Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul (2020) Review

When the anime based on Akihito Tsukushi’s widely popular manga first hit the scene in 2017, it drew countless fans into it’s deeply mysterious and captivating world. It is a story that mixes friendship, love and exploration with the brutal, unfeeling realities of the external world. Mixing breathtaking visuals, against the backdrop of terror and death, it built a world that many could not look away from, myself included. So when I got the chance to check out the follow up film Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul, I was excited. It was a chance to continue the journey with the characters as they descend deeper into the Abyss , and while it was not always an easy watch, it is a film that any fan of the genre, or just a fan of storytelling needs to give a look.

For anyone not following the anime or manga, Made in Abyss is the tale of Riko and Reg, two young explorers looking to uncover the mysteries of the aforementioned abyss — a mysterious and monstrous pit that descends deep below the known world. Reg, a child shaped relic of another time, and Riko, the daughter of a famed explorer — are an odd pair. Though the previous Anime series, they found a balance of love, compassion and understanding that have given them the tools to survive in the harsh and unfeeling world they now find themselves. They are now joined by Nanachi, a bunny-like girl who lives in the Abyss -as they slowly journey to find the way to the seventh layer. Their journey taking them in the direct path of the foreshadowed antagonist Bondrewd, Lord of Dawn — the cause of much suffering and the person who forced Nanachi into the changed state she now finds herself in.

Following on the heels of the series, this is very much a tale made for people who have already watched up to this point in the story. The movie over its two hour runtime feels like a well flashed out sequel to the series. With animation that tops anything seen previously, and a darker, more adult tone, Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul is a heart shattering watch that will shake many fans of the series to their very core. Mixing themes of love and sacrifice, Dawn of the Deep Soul is a tale that puts the series protagonists against Bondrewd and the results are as brutal, and tear jerking as one would expect.

Introducing Prushka, adopted daughter of Bondrewd, Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul quickly grounds the characters, giving a more complex narrative and sense of morality then was originally hinted at. Despite everything, we have seen up to this point, the compassion and tone paints a cold, indifferent world finds hope. [Despite the cold, indifferent world that envelopes our lead characters, their compassionate relationship creates a feeling of hope in the midst of the ever-increasing challenges the Abyss presents them] It is this sense of hope and joy early on that makes the bitter reality that is to come later in the film seem more crushing, and even more inescapable.

Story wise, it was interesting to see how a series that has focused so heavily on the Man vs. Nature structure up to this point would transition to a man vs man narrative and if it would work. Thankfully, Akihito Tsukushi’s story deals with this masterfully, with Bondrewd working as a concept of science and exploration gone too far. He is a force of will, working to achieve his ends at any cost, existing as more a creature of the Abyss than a human to be reasoned with. Everything he is doing is done for the sake of advancement, displayinghis own twisted but relatable sense of love and compassion, even as he acts out on some of the most horrific things seen in film animated or otherwise.

Visually, this is the best Made in Abyss has ever looked. From the desolate wastes of “Sea of Corpses” to how the action is depicted, thanks to the talented animators at Trigger. From the beautiful landscapes, to the creatures lurking just out of sight, the Abyss is a place that juxtaposes beauty with an ever-present sense of doom. As often allure and danger not far apart, and Dawn of the Deep Soul captures this in striking detail and clarity. Even the gore and violence is increased for this outing, providing a true emotionally impactful and visceral experience and making the, horrific scenes shown in the anime seem tame in comparison.

Often feeling like a full series arc pushed to fit a feature length film, some pacing can feel rushed, or even tiring, but it all works to give a sense of the struggle the characters are facing as they traverse the unknown. Even the way the film builds character and establishes intimate relationships between the protagonists over few scenes works in its favour, quickly giving a sense of place and compassion, making the scenes that proceed and follow it filled with more impact and making some scenes near unwatchable due to the tragic nature shown within.

But despite all the trauma and pain the characters go through on screen, there is always a sense of hope and wonder. Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul while hard to watch at times is one of the best films the medium has delivered in a while. It is a deep journey into discovery, offering wonder and pain in equal measure. It is a film that needs to be watched to fully take in the depth on display, and while not easy to endure, the final minutes make the journey worthwhile.

Filled with wondrous high, and some of the lowest lows you could imagine from an animated movie, Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul is a film that delivers on the series promise, and ushers in one of anime’s most brutally chilling villains to date. With deep characters, breathtaking visuals, and some of the most heartbreaking scenes to date from the medium, this is a film that anyone who loves animated movies needs to watch. A striking reminder that Anime is still a powerful tool for storytelling, and that character and exploration don’t need to be simplified to make for an engaging watch.

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Brendan Frye

Brendan Frye

EIC at CGMagazine (@CGMagonline), Veteran of the field with more then 10 years experience. Also Publisher at Nuada Press.