In Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul, Riko and Reg’s grand adventure to the bottom of The Abyss takes some dark and sinister turns in a horror movie-esque arc that is very emotional and engaging, even if it feels a little formulaic.
We catch up with our adventurers immediately where the TV series left off, as bunny-eared Nanachi joins the party and they prepare to venture down to the fifth, and ultimately sixth layer of The Abyss, passing through the Curse of the Abyss’ point of no-return for being able to make it back up to the surface alive. In order to pass through the barrier however, they first have to face Bondrewd, the man who is not only the gatekeeper, but the crazed scientist who experimented on Nanachi, Mitty and countless other children, turning them into Hollows in the process. Unfortunately for our adventuring trio, Bondrewd knows they are coming, and he has worked them, along with his adopted daughter Prushka, into his plans to enable him to overcome the Curse.
Despite its cute and colourful characters, Made in Abyss has never been completely fluffy and cuddly, with the series excelling at showing how brutal nature can be. In Dawn of the Deep Soul, things go dark fairly quickly, as the film opens with a sequence that turns a beautiful field of flowers into a death trap filed with insects that eat you alive, and it only gets darker from there, often feeling like a horror movie, filled with a creepy and foreboding atmosphere as we are plunged into the corridors of Bondrewd’s laboratory where it feels like some horrifyingly unknown creature could jump out at you at any second.
While there’s nothing as cheap as a jump scare, there’s plenty of gore in here, with explicit scenes of torture that may make a lot of people uncomfortable. They do try to dial things down a bit by cartoonifying blood into pinkish gloop, but it’s still shocking as to how far this goes. You could easily criticise it for being a bit too gratuitous, but it is very effective at getting its point across about how particular characters feel and think, particularly highlighting how dangerous Bondrewd is.
The guy is very clearly a psychopath, as on the face of things he could be called an average guy and a loving father, but underneath the helmet he is cold, calculating and manipulative, willing to sacrifice anything in order to survive and be granted the so-called “Blessing” of the Abyss. Despite him being utterly vile, the tone the film takes towards him is a bit weird, as it never really fully condemns him for his actions. Yes, there’s plenty of confrontation and a frantic battle against him as the villain of the piece, but it feels like the story itself gets hoodwinked by his charm and charisma, and ultimately lets him off far too lightly.
I found his adopted daughter, Prushka to be a lot more compelling, as the story really centres itself around her. The first half, in particular, serves mainly to introduce her and is perhaps the key part of building a connection between you, the viewer, and the story.
She starts off as a bit of a mystery, but you do quickly fall in love with how charming and innocent she is, being a sweet young girl with a taste for adventure who would like nothing more than to see the world, as those who pass through Ido Front have. As such, she quickly develops a friendship with Riko, offering her something that I feel she has really missed since leaving Orth, and the time they share on screen is great to watch. She also has a pet creature called Meinya, which is both absolutely adorable and pretty useful, as taking in its scent allows humans to be able to see locations in the world where the Curse will not affect them.
These happy times don’t last forever, and we are eventually plunged into a massive battle with the bad guy which occupies most of the second half of the film, opting for the typical anime movie formula of the main characters facing a terrible enemy that keeps powering up in strength before they are finally taken down. While the fight may feel narratively templated, it doesn’t stop it from doing it with both style and heartfelt emotion, because our connection with the characters, their experiences and their feelings is what really drives the film, as you feel their struggle, pain, and loss.
The animation in the action scenes here, however, is fantastic, with Kinema Citrus really showing off Reg’s range of movement as he runs rings around Bondrewd thanks to his grappling hook arms. Later on, it gets even more intense when they’re slugging at each other, and Reg gets to use his Incinerator arm cannon. It’s a very good-looking film all round though, even if most of it happens underground. Just like in the TV series, it revels in showing off gorgeous and expressive vistas, particularly with the field of flowers at the beginning of the film, as well as the Sea of Corpses itself, which is a giant icy cavern with a large lake at its centre. The setting also helps build the dark and creepy tone that pervades the film, with Ido Front rightly looking like some demon lord’s lair.
It sounds good too, with Kevin Penkin’s soundtrack being as beautiful as ever, highlighting not only the creepiness of the world and story, but also letting loose with some incredible choral pieces at key moments all provided by the incredible Synchron Stage Orchestra.
Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul is brought to us by MVM, with the release including the film in both English and Japanese with English subtitles. The voice cast for both languages carry over from the TV series and both continue to work really well. Toshiyuki Morikawa and David Harbold get a lot more screen time voicing Bondrewd and both excellently carry his cold and charismatic personality in their voices. The only new additions are Inori Minase and Avery Smithhart, who voice Prushka and each give different, but valid, interpretations of the same character, Inori Minase gets across the more vulnerable and emotional side of the character better, while Avery Smithhart excels at the more excitable and adventurous aspects.
On-disc extras include trailers and promotional videos for the film, interviews with the voice actors, and the Marulk’s Daily Life shorts, which are fantastic little vignettes that see Marulk get into a variety of different situations as he tries to help out Ozen. I’m glad these are included as they work well to flesh out both Marulk and his relationship with Ozen and they would be sorely missed, I think, if they weren’t here.
There are no physical extras in this standard edition release, which is a bit of a shame, as I know from the Japanese collector’s edition that the film has some gorgeous artwork that would have sat nicely in a collector’s box and art booklet, yet knowing that movies are often seen as a risk for a company as small as MVM, it’s good that we at least have it in some form.
Overall, Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul is an engaging and emotional film that gives the series something new with a horror-like vibe, while doubling down on the series’ greatest strengths, such as its incredible world building, strong visuals, and outstanding soundtrack. However, it often feels a little formulaic in the structure of its story, and doesn’t go far enough in giving its villain what he truly deserves. If you are a fan of the series, though, you are sure to enjoy this and it’s an essential purchase if you want to continue following Riko and Reg’s adventures.