Goats From a Small Island – Some Thoughts on Cucuruz Doan’s Island (that aren’t about its production history)
There is not much to say about the peculiar production history of Cucuruz Doan’s Island – the “missing episode” of Mobile Suit Gundam – that has not already been discussed, or made apparent in interviews. Nevertheless, the recent film made retelling the episode’s story is very interesting in how it is, I think, one of the truest Gundam sidestories in terms of thematic and tonal similarity to that original TV anime. This is actually very notable as a lot of Universal Century sidestories, I feel, take the ideas of the original series and reinvent them in different genres – Stardust Memory is very big and bold, aspiring to be grown-up action film stuff. Unicorn is a fairly dense and almost spiritual story with political conspiracies and ideas of philosophy. The fact is they represent attempts, I think, to appeal to audiences who want something different from Gundam than just the original TV series.
The closest thematic neighbour to Doan’s Island is War in the Pocket. That is an OVA I like a lot, because its aspect of Gundam it brings to the forefront is the disconnect between the exciting action for children to enjoy and the human cost of all that, through a story that is simple, sad and generally well told. Similarly, Doan’s Island focuses on the human cost of the big battles and what happens when someone is done with all that and tries to live their own life. It is a film quite free of incident for a lot of it; Doan lives with the orphans he saved, defends his farm from both sides of the war, and rejects all calls to return to conflict outside of self-defence. Amuro enters this scene and adapts to it, himself learning arguably both what he fights for but also the human cost of fighting. It isn’t a remarkably complicated film and it is by no means a subtle one. But that simplicity and explicit storytelling – combined with its decidedly happy ending – is what makes it feel truer to what TV Gundam was like.
War in the Pocket is an inevitable slide to tragedy where the situation is so bad, so unsalvageable, that conflict and death of a sympathetic soldier figure is inevitable. Bernie is presented perhaps not as completely innocent, but an innocent, a soldier whose loyalties are called into question by his sudden new perspective on the conflict. The OVA is quite quiet, quite menacing and tragic, and builds to heights of action that are horrifying in their narrative implications. And the ending coda – of children excited for the “next war” even as one of them has just learned the cost of the previous one – sets the whole message down plainly. It’s a kind of storytelling critical of war and patriotism that isn’t uncommon across media and genres, told well and depicted in detail. Now to turn back to Doan’s Island where there are exciting adventures like “climbing down a well”, “milking a goat” and “the White Base team sortie to rescue Amuro, get wrecked and then get destroyed by a goat.” The very fact a goat is an important character in a story where the kind-of-Chekov’s Gun is a nuclear missile says a lot about what to expect (and I cannot help but observe the parallel between the incoming nuclear strike in War in the Pocket and the missile silo Doan is ordered to defend). And the story ends with the missile dealt with, Zeon given a bloody nose and the island left alone so Doan and his found family can continue to farm and fish and avoid the war.
Does a story about the human cost of war having a happy and inspiring ending diminish its power compared to one where likeable people die for pointless reasons? That is the question Doan’s Island asks. Perhaps in a sense it’s naive; Doan is the Good Zeon Guy who left the army after seeing the horrors he had to inflict, and tries to make amends for it. Amuro is the outsider who learns that sometimes the enemy have a human side and want to genuinely do better. The actual villains are a bunch of extremely obviously evil soldiers who think Doan is a traitor because he is too nice. It all plays out in a very straightforward way, and comes to a nice conclusion.
At this point remember that Mobile Suit Gundam was for children. It was an ambitious children’s show, it was one that aspired to say something and make a point, sometimes well, sometimes clumsily. But it was a children’s cartoon and Doan’s Island the movie hits that note more truly than a lot of other ancillary Gundam material. There’s references to the less childish bits of Gundam throughout the film – Zeon being brutal in their control of Earth, the Federation’s corruption, Sleggar Law being a womanising buffoon – but these are tempered a lot by the real family film feel of a lot of it – the enemies being so very exaggerated in their depictions and movement, the comic timing of Sleggar being shut down in his antics, the children of White Base trying to start a revolt to save Amuro, all of this undercuts the idea that this could be a self-serious science-fiction film. Yet this comedy is offset further by the very understated (yet unsubtle) scenes of Amuro on the island, where a lot is done with body language, tone of voice, and little unspoken cues that amplify the feeling of being an outsider. Someone who is outside this peaceful world of jokes, and making do and mending, and milking goats. And then when the film needs to be dramatic and serious it can be – there is some top action to be found, some scenes that really nail from both sides the almost horror-like tension of a mech fight. Brutal pilots using underhanded tactics to prevail, Doan fighting for his life at the end of the film, and the effect on morale the Gundam arriving to save the day causes.
Finding this balance between understated, emotional scenes with simplistic yet powerful messages, absolute comedy and grotesque villains and actual tension and action nails the tone – as disjointed as it can sometimes feel – of watching Mobile Suit Gundam. And the whole story – a small, pointless battle in the grand scheme of things but one that sends a message to both sides and teaches a lesson to Amuro – is the perfect expansion of a one-episode plot into a film with just enough context to stand alone. It feels strange to congratulate a film for being a simple moral story of “sometimes there are good people on both sides of a war who stand up for what’s right over their nation” when so much of what’s considered “good” in things wants nuance and complexity nowadays, but Doan’s Island is an interesting time capsule of what serialised children’s anime of the 1970s offered, expanding and developed to the point where it stands up now.
“These Men of Wisdom, Your Would-be Allies” – Or Why I Could See G’raha Tia Getting Drunk And Putting a Traffic Cone On Top Of Thaliak But That Wouldn’t Happen in Strixhaven
It’s past time I got some thoughts about Endwalker, the highly-anticipated expansion to Final Fantasy XIV, down on paper. Long after the initial rush has passed, long after I’ve finished it and had time to dwell on it. Long after most of the debates about the massive plot points – about the core conflict, about the depiction of empire and nationalism, about the new lore reveals – have simmered down.
I was excited for one thing in particular in Endwalker. Sharlayan. The chance to visit the isolated, exclusionary magical research island that so many characters referred to, the land of Alphinaud’s parents, terrible bread, and so much more. I had high hopes, and what I got, for the most part, fulfilled them. It’s worth saying that this analysis of Endwalker is going to be astoundingly narrow in its focus, completely ignoring all the stuff with depth and substance the game has and focusing entirely on the worldbuilding of one zone you spend a comparatively small amount of time in at a time when it’s not running as normal anyway.
Why? Because I’m very very unsatisfied with a Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook based on a Magic the Gathering card cycle and so I want to talk about Final Fantasy XIV. This makes perfect sense.Continue reading
Attack Of The Robot Dinosaurs From Outer Space (This is Not a Getter Robo Post)
I was really looking forward to writing a review of Horizon Forbidden West because I knew it would let me actually revisit even more exciting things, like the very good anime Future Boy Conan and how cool robot dinosaurs are. And, as I played through the main story’s last gasp last night I summed up my feelings with the actual game as “this is very stupid.” I’ll explain more below, so obviously bear in mind this article is going to contain spoilers for the whole game.Continue reading
The Little Prince, A Little Princess, Fairytales, and The Galaxy Express is here too – Thoughts on “Ranking of Kings” and Some Other Things.
I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking “depressing fantasy series about how life is terrible for marginalised people in typical fantasy world” or “dark fairytale about how monsters aren’t actually the bad guys” are two premises that might drive people away because they’re very common attempts at deconstruction of typical fantasy things and also often done very badly. Which is why Ranking of Kings is a genuine surprise in how good it is.Continue reading
11 Years before “Hackers” There Was “Video Warrior Laserion”
In the absence of much English-language popularity or information about Video Warrior Laserion I ended up with a wildly inaccurate picture of what sort of a series it would be; it seemed like it was going to be a show about someone going inside a computer to fight computer viruses and so on, because it had a reputation of “a robot programmed in BASIC by a hacker”. And indeed the opening credits strongly suggested it was that, or maybe an Ender’s Game situation where the virtual world was actually something more sinister.Continue reading
There’s More to Gold Lightan than Killer Dolphins, Sexy Robots and Weird Fights.
There is something very interesting about Gold Lightan; it is a series that has clear past precedent and many, many interesting future derivatives and yet at the same time feels very much its own thing and quite unlike the competition. It aired in 1981, by which point Super Sentai had already started using giant robots (with Battle Fever J in 1979 and Denjiman in 1980). This is worth noting because the episode to episode plotting of Gold Lightan is strongly reminiscent of super sentai – and in turn it feels equally like a predecessor to 1982’s Space Sheriff Gavan in how strange the villains’ methods are.Continue reading
Stronger than God or Devil, but Mostly God, is Daimajin
Arrow Films released a very nice collection of the Daimajin films in 2021, and I have since watched two of the three. They’re honestly extremely interesting entries into the giant monster/tokusatsu milieu because they run with a lot of ideas that I feel would in turn turn into super robot anime tropes, and well worth a watch. I think it’s fair to say they’re both very different to a lot of monster disaster films but also much more thematically similar than you might immediately expect.Continue reading
Take a Ride on the Galaxy Express, And Learn a Thing Or Two About The Working Class
Simply put, Galaxy Express 999 avoids the most common pitfall of socially conscious science fiction by not trying to disguise the point it is trying to make in science-fiction jargon, or couch it in allegory. Instead, it makes the simple and devastating argument that scientific progress won’t actually fix the problems in society and will most likely just make them worse. It’s a bold move and one that doesn’t always work because there are some things that haven’t quite held up as thinking-points since its first airing in 1978. Similarly, society has changed and with it perhaps attitudes to social issues.
But broadly speaking while Galaxy Express is wild, unscientific sci-fi of weird and unlikely worlds and trains in space, absolutely none of this gets in the way of the fact most episodes are just extremely explicit complaints about something wrong with people. The show is over a hundred episodes long and trying to be comprehensive would be a fruitless endeavour, but I’m going to here talk about some of the episodes and themes that worked very well – even if the execution of the whole episode might have had some issues, there’s often something very relatable to it.Continue reading
The Divine Right of Kings Isn’t Much Fun in “The Twelve Kingdoms”
I’ve had many, many months to digest The Twelve Kingdoms because there’s a lot of it, it’s a very dense series, and it’s best looked at with that breathing-space. It’s a tough sell of a series, a meandering, often tricky to keep up with isekai story that is full of abrasive characters, but its sheer scale and ambition – as cliché as that sounds – is hard to find elsewhere.Continue reading
Bad Things Will Happen To People Who Mostly Deserve It In “Argento Soma”
Something I like a lot about Ultraman, among many other sci-fi serials, is it’s frequently willing to just have a very angry episode about scientific hubris and exploitation. The scientific world, or the military, or capitalism, will see in the marvelous and wonderful a chance to grab power or profit, and everything will go wrong. You know exactly what will go wrong and you will see how it once again leads to a senseless fight. Argento Soma is a series that in its first 8 episodes sets itself up as a very long build up to tragedy of this kind, and this is why it is very good.Continue reading