Review for Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul
Normally, I wouldn’t lament the loss of a pair of compilation movies; when it comes to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, I will usually miss out Laughing Man and Individual Eleven, and go straight to the original Solid State Society, but this one time, I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get Journey’s Dawn and Wandering Twilight, the way the US did. These movies re-edit the first series of Made in Abyss into two features, and given that Made in Abyss is such an immersive, imaginative, detailed theatrical quality animation, it seems that it would benefit from the feature film format, and some serious surround sound. When I saw the series last year, I was blown away by its adventure story, which combines cutesy, appealing character designs with quite horrific and dark storytelling. It’s a combination that shouldn’t really work, but Made in Abyss turned out to be one of the best anime I had seen in years. Still, I can understand why MVM decided to skip the digest movies, and instead go straight for the third feature film, the original content that actually continues and builds on the story. And it’s not as if we don’t have more Made in Abyss to look forward to, as just this week, a second series was confirmed to be in production.
Riko is a young orphan who decided to venture into The Abyss when she received a letter from her long lost mother Lyza. The Abyss is a deep pit full of strange relics and fantastic dangers. People explore the Abyss, looking for those relics to earn profit, but going too deep can have irreversible effects on people, and there comes a point from where people just can’t return. Riko had the aid of a genuine relic in her journey, a robotic boy named Reg. Lyza’s letter says that she waits at the bottom of the Abyss, and to get that far, adventurers need a White Whistle (those who just qualify to go to the Abyss start off with Red Whistles, but Riko has the one that came with the letter). When they reached the fifth level down, Riko and Reg encountered a strange creature named Nanachi, who had a tragic tale to tell, and who agreed to accompany them on their journey.
That tragic tale takes on immediate importance as the film begins, as to get past the fifth level and make it to the sixth, they have to deal with the dread Bondrewd and his Umbra Hands. Bondrewd was the architect of Nanachi’s tragedy, and he wants his experimental subject back. He inhabits a castle that guards the entrance to the sixth level, and Nanachi warns Riko and Reg of the cruelty and duplicity of Bondrewd, the danger that they will have to walk through if they are to proceed on their journey. And at the gates of the castle, the trio are met by Prushka, Bondrewd’s cute as a button daughter, who eagerly welcomes them as friends.
Made in Abyss gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer and it is a nice HD presentation, clear and sharp, bringing the quirky and fluid animation across to delightful effect. The animation takes a step up for the theatrical scope, when it comes to detail and energy, but it still matches the design aesthetic of the series. Made in Abyss is a magical animation, of theatrical quality throughout, rich with colour and imagination. It has a cutesy style to its characters that you might think would appeal to a younger audience, but the story itself is quite dark and stands in contrast with the animation style. This has the effect of actually enhancing the drama and the emotion of the piece, as it reinforces the thought that it’s actually children going through these harsh trials.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and Japanese, with subtitles and signs locked during playback. I was happy again with the original audio, and the theatrical scope to the audio really allows the sound design to immerse you in this world. 5.1 surround is definitely what this story needs. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos. And the film’s music is truly evocative and original. But just like the series, the audio here isn’t perfect. On my Panasonic home cinema, there was a pop in the Japanese audio at 29:29, and a crackle at 88:32, although the English audio was fine at those points.
Once again we get more than the usual extra features with an anime release. The disc boots to a static menu and the film is followed by translated English credits.
There are two Japanese Promos for the film running to 1:44
There are three interviews with the Japanese voice actors.
Interview with Mariya Ise (Reg) 8:44
Interview with Shiori Izawa (Nanachi) 6:55
Interview with Miyu Tomita (Riko) 6:56
To contrast the film’s more serious and dark tone, there are four bits of lightness featuring the return of characters from the first series in Marulk’s Daily Life.
1) Request, 2) Errand, 3) Cleaning, and 4) Recollection.
Running to around 3½ minutes each, the total runtime here is 14:11.
Finally there are trailers for Cagaster of an Insect Cage, 7Seeds, HERO=MASK, and Majestic Prince: Genetic Awakening.
It is the next instalment of the Made in Abyss story, so other than having production values tweaked a little higher, and delivering its story in one fell swoop rather than a multi-episode arc format, there’s little that is different here from the series. There isn’t even a recap to get you reacquainted with the story, and it really just picks up where episode 13 of the series left off, with Reg, Riko and Nanachi heading further into the Abyss, and in this instance having to deal with Bondrewd, a dark wizard-like figure that had been heavily foreshadowed towards the end of the series. It was the kind of foreshadowing that hinted at the harshest and most dramatic challenge yet for the protagonists, and it boded well for the first feature film outing of Made in Abyss.
The film tries to wrong foot these expectations when we catch up with Reg, Riko and Nanachi as they travel through the fifth level of The Abyss. They encounter a flower meadow turned deadly, and are rescued by one of the Umbra Hands, Bondrewd’s minions that Nanachi has warned the others about. It’s a tense, and dangerous situation that doesn’t turn out the way you might expect, and it’s compounded when the travellers arrive at Bondrewd’s castle and are met by a cute little girl named Prushka. She turns out to be Bondrewd’s daughter, and she absolutely adores her father, and when we finally meet Bondrewd, it’s clear that the feeling is mutual.
That goes against everything that Nanachi has told Riko and Reg, but they are still wary when they are invited to spend the night. Prushka wears them down, and the adorable girl soon befriends them, especially Riko. And then that night, Riko wakes up, needing to use the toilet, and mindful of the warning that falling down the toilet would be bad, and sees that both Reg and Nanachi are missing, and all the doors have been locked. And normal Made in Abyss service resumes.
Bondrewd is indeed the tormentor that Nanachi described, and he has plans for all of the children. He also has access to a Relic that makes fighting with him a nigh on impossible prospect, not that battling to the death with the father of their newest friend would be difficult enough. Bondrewd wants Nanachi back in his laboratory, wants to find out what makes Reg tick, and eliminate him as a potential threat, and he has a discrete plan for his beloved daughter as well. On top of all this, Riko learns that the White Whistle she has in her possession doesn’t provide admittance to the lower levels of the Abyss. Instead she needs a special White Whistle, personalised to her, and which demands a price that she may not be willing to pay.
With its combination of cute and nasty, dark and cuddly, the Made in Abyss series made for compelling if unsettling viewing at times. At the end there, the plot arc regarding Riko’s hand, and the story of Nanachi and Mitty made for some shocking content, with the latter justifiably compared to the Nina story from Full Metal Alchemist. The Dawn of the Deep Soul pushes its shocking content to a whole new level, making the TV series feel like a dry run in this regard. The main characters that come out of this movie, aren’t the characters that begin it. They go through a veritable crucible here.
If you became hooked on the Made in Abyss series as I did, then this film is an essential purchase, as it more than lives up to the promise made by that series in its final episodes, as it relates this Ido Front story arc. If I did have a criticism, it’s in the structure of the storytelling at one point, as it offers a burst of character development, reinforcing empathy in a montage, after the event where this information will have mattered the most. But that’s a small nit to pick in a film which otherwise hits all the right notes, building on that adorably horrific ethos so indelibly established by the series. The Blu-ray disc gives the film the presentation it deserves, although I wish that there had been a little more QC. Perhaps like the TV series release, those audio glitches are player specific, and not everyone will be affected, but either way, this is a must own film for fans of the franchise.