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Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn Review

March 23, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Made in Abyss: Journey's Dawn
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Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn Review  

Directed By: Masayuki Kojima
Written By: Hideyuki Kurata; Based on the manga and characters created by Akihito Tsukushi
Runtime: 118 minutes
MPAA Rating: N/A

Miyu Tomita – Riko
Mariya Ise – Reg
Sayaka Ôhara – Ozen
Maaya Sakamoto – Lyza

In 2012, Akihito Tsukushi debuted his new adventure manga, Made in Abyss. The show later exploded with its popular when it debuted as an episodic anime series from Kinema Citrus in 2017. Now, the story hits the silver screen with Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn. Journey’s Dawn is the first of two planned compilation films that retell the events of the series. The second film, Made in Abyss: Wandering Twilight, has already been released in Japan, with a third film also in the works. The latter will likely cover new material from the manga that has not yet been adapted.

Made in Abyss follows two young heroes, Reg and Riko, who live in the city of Orth who go on a journey deep into the unknown. Set in what appears to be an alternate version of Earth (sounds like Orth, doesn’t it?), young Riko is an orphaned girl who is training to become a Delver of the Abyss.

The Abyss is a giant hole in the ground that goes to an unknown and untold depth. Strange creatures, phenomenon and relics have all been discovered in the Abyss. It appears to hold relics and ruins of a long-lost civilization. Traveling deeper into the Abyss can be deadly for humans. Think climbing Mt. Everest on steroids, mixed in with strange, unexplainable phenomenon and potential body horror. Traveling deeper into the Abyss and then ascending back up wreaks havoc on the body and mind. Not only that, braving the pit triggers strange, random mutations of the human body as well. Riko’s late mother was one of the most proclaimed, lauded and legendary Delvers of the pit, and she wishes to follow in her footsteps.

One day, Riko is saved from one of the Abyss’ more dangerous monsters. Her rescuer is an amnesiac robot she and her friends dub Reg. Reg is a gentle individual who is ingratiated into Riko’s group of friends, and they trick their teacher into letting Reg join their orphanage and Delver school. Eventually, an expedition returns to the surface with the white whistle belonging to Riko’s mother, Lyza. Whistles are an artifact that denotes the abilities and rank of Delvers. Delvers with the White Whistles are the most experienced, prestigious and legendary of their group. The explorers also returned with what appears to be Lyza’s notes and a message that she’s waiting at the bottom. Riko believes this is a message from her mother, and that she has to follow in her footsteps. And with Reg, she believes she’s found the key to reaching the bottom of the pit, a place no Delver has reached and ever returned to the surface. Since Riko believes Reg came from the deepest parts of the Abyss, Reg is charged to help her travel to the bottom since he’s a durable robot that doesn’t appear to be affected by the pit’s debilitating symptoms.

Journey’s Dawn is a good way to step into the story of Made in Abyss, especially if the series has not yet been viewed. It starts from the beginning of the story and reintroduces all the major plots and characters. It’s essentially a recap film from the first half or so of the television series. With the next film covering the latter half.

Author Akihito Tsukushi has a tremendous grasp on world-building. The first half does a great job of establishing the rules of the world, the customs and traditions of this fantasy society, and the Abyss itself. Director Masayuki Kojima
and writer Hideyuki Kurata do an exceptional job of bringint Tsukushi’s material to life in a world that’s vibrant, but also at times very dangerous and deadly.

That’s another aspect that sets the stakes for Made in Abyss. The characters are very bright, optimistic and cheerful, but the world they live in is at times incredibly bleak and dark. Tsukushi isn’t afraid to put these characters in very dark situations, and those moments come across well in the films. There’s a reveal later in the film that’s borderline mind-shattering. However, Tsukushi and the anime staff do avoid in making the story all-out nihilistic and depressingly bleak. Simply, it’s as if the story is mentally testing the audience, much as the Abyss tests the mettle of the Delvers, Riko and Reg.

Riko and Reg are very likable main characters. Riko is essentially the emotional center of the story as the young girl determined to match and surpass her mother. What really works about the character is that she’s not too ultra serious. At times she’s a bit goofy and comedic, and she can be a bit of a ditz, which makes her more charming and appealing. However, there’s still a strong emotional core to Riko’s character, along with Reg, spurring them to journey into the unknown.

Once again, Japanese anime features prove that the traditional 2D animation style is far from dead on the big screen. Between the character designs and overall look of the world, Orth and the Abyss in the film are reminiscent of a classic 1990s Square RPG. The animators have created a really fleshed out and interesting looking world, and it appears it only get more intense, insane and weirder as the heroes travel deeper. The main characters and even some of the adults have these very unique frames and character models. The young kids these cute, chibi-like designs opting over hyper-realism, which add to the overall unique look.

The film does drag in places. As a movie, it is a bit disjointed as this is really just the introductory part of what appears to be a multi-part story. So, there are a few places where the narrative does drag. Also, while some moments drag, it does gloss over what appear to be some more important elements. As this was the subtitled version, some of the confusion over certain elements could be due to the English translation. Some of the terms and ideas could’ve used a bit more clarification, especially since this story is so heavy on world-building.

Considering Made in Abyss was originally written as part of a serialized manga story, the second half isn’t quite as satisfying. So, rather than an actual ending, it’s just a setup for the continuation of the journey. Granted, the first two films were released fairly close together in Japan and are probably meant to be viewed that way. In the episodic format, viewers could tune in the following week to find out what happens next to Riko and Reg. Basically, the movie ends on what’s more or less the general middle section of a story.

Regardless, Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn was a good start to Riko and Reg. Their journey only looks to grow more intense, bizarre and frightening from here out, and the staff have certainly set the stage for a grand finale.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Made in Abyss: Journey's Dawn is a good start to the journey of the young heroes Reg and Riko as they seek to reach the bottom of the Abyss and reach the place no one else has before. Akihito Tsukushi has created a riveting and at times intense story with likable, charming lead characters who are put to the absolute limit both mentally and physically, and it appears like it will only get worse for here. This is a story where the journey is the most important part, not so much the destination. Hideyuki Kurata does his best to compile the story into a near-two hour feature, but that's not without its bumps in the road. Director Masayuki Kojima brings the world of Tsukushi's manga to lavish life onscreen with vibrant, cinematic animation of exceptional quality. Fans of the anime and manga should definitely try and give the film a look while it's still playing in theaters, courtesy of Fathom Events, or when it hits streaming VOD or home video. This is definitely an experience that's worth seeing on the big screen if the opportunity is available.