Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn Review

Originally published on The Fandom Post

What They Say:
Riko and her plucky band of friends dream of one day becoming Cave Raiders, exalted adventurers who brave the treacherous descent into the enigmatic Abyss.

When Riko learns about the death of her mother, she longs to discover her fate.

With her mysterious robot friend Reg, they set out upon a harrowing, breathtaking journey into the Abyss. But they also know that those who venture into the Abyss’ dark depths sometimes never emerge. And when they do, they are forever changed.

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
It’s been over a year since the TV anime of Made in Abyss finished airing, and we’re finally returning to the Abyss in the form of two recap movies, starting with Journey’s Dawn. Though it has a couple of new scenes that weren’t in the TV series, most of Journey’s Dawn is a faithful retelling of the first eight episodes of the series. It’s inevitable that some content would get cut so they could fit eight episodes into one movie, but it’s impressive just how much the filmmakers were able to fit into one film. All the crucial story moments make it through virtually untouched, with only smaller, more incidental scenes being cut. Most importantly, Journey’s Dawn is able to capture what made the series so captivating in the first place.

A major part of Made in Abyss’s appeal comes from Riko herself. Her starry-eyed wonder at every little thing she learns of the Abyss is infectious and charming, making her a joy to watch in every scene. Just by watching her, you can feel why so many people in this world are willing to risk everything at the slightest chance of finding some treasure in the Abyss. Riko’s not just a dreamer, though. As she and Reg journey into the Abyss, we see that she’s also a genuinely competent explorer. She knows about the types of creatures in the Abyss, and understands many of the dangers they encounter and how to avoid them, as well as how to survive in such a hostile environment. Paired with Reg’s extendable arms and borderline-indestructible body, the two make a strong team, helped by their compelling dynamic.

Though they haven’t known each other for long in-universe, Riko and Reg have almost instant chemistry. Reg’s more cautious and sensible attitude is a good balance for Riko’s often reckless enthusiasm, and Riko’s eagerness contrasts nicely with Reg’s occasional timidity. Binding the two of them together is one shared desire: to reach the bottom of the Abyss and see what waits for them there.

As important as Riko and Reg are, the Abyss itself often feels like the real main character of the story. It dominates every scene, even before Riko and Reg depart. Their town and every aspect of its culture is built around the Abyss, which feels inescapable, a feeling that only gets stronger once they do enter. The system of dividing the Abyss up into different layers with more danger in the deeper levels should feel artificial and video game-y, but instead serves as a reminder of how tempting such a place could be. It’s easy to imagine the temptation to go just a little deeper, stay just a little longer, to find that one treasure you’re sure is waiting right around the corner. Contrary to what the name implies, the Abyss is actually quite beautiful, full of lush forests fantastical locations like giant pits and inverted forests. Everything about it feels like a fully realized location just waiting to be explored. At the same time, the film does nothing to obscure just how dangerous it is.

The concept of the Curse, which causes progressively worse symptoms if anyone tries to ascend from the lower levels, is a powerful reminder that Riko and Reg are embarking on a one-way trip that borders on a suicide mission. Even if they somehow make it past all the dangers and reach the bottom, there’s no coming back from there, a fact that both of them are well aware of. It’s a testament to the Abyss’s allure that their willingness to throw everything away in their journey never once feels forced or unrealistic. It’s natural to desire something that seems just out of reach, and the Abyss is a perfect symbol of having everything you ever wanted just lying there, waiting for someone to reach out and claim it.

Though most of the film is reused animation from the TV series, that’s not much of a criticism. Made in Abyss is downright gorgeous, and some cuts of animation border on film quality. The vivid colors and pleasant character designs suck you into the setting almost immediately, with plenty of solid character animation backing them up. This, combined with Kevin Penkin’s soft, naturalistic, score gives Made in Abyss an almost fairy-tale-esque vibe, emphasizing the sense of wonder the Abyss gives off.

In Summary:
Though it doesn’t offer a lot in terms of new content, Journey’s Dawn does an excellent job of capturing what makes Made in Abyss such a unique series. The charming characters, unique setting, and slightly ominous atmosphere make Made in Abyss just as compelling as when it first aired. The TV series is still the ideal way to experience the story in animated form, but Journey’s Dawn is perfect if you’re looking to refresh yourself on what happened, or if you’re interested in experiencing the story in a more streamlined form. Either way, Journey’s Dawn is well worth the watch for both fans and newcomers to the story.

Grade: B+

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