today, and the footage is now being expanded into a film for western audiences to see in theaters, courtesy of Crunchyroll.

The story of MSG:CDI follows a group of mostly civilians from a devastated space colony who find themselves aboard a prototype ship called the White Base. The main conflict of the narrative is between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon, which declares its independence from the Federation and consists mostly of people living in the space colonies.

Zeon agents discover that White Base is visiting a space colony called Side 7, where a powerful new mobile suit, the RX-78 Gundam, will be loaded onto the ship. These agents destroy the colony, killing most of the civilians and military personnel. In desperation, a teenager named Amuro Ray pilots the Gundam to protect the few remaining civilians who land at White Base and flee the shattered colony, whose lives are now locked in a bitter war.

MSG:CDI is set on a small island off the coast of Europe. White Base has landed on Earth and is tasked with investigating why Earth Federation mobile suits traveling to the island never return. Amuro Ray (Toru Furuya) is sent with a few others to land on the island and see what happens. While exploring the island, Amuro is attacked by a mysterious mobile suit and defeated, his Gundam falling off a cliff towards the sea. When a massive storm breaks out over the island, his companions flee to regroup, leaving him behind.

Amuro wakes up in a bed with bandaged wounds and discovers that a group of children live on the island with a woman named Cara (Fu Hirohara) and a Zeon deserter named Doan (Shunsuke Takeuchi), who attacks intruders with his mobile suit and defend the island from all sides, be it Zaft or Earth Federation.

MSG:CDI is a classic example of humanizing the enemy and showing the main character that there are good people on both sides of the Zaft/Earth Federation conflict. Up until this point in the story, Amuro went from battle to battle, being pursued by Zaft forces and watching them destroy his home and injure his friends. Yet here he finds a former Zaft soldier who has not only spared his life, fed him, and bandaged his wounds, but also tended to a dozen seemingly orphaned children.

For a day or two, Amuro goes back to being a normal teenager, doing chores around the island, watching the kids do mundane things like washing dishes, gardening, milking the goats, and more. He repairs their water system and gets the electricity flowing again in the lighthouse they live in. The film has a nice mix of action and slower moments that allow the characters and story to breathe.

The complex ethics of war and what it means to be a soldier, as well as being forced to fight to defend loved ones, are at home in the narrative of MSG:CDI. Original series fans should enjoy the film, which induces a certain level of nostalgia for Mobile Suit Gundam.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the film is its animation. The familiar characters look like they’ve been lifted straight out of the 1979 TV series, and that’s a refreshing choice rather than giving them updated designs or a new art style. Maintaining the original 2D animation art style shows loyalty to the show that started it all.

In the meantime, the mobile suits themselves are updated and beautifully rendered in 3DCG and mixed with 2D backgrounds in a wonderful mix of old and new. The explosions and fire of each battle look spectacular and the mobile suits move with an intense flare that will delight any Gundam fan.

“MSG:CDI” is not a film for series newcomers. Since the central story comes directly from an episode of the original TV series (albeit with a welcome extension), viewers who haven’t seen the original series (or at least the first third of it) will be quite lost and unfamiliar with the hero amuro

MSG:CDI will be in theaters on Tuesday and Wednesday, giving those who want to see it on the big screen only a limited window to do so.

‘Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island’

86 Cast: Satomi Arai, Misato Fukuen, Toshio Furukawa, Toru Furuya, Megumi Han

Directed by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko

Rating: PG-13

Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

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