MADE IN ABYSS began as a manga written by Akihito Tsukushi. It’s probably more well known for its 13-episode anime adaption, licensed by Sentai Filmworks in North America. This year sees the release of two compilation films of the anime for limited theatrical release outside Japan. Compilation films are nothing new for anime – we’ve seen that with Attack on Titan and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Making a compilation film can be tricky, as it’s more than just merging episodes together. For a 13-episode series, ideally you want to have at least two compilation films, as attempting to squeeze everything in one runs the risk of key scenes being cut. MADE IN ABYSS follows the two film format, with the first installment, Journey’s Dawn, releasing in select theaters next month. Part 2, Wandering Twilight, releases later in the year.
Now, moving on to the actual film, Journey’s Dawn compiles the events of the first eight episodes of the show. That’s a hefty amount of content, but the film gets the story going at a reasonable pace without feeling overloaded. Journey’s Dawn follows a young girl named Riko. She and many residents live near a hole in the earth called “the Abyss.” Here, many adventurers have gone in, but those who have traveled too deep never returned. Each layer of the Abyss gets worst and worst, to the point where people can lose their humanity.
While Riko is scavenging for relics in the upper layers of the Abyss, she is attacked by a monster. While she manages to briefly get away, the monster eventually comes upon her. Before being eaten alive, a mysterious blast repels the creature. Riko notices a boy, but learns that he is a robot seemingly connected to the Abyss. A bit later in the film, Riko receives a note seemingly from her mother, who went into the Abyss 10 years ago. It appears her mother is asking Riko to come find her. So, Riko and the robot boy, named Reg, journey into the dangerous hole in the earth…
Journey’s Dawn begins brilliantly by establishing the setting and Riko’s mom. The Abyss itself is almost portrayed as a character, an otherworldly area of beauty, but also danger. Later in the film, we see an area called the “Inverted Forest.” As the name implies, the trees are upside down, giving a rather unique, unsettling look. We see creatures with unique features, things that appear almost alien to the world on top. The Abyss and the monsters that reside in it evoke a similar feel to the The Shimmer in the acclaimed film, Annihilation. The Abyss is a fantastic setting, making the viewer want to see more by the time the credits roll.
Of course, before Riko and Reg enter the Abyss, we get to see the world on top. This serves to introduce Riko and Reg. Riko is established as a kindhearted girl, as seen when she attempts to help the boy who saved her. She’s also a bit of a trouble maker, as we learn from the head of the orphanage. Riko’s unyielding cheerfulness is fun to watch, but she’s also capable of emitting genuine emotion. The scene where she learns about her mom’s whistle was effective. Reg is arguably the more interesting of the protagonists, a robot that doesn’t know who built him, and why. He’s capable of emitting emotion, but there’s also something distinctly mechanical about him. The entire sequence of him utilizing his “incinerator” as Riko calls it was effective. Reg’s more subdued nature makes for a great contrast to the bubbly Riko.
The first quarter of the movie does a solid job introducing the characters, and the motivation for entering the Abyss. The only negative thing was that Riko became attached to Reg rather quickly. That’s one possible danger of compilation movies: character development can feel rushed in comparison to taking it episode by episode. Thankfully, aside from the quick friendship between Riko and Reg, the film never feels rushed. The first quarter does a great job of establishing Riko’s friends in the orphanage. The emotional goodbye between Riko and Nat was well done.
Once the protagonists enter the Abyss, the story really gets going. It becomes something of a darker Journey to the Center of the Earth. The scenes with the creatures are tension-filled, and well animated. The character designs may give off a younger vibe, but there is some dark imagery in the film. The scene with a bird-like monster called “Corpse Weeper” chewing on human remains comes to mind.
The final act of the movie has Riko and Reg meet Ozen the Immovable. This was not only the greatest aspect of the movie, but one of the most well done things I’ve seen in any media recently. Ozen is a fascinating character and big highlight. I won’t get into the specifics, as spoiling these scenes would be a disservice to the film. What I can say, is that Ozen leaves her mark as one of the most notable characters in recent animation history. Every scene with her and the protagonists is a treat. Christine Auten did a fantastic job at providing the dubbed voice for Ozen.
The flashbacks with Rika’s mother, Lyza, are effective. Lyza is an interesting character, someone the viewer wants to see more scenes with. Meanwhile, the soundtrack does a good job enhancing the film. One particular piece of notable music is the theme that plays when Riko shows Reg the sunset behind the village. The music also works to give dangerous sequences, such as the early monster chase, and the Corpse Weepers, even more tension. It will be a treat to see the music in Part 2.
Journey’s Dawn is a strong opening to the MADE IN ABYSS saga. At its core, it’s about a daughter looking for her mother in a dangerous, unfamiliar land. Family is a strong bond, especially between mother and child. Despite not really remembering her mother, Riko is compelled to go into the Abyss. Meanwhile, Reg is an interesting character. Who built him? What’s his purpose? How does he connect to the Abyss? These questions make the viewer greatly anticipate Part 2. The Abyss itself is a fascinating setting, full of terrible creatures, and unique imagery. There are not many negatives. The development between Riko and Reg could have been better in the beginning. But, it’s not a deal-breaker. Journey’s Dawn is definitely worth checking out. I for one am excitedly anticipating Part 2: Wandering Twilight.
A big thanks to Sentai Filmworks for providing an advance screener for review. MADE IN ABYSS: Journey’s Dawn will premiere in Los Angeles at Regal Cinema on March 15th. A wide release will then commence on March 20th (subtitled) and March 25th (dubbed), courtesy of Fathom Events. You can purchase tickets here.