Originally I was hyped to see this film back when it was meant to have been released cinematically in the UK in April. Had my tickets bought and everything. Then 2020 decided to do its thing and normal societal functioning was pretty much cancelled. I worried that perhaps I’d have to wait until next year for a blu-ray release, but no! Sentai Filmworks (the film’s US licensor) has partnered with obscure streaming service Eventive to bring eager fans this cinematic sequel to one of 2017's best TV anime via what amounts to pay-per-view. For $20 USD you, your significant other, your friends and all your neighbours can all get together and - scrap that. There is still a bloody pandemic and new rules in the UK ban more than 2 households and 6 people congregating together. Anyway, you know what? $20 isn’t too bad for a couple of people to watch a new film, considering the price of cinema tickets.
The way the site works is very similar to movie rentals on the Apple store (other movie streaming sites are also available) - you pay the fee and then you have 7 days in which to start your stream. Once started, you have 24 hours to finish watching before it disappears from your account. Eventive’s site is viewable from a PC, various mobile devices and TV set-top-boxes. I used a 4th gen Apple TV and it worked flawlessly. I suspect this will be the way things go for “cinematic” anime in the west for the next while. Anime Limited’s Screen Anime service is similar, with a rotating monthly curated selection of 5 available titles and I would have purchased a subscription for that already if I hadn’t already seen most of their offerings so far.
SPOILERS FOR THE END OF THE TV SERIES FOLLOW
On to the film itself. Dawn of the Deep Soul follows directly on from the conclusion of the 13-episode TV series with central trio Riko, Reg and Nanachi descending from the lush, danger-filled fourth layer of The Abyss to the icy, treacherous fifth layer - the invitingly titled “Sea of Corpses”. It was in this harsh, unforgiving place that Nanachi and her friend Mitty fell prey to the silver-tongued but ruthless Bondrewd, the Sovereign of Dawn. Nanachi dreads returning to the place where her life was irrevocably altered, but if the trio is to continue their journey into the depths of the sixth layer, the only way through is via the “Ido Front” - an ancient city/temple that Bondrewd has claimed as his permanent base - the deepest surface-dweller settlement within The Abyss.
Whereas the series was a relatively episodic travelogue starting on the surface and progressing down several layers of The Abyss, Dawn of the Deep Soul is an altogether more focused affair. Apart from a short prologue in a pretty flower field that is more sinister than it first appears, there are far fewer wondrous vistas or knife-edge scrapes for our diminutive friends to experience. In this film, cave raider Riko is faced with a single, almost insurmountable obstacle to her progression towards the bottom of the abyss, and this time it isn’t a terrifying creature with too many teeth (though there are plenty of those), nor is it an impassable geographical fault like the third layer. The terrifyingly rational, affable, ruthless White Whistle Bondrewd must first be bested.
Made in Abyss has toyed with the concept of human antagonists before. Whereas most of Riko’s enemies so far have been of the pointy/poisonous/aggressive/toothy animal variety, the second layer’s Ozen the Immovable initially appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle. She was revealed to be a horrible person rather than an evil one, and her net contribution to Riko’s journey was arguably positive. From Ozen, however, came the warning that the other White Whistles were not as “friendly” as her, and Bondrewd in particular was “a scoundrel”. From Nanachi’s flashbacks in the series, we know that Bondrewd experiments on children to progress his scientific exploration of The Abyss and the effects of its curse on the human body. It was his actions that led to Mitty becoming an immortal, eternally suffering mindless blob creature, and Nanachi losing her humanity to become a furry “hollow”.
Dawn of the Deep Soul goes all in on expanding Bondrewd’s horrific experiments, and the bulk of the film follows our main character’s attempts to survive his compulsions unscathed. One of the most terrifying things about Bondrewd is that he never, ever regards the children as enemies. He never deliberately antagonises them. He never raises his voice nor berates them. He tone is one of joyous scientific discovery and encouragement towards his opponents, beseeching them to join him and aid in his experiments. I don’t intend to divulge detailed spoilers here, but let’s just say that no-one leaves the fifth layer entirely... unscathed.
One of Made in Abyss’s main themes is the concept of a person’s worth, and what that person will sacrifice to pursue their compulsions. The city of Orth, Riko’s home that overhangs The Abyss, houses a society with an economy structured entirely around exploitation of the vast chasm. “Cave Raiders”, who are sorted into ranks depending on their seniority, with the few “White Whistles” as the mythical god-like heroes, all feel a compulsion to penetrate deep into The Abyss, despite knowing of the horrendous dangers and recognising that past a certain point there is no way to return. It is hinted in the series that The Abyss itself has taken on the religious significance of a god, and Nanachi herself expresses a belief that if she descends far enough down, perhaps she will be reunited with the deceased Mitty again. Again and again, this story demonstrates the sacrifices that cave raiders must make to follow their compulsion - many pay with their lives, or parts of their bodies, or even their humanity.
The Abyss turns people into monsters - or perhaps their compulsions do. Ozen gained terrifying strength, but only by inserting razor-edged metal spikes of ancient Abyss-tech into her body. Bondrewd likewise manifests many disturbing powers due to the rather... extreme modifications he has made to his person. I wonder what fellow White Whistle Lyza the Annihilator - Riko’s mother - is truly like? Is she as monstrous as her compatriots? What sacrifices or compromises must she have made to survive - if she isn’t dead - in the deepest depths of The Abyss? Riko, Reg and Mitty all make, or are forced to make, horrific sacrifices, yet so far they have maintained their humanity. Nanachi’s body may be more animalistic, but she pines for her lost friend, and bitterly regrets the morally repugnant work that Bondrewd pressured her into. Reg may be some kind of human-mimicking robot, but he retains a deep empathy and loyalty to his friends. Even given the stomach-churning violence and horror they endure in this movie, they remain strong, pure characters the audience can root for.
New character Prushka is Bondrewd’s daughter and she plays a pivotal role in the plot. Sharing a similar moe-blob aesthetic with the other main characters, she is a vulnerable child in a world of mutated, twisted adults. She strikes up a fast friendship with Riko and the resolution to her story is heart-wrenching. There is a sequence in this movie, that when I read the manga version previously, I had to close the book and walk away as I was so disgusted. I can’t discuss this in detail without revealing major spoilers, but suffice to say the movie version did not disappoint in evoking those same feelings. I must admit I find the manga difficult to follow, with its dense, dark artwork. This movie expands on and clarifies many hints, allusions and themes that tie the story together more coherently than the original work ever could. Truly this is an example of an adaptation that surpasses its source material.
Take the action scenes for example. In the manga these are messy, frenetic and hard to parse. In the anime, no expense has been spared - no way could they have done these scenes justice on a television budget. At one point Reg goes full mini-Terminator with his balletic leaps through the air, propelled by his prehensile arms as he pirouettes and pivots around obstacles, launching energy bursts while he soars past ever-changing backgrounds through smoke and steam, dodging relentless attacks from an overpowered enemy, single-mindedly focused on causing apocalyptic levels of destruction. So well choreographed are these scenes, I was able to say “Aha! So that’s what the hell was happening in that chapter!”
Dawn of the Deep Soul concludes where volume 5 of the manga ends. The next 4 volumes comprise one single arc that is even more disturbing and obtuse than the two volumes that covered this story. God only knows how they will adapt that into a coherent anime, but best of luck to them. My wife commented on how disgusting and disturbing the monsters in this movie were. I had to force myself not to say “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, darlin’.” I really don’t want to put her off. Though I guess if she can stomach some of the more upsetting parts of this movie (and there are several), then she can probably stomach almost anything that anime as a medium has to offer.
A dark and twisted descent even further into madness and obsession, this movie is much closer in tone to the last few episodes of the TV series - but is perhaps even darker. As long as you aren’t squeamish and don’t mind graphic imagery of child torture, physical abuse, bodily mutilation and existential horror, then you might have a good time with this. If you struggled with the heavier aspects of the TV series, you will struggle even more with this, and the arc that comes afterwards will make you vomit. Know what you’re getting into if you watch this, and please don’t watch with any little kids around. Although it looks all cutesy and fun, this is the most disturbing anime I’ve seen in a very long time.
Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul
Directed by: Masayuki Kojima
Written by: Hideyuki Kurata
Based on the manga by: Akihito Tsukushi
Music by: Kevin Penkin
Studio: Kinema Citrus
Original Japanese Cinematic Release: January 17th, 2020
Runtime: 105 minutes
Watch it now at: https://madeinabyss.eventive.org/welcome
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