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Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul – When You Gaze Into the Abyss, the Abyss Gazes Into You

I’ve been procrastinating on this one. Made in Abyss is one of those anime that I love, but I have to be in the right headspace to get the most out of it. It’s so deep, dark, dense, and makes me feel intense emotions all over the spectrum. I usually need a hot beverage to calm myself down afterwards. And the new movie, Dawn of the Deep Soul, is just as much of an emotional rollercoaster as the show. The series antagonist, Bondrewd, takes center stages, and no one makes it out of his twisted lair unscathed.

I’ll try not to spoil too much from the movie, but there will be spoilers for the TV show ahead

The film starts right where the show left off, with Riko, Reg, and Nanachi entering the Sea of Corpses in the fifth layer. (Nothing ominous about that name!) There’s little background info this time around, so you might want to re-watch the series if you need to refresh your memory. Still, this arc works well as a stand-alone adventure, which makes the transition from TV show to movie less jarring than it might seem. It also gives studio Kinema Citrus the budget for some jaw-dropping scenes that somehow look even better than the already gorgeous series.

The fifth layer is a cold and empty place, full of darkness and ice. Yet it’s still beautiful in its own way. It looks like what the world might have been like billions of years ago, before the first single-celled organisms formed in the primordial oceans. The real horror this time is Bondrewd, who is basically the entire human concept of EVIL wrapped up in one cave person-lizard-thing. This is the guy who turned Nanchi and Mitty into Hollows in the first season, and he’s all too eager to do even more twisted experiments on Riko and especially Reg. The adorable robot boy gets the worst of it this time around, and it was honestly the only part that I had trouble watching. In a show that focuses so much on the cold brutality of nature, the most horrifying part of Made in Abyss is still what the human (human-ish?) characters can do to these poor cave babies.

To whoever wrote this scene, WHO HURT YOU?!

And despite his monstrous appearance and actions, Dawn of the Deep Soul does humanize Bondrewd – in a sick, twisted way. He has an adoptive daughter named Prushka, who quickly wins Riko’s trust with her adorable frog costume and pet Digimon. She’s a sweet kid, but her intense Stockholm Syndrome blinds her to the atrocities her “father” commits. Her character arc is easily the most tragic in the entire film. She feels like a genuine addition to the main cast, rather than a side character shoehorned into the story.

Inori Minase (Rem from Re:Zero) brings out the charm with her stellar voice acting

In a way, the presence of a genuine antagonist makes Dawn of the Deep Soul feel more like a traditional action-adventure anime than the TV series. There’s less focus on worldbuilding, and more on conflict and suspense. For me, this is both a strength and a weakness. The fights are stunningly animated, especially when Reg goes all Mob Psycho 100 and starts zipping around with furious electrical blasts. But I was never into Made in Abyss for the action anyways. I prefer the slow, contemplative pace of the early episodes, but the more creepy, claustrophobic mecha-dungeon does a great job bringing the series’ psychological elements to the forefront.

If Stanley Kubrick made an anime

The production values are greatly improved. The visuals are amazingly sharp, and composer Kevin Penkin knocks of out the park again with the new OST. A lot of my favorite scenes reprised tunes from the show, but gave them a darker or more melancholic vibe that fits the tone of the film better. It’s good to know that despite the undeniable suckfest that this year has been, there are still incredibly talented artists making great anime out there.

The thing I keep wondering, though, is what happens next? Dawn of the Deep Soul only covers the fifth layer, and there are still two more to go. The movie ends with “To Be Continued” (after a phenomenal song by Myth & Roid) but does that mean we’ll get another movie, a second season, or some weird combination of the two? I haven’t read any of the manga, and I don’t really plan on it – Made in Abyss, for me, is best enjoyed as an anime. But that means I might have to wait another three years to find out what lies at the bottom of that great pit.

It’s hard to give a film like this a straight recommendation. If you haven’t seen the series, you’ll probably be hopelessly confused and a little traumatized by it. But you’re a fan of Made in Abyss, you won’t need me to tell you that Dawn of the Deep Soul is a must watch. It’s got an entire season’s worth of character and plot development in a 2 hour movie. It gives new context to the fascinating world and has one of the scariest villains in anime. It feels like the love child of two of my all-time faves, Madoka Magica and Castle in the Sky. Just don’t watch it with kids or in public – this show makes The Promised Neverland look like The Great British Bake-Off.

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