The dark, atmospheric recap film is a great entry point for viewers new to the series.
Made in Abyss made its premiere as a TV series back in 2017, jolting the anime community with its breathtaking vision on nature and survival. Based off a webcomic, the series became wildly popular, with the comic being licensed into English volumes, and the anime streaming on Hidive and released in the west by Sentai. Now, nearly two years later, the first half of the TV show has been adapted into a film called Journey’s Dawn. For new viewers and fans, it’s worth the wait: this movie is an absolute thrill to watch on the big screen.
To its residents, it is part myth, part cursed: the Abyss, rich in unknown treasures from ancient civilizations, home to strange and alienish creatures that could easily devour you, and the inevitable journey for any true traveler. Riko is a young girl and resident of the town that lives near the Abyss. While she spends most of her life on the shallow ends of the Abyss, looking for treasure to help her orphanage, it’s only when her mother, a famous Abyss-traveler, disappears, and she stumbles upon a strange robot boy named Reg, that she decides to do what no person has done before: travel to the Abyss’ fathomless depths and find out what lies below. It’s easier said than done though: she’ll need wits, great amounts of courage, and luck on her side to not just survive the Abyss’ terrifying monsters, but also the strange curses that afflict dwellers as they continue to descend deeper and deeper.
For starters, if you’re already a fan of the anime, you should know that this film is very much a compilation film: Journey’s Dawn only offers tidbits of new content to watch. Most of the movie is a compressed recap of the first eight episodes, but the prologue is where you’ll find the most exciting additions, including a piece on how the Abyss was found and a scene focusing on Riko’s mother. Other than this though, the rest of the movie is a recap, so unless you don’t mind some repetition, it might be better to wait for the sequel film that’s inevitably to arrive in Japan sometime next year.
If you haven’t watched the anime however, Journey’s Dawn is a surprising treat and an excellent way to get into the series.
If you haven’t watched the anime however, Journey’s Dawn is a surprising treat and an excellent way to get into the series. The story is paced well for it to span two hours of content, and not one scene ever feels boring or overdone. From introducing the main cast, to adventuring through the depths of the abyss and encountering foes and monsters alike, Journey’s Dawn is very much set up to keep you on your toes. It almost may seem deceptive, but don’t let the cuteness of the characters or pleasant environments fool you: the second half of the film morphs into something both intensely terrifying and captivating.
This brings us to how Journey’s Dawn looks, which is absolutely gorgeous. There aren’t any significant improvements of the animation over the TV series, but that’s not an issue, considering how stylistic and detailed the animation is to begin with. From sweeping grassy terrains, to sharp brutal cliffs, to upside down jungles and dense shrouded villages – every setting of Made in Abyss is stunning. All of the background art seems meticulously painted and yet realistic at the same time. Watching it on the big screen (if you have the chance to see it in theaters) should even make it more beautiful and will help to escalate the mysterious atmosphere the movie constantly goes for. Whether it’s the color design, the lighting, or the angles, animation-wise, Journey’s Dawn focuses on scale, and how small our travelers really are in contrast.
This is all elevated by a moving score from Kevin Penkin, which is heavily orchestral but also electrical at times. A mix of chords, violins, whistles and chimes either brings peace and tranquility to a field of flowers, or injects cold dread as Riko and Reg run away from terrifying monsters. Journey’s Dawn’s score is a sheer force in itself, as it varies from emotional tunes that will tug at your heartstrings to drums that beat in tune with the drama. Large swells in strings accompany the gorgeous yet strange setpieces that Riko and Reg frequent throughout the movie. The end result is a rich tapestry of melody and dissonance – a perfect narrative companion to the themes of the Abyss.
Mood courses through Abyss’s veins, and luckily, the story and characters carry it through with the same momentum.
Mood courses through Abyss’s veins, and luckily, the story and characters carry it through with the same momentum. Riko is an amazing female character that’s rare to see in anime these days: she’s charming, quirky and positive, and despite this, she is incredibly smart and willing to brave danger after danger, despite the very blatant consequences. Her cheerfulness is a necessary balance against the Abyss’ evils, especially as the film ramps up in intensity and seriousness halfway through. Reg is also a fun character to follow, though he’s clearly more of a stand in for the audience to learn about the Abyss and understand its brutal rules. Adult characters also have unique personalities and different philosophies – one in particular stands out amongst the others, and their effect on the film is perturbing but also fascinating.
If there is one slight complaint I have, it’s the dubbing, which doesn’t feel as strong as the initial Japanese voice cast. I do think Riko’s English voice actress does a fantastic job of capturing Riko’s childishness at times and her expressive behavior, but the rest of the crew doesn’t seem to match that kind of attentiveness and personality. As a result, characters that definitely carry a stronger presence in the anime TV series or the subbed movie feel muted in the dubbed version. It’s nothing to break the experience significantly, but it can be something to watch out for depending on how much you enjoy dubbed versions.