Made in Abyss may have initially released quietly when the series first debuted its anime adaptation in 2017, but the series built up a huge cult following afterwards. It soon became the critically acclaimed series to beat that year, and the franchise has returned with a new set of films, the first of which is now hitting Western shores. And what a wonderful return it is as Made in Abyss: Journey's Dawn is the perfect introduction to this beautiful, melancholy world.
Originally created by Akihiko Tsukushi in 2012, Made in Abyss is set in a world where humanity is all too curious about a giant crater, known as the Abyss, in the middle of everything. The deeper down someone descends, the harder it is to retain one's sanity and humanity. But because of the mysterious and rare treasures within the Abyss, explorers known as "Cave Raiders" make the journey.
The film follows Riko, an orphan girl who's wanted to go in the Abyss for as long as she can remember. When Riko receives a message from her long-thought-dead mother from the bottom of the Abyss, Riko vows to head into its depths with the help of a robot boy she finds in the Abyss named Reg.
Journey's Dawn immediately draws you into its universe as the film is incredibly pleasing to the eyes and ears. It's aesthetically satisfying as it blends different art techniques to enhance the look of certain things. There are monsters of the Abyss painted with rough brush strokes or outlines, and it's a stark contrast to the crisp presentation of everything else. This clash makes danger feel more unnerving as certain beings look and sound like they don't belong in this world at all.
There's no better juxtaposition than with the character designs. Rounder, cuter faces make for an even more tragic outcome when characters are confronted with death and other heavy imagery. These visual elements make the world compelling, and the musical score helps it feel alive. The latter doubles down on the former as the film's score always has an undercurrent of sorrow underneath cheery tones.
This makes Riko and Reg's journey all the more distressing. Throughout its run, there's a sense that something dark is lurking just around Riko and Reg's "adventure," and Journey's Dawn basically twists a knife when the ball actually gets rolling. Riko and Reg are a charming, wonderful duo full of personality; they're little bundles of goodness that you'll just want to protect.
Now Journey's Dawn is not without its flaws, unfortunately. As Journey's Dawn is a film retelling the events of the first eight episodes or so of the series, there is not going to be much new narrative content to draw in current fans. While it's the best way to experience the English dub of the series (though the same should be said for each language release), events are not presented in new perspectives.
Some scenes are taken directly as they are from the anime series, and while it's still effective in context, there's a sense that it's a lost opportunity for the film's presentation. This has an effect on the pace of the film as the plot can sometimes feel like it is moving along episodically than as a constructed adventure. But with all that said, the film is a stunning experience for newcomers, and they'll likely feel compelled to find out what's next.
Made in Abyss: Journey's Dawn is a harrowing exploration into a serene, yet unnerving universe. Though it may not be as enthralling for those on their second journey, the film can still be a fulfilling voyage.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Made in Abyss: Journey's Dawn will be holding a special premiere event in Los Angeles on March 15th. The film will go on to a wider release on March 20th (with English subtitles) and March 25th (English language dubbed). Theater locations and availability may vary. You can find more information here.