Deeper and Darker Still: A Review of "Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul"
I recently reviewed the first season of Made in Abyss, which you can read here. After the first season debuted, three movies were made: Journey's Dawn, Wandering Twilight, and Dawn of the Deep Soul. Journey's Dawn and Wandering Twilight were films that recapped the first season of Made in Abyss, so I chose not to watch them, and headed straight to the sequel film of the first season, Dawn of the Deep Soul.
Taking place immediately after the first season, Dawn of the Deep Soul unveils more mysteries about the Abyss and takes quite a dark turn. Some of it was difficult for me to watch, but it made for a compelling addition to the Made in Abyss story.
I started the series on Amazon Prime in Japanese but checked all my streaming apps to discover this movie is only available on Hulu, but only in the English dub (I tried to watch Japanese for continuity but couldn't get it to pop up). The good thing is I like English dubs just as much as I like Japanese dubs, so it was great getting to experience this series in another way!
A continuation of 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.
Story: The main story is about Riko and Reg journeying deeper into the Abyss in the hopes of finding Riko's mother Lyza, and learning more about where Reg came from. The Abyss has a lot of dangers, the biggest one being the Curse of the Abyss, where ascending from the layers can cause anything from nausea to bleeding to loss of humanity to death. The farther down you go, the more you will not likely recover from the Curse, so Riko knows that as a human, once she descends to the bottom, there is no return from the Abyss (whereas Reg, being a humanoid robot, doesn't get affected by ascension).
Joining Riko and Reg is Nanachi, a Hollow (a human who lost their humanity from ascending in the Abyss), who rescued Riko from certain death. Nanachi agrees to accompany Riko and Reg due to their newfound friendship. But they must descend to the Fifth Layer, where White Whistle Bondrewd has made a base, and where he has conducted the most inhumane, disturbing experiments on human children--Nanachi is a result of one of those experiments.
There's a lot of residual trauma that Nanachi feels knowing they have to reunite with Bondrewd in order to get to the Sixth level, and Riko and Reg, knowing Nanachi's background with Bondrewd, also fear their encounter. But it's a necessary evil. Bondrewd's lair is in the Fifth level, and he has the only way to the Sixth, so they have to go through him.
The movie chronicles their experiences doing so, and finding a huge surprise--the cold, unfeeling Bondrewd has a daughter. How can someone who does such terrible things to children have loving feelings towards another child?
Characters: We very much have the same main characters from the television series, but also a new character in Bondrewd's daughter. Prushka. Let's go through the main players in the movie.
The IMDB description says it best about Riko (voiced by Brittany Lauda)--she's plucky! And she's still filled with unshaking optimism about her journey into the Abyss. She's convinced, because of Reg's existence and possible origins, that the bottom of the Abyss could indeed be a wonderful place. Considering the Abyss seems to be scarier the deeper they go, I think she's very brave in thinking so, and maybe even a little foolhardy. But she's armed with plenty of knowledge about the creatures there, the food they can eat, the relics that exist down there--she fills the viewer in about a lot of different things, along with Nanachi. So she's a great character to follow along on this journey.
Reg (voiced by Luci Christian) is still my favorite character! He's such a good friend to Riko and Nanachi. And I like that he gets a bit emotional when he has to do tough things but does them anyway. We also see a brand-new side to Reg when he basically electrocutes himself and "summons" a new, monstrous personality to battle Bondrewd. It just adds to his mystery as to how he was created, and for what purpose, and why he's so human-like even while he can change into what seems like an entirely different, almost animalistic creature. He has immense destructive power and yet he's such a good character who does anything to help his friends, and he feels the full array of human emotions, often crying for his friends or when he has to do terrible things, like the plot to kill Bondrewd. I just think he's a sweet character.
Nanachi (played by Brittney Karbowski) reveals more about themselves during the movie, and we learn more about their trauma surrounding Bondrewd. It turns out Nanachi helped Bondrewd with his terrible experiments, including the making of "Cartridges," where children are somehow disassembled while still alive, and their still-functional brain and vital organs are used to deflect the Curse of the Abyss (I don't really understand how any of that works, by the way). Anyway, Nanachi sobs because they were used to help gather children (due to their cuteness) to build these terrible things, where the living remains of the child are stuffed into containers and used up like they were nothing at all. It's a devastating revelation. But Nanachi continues to work to redeem themselves by helping Riko and Reg as much as they possibly can.
Prushka (played by Avery Smithhart) is Bondrewd's (adopted) daughter. They never say ages in Made in Abyss but I think she's a young teenager, maybe fourteen or fifteen or so. She's been in the Fifth layer her entire life and has never been topside to Orth or to the other layers, although there was an accident where she did ascend in the Fifth layer when she was younger, and experienced the trauma of the Curse. Bondrewd raised her and brought her out of it as her mind and body healed, and they, by all appearances, have a loving father-daughter relationship. Prushka is very talkative and makes immediate friends with Riko and Reg and Nanachi, warming up to Riko especially. That's why her story is so heartbreaking: Bondrewd developed the bonds of love with her in order to make her a powerful defense against the Curse of the Abyss, using her as one of the Cartridges. Prushka's devotion to Riko, even while she is a cartridge, becomes a White Whistle for Riko, allowing her and the rest of the party to travel to the 6th layer of the Abyss. In that way, Prushka is by Riko's side forever.
Well, this movie made me hate him even more. He was already horrible for the experiments he did on the children in Season One of Made in the Abyss, and now we find out he's managed to be even more terrible with the making of the cartridges and sacrificing his own daughter. He's such a twisted character, showing love for Prushka and admiration for Nanachi, all while experimenting on Prushka and Reg and continuing to destroy innocent children. I hate this guy. I hate his silky voice, too (this is not a slam of actor David Harbold, who does an excellent job voicing him; I just dislike how calm he is while committing atrocities).
Animation: The animation continues its high quality from the series, with gorgeous and expansive background and setting designs, brilliant use of color, and simpler rendering of the characters in a nice contrast. The Fifth Layer is cold and dark, so there's not a lot of pretty scenery to look at, but the colors (deep purple, gray, and black) work well to give a lonely, ominous hint to everything.
Voice Acting: I have no complaints about the English-speaking voice actors. I thought everyone was well-cast and the performances excellent. It's hard for me to choose between the English and Japanese casts as both have done a great job. I want to give a special shout-out to Luci Christian, because with this film I can see how she has an incredible performance range overall. I've heard her voice teen girls, young children, sultry women, and now a young boy, and they all sound different. I'm amazed.
Low Points of the film: I have two issues, but they're very small. The first one is a complaint continuing on from the series--I'm just not a fan of the penis jokes with Reg. He's a twelve-year-old boy. Give him a break! Puberty is hard! I don't know if the emphasis is on it because it's to show that whoever made him tried to make him as human as possible or what, but it's not necessary to the story.
The other issue I have is a tad more serious. The movie was a little hard for me to follow at times. I didn't understand all of the artifacts that Bondrewd used, and I don't totally understand the Curse and Blessing of the Abyss. I don't understand entirely how Cartridges work. In order for me to write this review, I watched the movie twice and then consulted the Wiki on Made in Abyss to fill in some blanks for me.
This did not detract from the enjoyability of the film or how emotional the viewing experience was for me, but I thought there were a lot of technical details in this story, so it's not something you can sit on--you've got to pay attention closely to what characters are saying about the world, the devices, etc.
High Points of the film: It's hard for me to choose a specific high point because the entirety of this movie is really freaking devastating. Like, the whole movie is upsetting (in a good way). I think what works best for me are the friendships between the characters--that really pulled me through the difficult parts of the film.
I think I need to acknowledge the music again, too--they kept the same composer, Kevin Penkin, who got to venture into more emotional territory (and even action music too, given the multiple confrontation scenes in the movie).
Final thoughts: Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul is a challenging movie. It's incredibly dark and emotional, filled with danger and suffering, but also the powerful bonds of love and friendship. It's not an easy film to sit through, but as I've mentioned before about Made in Abyss in general, it's quite a compelling story. You always want to know what's going to happen next, and what the mysteries of the Abyss and its Layers are. This is a fine addition to the series and I hope to add it to my collection, but I think I can only watch it when I'm in a certain frame of mind, because you have to prepare yourself to feel ALL THE EMOTIONS.