Reviewby Kim Morrissy,
Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul
Dawn of the Deep Soul continues the epic adventure of plucky Riko and Reg who are joined by their new friend Nanachi. Together they descend into the Abyss' treacherous fifth layer, the Sea of Corpses, and encounter the mysterious Bondrewd, a legendary White Whistle whose shadow looms over Nanachi's troubled past. Bondrewd is ingratiatingly hospitable, but the brave adventurers know things are not always as they seem in the enigmatic Abyss...
If you've seen the Made in Abyss TV anime or the trailer for this film, then you'll know that this series is definitely Not For Kids. The TV series started off innocently enough, but with each layer of the abyss that our heroes descend, the stakes get higher and the consequences harsher. This film is a direct sequel to the TV series, and by this point, the darkness is impossible to escape from.
Although the R-15 rating in Japan gives you a broad idea that this film is heavy on violence and possibly disturbing material, I'm going to start this review with some specific content warnings: there is violence against children, depicted with gory levels of detail. Some of this violence is sexual. The trailer in particular shows a shot of Reg strapped to an operating chair while naked. This scene shows up rather early in the film and sets the tone for the entire grisly affair. Although I consider myself rather desensitized to fictional violence, it's a lot more viscerally uncomfortable watching a child subjected to torture. The violence is such a core aspect of the plot this time that I can't recommend watching the film if you think that it may be too much.
The other thing I want to touch on is the occasionally fetishistic depiction of children. The TV series had those occasional moments where Riko was naked or tied up while naked. The light-hearted framing of those moments made them creepy, not because of any looming violence or body horror, but because they came across as completely incongruous with the rest of the story. The main feature of Dawn of the Deep Soul is mercifully free of that stuff, but the "Marulk's Everyday" short that I saw when watching the film in its first week in Japan does have a questionable moment. There will be four different shorts altogether, and I'm unsure whether they'll get included in the English screenings anyway, so my comments may not be reflective of the version you end up watching.
Content warnings aside, this film is sure to please Made in Abyss fans. Our heroes finally encounter Bondrewd, the man who made Nanachi's life such a hell. He's one of the most genuinely chilling and effective villains I've ever encountered in media. His sociopathy and utter lack of respect for human life is all wrapped up with his ingratiating paternalism, so that when he speaks of "love" it triggers a wave of disgust and complicated emotions. Bondrewd's menace can be felt from his very first appearance, when the normally quick-witted and composed Nanachi freezes up around him.
What really elevates Bondrewd's villainy is Prushka, the girl who follows him around and calls him "father." There's never any doubt that this warm-hearted girl truly loves him, and much of the tension in the film results from her ignorance of Bondrewd's actions behind the scenes. Even as the inevitable clash between Bondrewd and our heroes breaks out, Prushka still believes that everyone can make amends and become friends. She brings some much-needed levity in a film that so often languishes in the darkness of the abyss, but that makes the conflicts all the more heartbreaking.
The film's suspenseful plot is perfectly complemented by the animation and beautiful score. A lot of the technical landmarks from the TV series are still here: lavish background art, a haunting soundtrack, and unique monster designs. (They're not animated by Kou Yoshinari this time, but they're still designed by him.) The production was always stellar, but the added scope and ambition of a film elevates the technical qualities of the anime even further. There's a greater focus on action in this film, which allows the main animators on this film to flex their skills and indulge in some impressive set pieces. Some sequences look absolutely finicky to animate, particularly one scene where Reg fights his way up a rocky crevasse, but the film pulls it all off effectively.
I also have to give a nod to Kevin Penkin's soundtrack for the film, which adds many new tracks, resulting in a very different sound from the TV series. The darker tone of this film is captured perfectly through the music, but the overall ambiance remains. After a relatively disappointing soundtrack for The Rising of The Shield Hero, it's nice to see Penkin back on Made in Abyss with an Austrian orchestra and his personal pool of talented singers.
Anyone interested in watching Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul likely knows what to expect from this film. I think the trailer is a good litmus test for those of you still on the fence about this. If the gruesome content doesn't deter you, and if you enjoyed the TV series, then I see no reason why Dawn of the Deep Soul will disappoint you. It's also necessary viewing if you're interested in the larger plot of Made in Abyss, because the characters come out of this film as changed people, and there's a feeling that they've reached the point of no return. This was an incredible film to kick off 2020 with, and let's hope we hear more about the sequel soon.
Overall : A
Story : A
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : A
+ Upped stakes, Bondrewd is a fantastic villain, strong production values
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