I’ve held off for quite a while on Made in Abyss: Fukaki Tamashii no Reimei for blogging purposes. Part of that is a simple matter of time – covering theatrical features requires a commitment of an uninterrupted block of it I don’t often have. But the second part of it is mustering the will to subject myself to the experience again. Even after having seen the movie raw (the last time I went to the theatre before the pandemic changed everything, a fact I remember quite distinctly) I knew what I was letting myself in for. And that part of this is not easy.
I’ve discussed this in my posts on the series, but my relationship with Made in Abyss is complicated. I stipulate to this – Tsukushi Akihito is brilliant, and MiA is a staggeringly brilliant series. It was my #2 series of 2017, and that’s only because Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu finished that year. It was my #12 series of the entire decade. Tsukushi’s imagination and vision is truly stunning, and he has a gift for characters which puts me in mind of Togashi Yoshihiro (not the only thing about this series that does). Not even factoring in how much the anime contributes – which rest assured, I will get to – Made in Abyss is a masterpiece.
Yet, this series bothers me in a way none of my other top series of the decade do. It’s not that it’s so tragic and violent, though it certainly is both those things. It seems to me that Tsukushi-sensei takes an almost fetishistic joy in torturing his characters (among other things), something compounded by the fact that the main ones are children. There are things he dwells on gleefully which, honestly, I feel are totally unnecessary to the picture this series is trying to paint. And that’s coming from someone not remotely squeamish about such things. In terms of existential despair MiA runs with the likes of the “Chimera Ant” arc, in my opinion. But it’s twisted in a way I don’t think Togashi’s work is.
Yet, for all that, it remains what it is – staggeringly good. And in the hands of director Kojima Masayuki and Kinema Citrus, it flowers spectacularly. Even on television Made in Abyss was visually spectacular – I would put in on a very short list of the most beautiful series ever made. With a theatrical budget all of that is cranked up even higher, and “Dawn of the Deep Soul” is one of the best-looking anime films of all time. The staff for this adaptation is one of the best ever assembled, and it shows. No detail is too small, and no spectacle is too grand.
For all that, at times watching this movie I feel as if the true star is Kevin Penkin, the 28 year-old British composer Kinema Citrus – in a stroke of genius – hired to provide the franchise’s music. Not only is Penkin’s work indescribably gorgeous and atmospheric, but it fits the tone of Made in Abyss like a glove. I can’t imagine the series without it – and that’s a statement I would make about very few anime soundtracks over the decades I’ve been a fan.
The material covered by Fukaki Tamashii no Reimei is some of the darkest in the MiA catalog (though some readers say things get even worse later on, hard as that is to believe). So much of the despair in this series can be traced back to Bondrewd, the central figure of this arc (though the entire saga of the Abyss is swimming in death and agony). Nanashi’s tragic life story, which dominated the latter half of the TV series, can be laid at his feet. And the tale of Prushka (Minase Inori) is entirely dominated by Bondrewd as well. Bondrewd, master of his lair Idofront at the base of the Fifth Level, represents the brutality that comes from human nature, which rivals any horror the Abyss itself can offer.
We learn a fair bit about Reg in this film, not least of which is that his lifespan may be shortened every time he uses his incinerator (whether his snacking on Idofront’s power supply changes that is unclear). We also learn the terrible secret behind the cartridges that Bondrewd relies on to suppress the curse of the Abyss, and indeed the secret behind his power altogether. There’s also the truth of the white whistles – the implements themselves, not the Cave Raiders who wield them – and “Your Worth”. It all chips away at your soul, bit by bit, each revelation another blow to the psyche.
In fact, I think the core theme of Fukaki Tamashii no Reimei and indeed of Made in Abyss itself is that for all the horrifying creatures of the Abyss and the horrifying fate of those who run afoul of them, the capacity of humans for cruelty is what we should truly fear. “Treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross” is how Q described the endless reaches of space, but it certainly applies to the Abyss as well. For someone like Bondrewd to possess its riches and the power they accord justifies any act, no matter how heinous. Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Bondrewd is his moral certitude – for all the atrocities he commits, it would never occur to him that his actions are in any way unjustified.
Against this backdrop we have Riko, Reg and Nanashi. Three adorable child figures (Nanashi clearly falls under another category despite her appearance) whose presence seems so discordant in this story just as Gon and Killua’s does in much of Hunter X Hunter. Reg’s origin may be a mystery but in many ways he’s the most recognizably human character in the series – compassionate, emotionally vulnerable, and selfless. Nanashi is an old soul forever changed and forever driven by the tragedy she suffered, and by her own role in it. But Riko is a strange child, broken in her her own way – though she clearly cares deeply for Reg and Nanashi, it would never occur to her to spare them the dangers her quest subjects them to. Her moral certitude is almost as frightening as Bondrewd’s, in fact.
I can see the ending of “Dawn of the Deep Soul” as being rather divisive, especially from Nanashi’s perspective. The merits of what the heroes do – and don’t do – at the close of the film can certainly be debated. But the story moves on either way, ever-deeper into the Abyss. As richly detailed as this mythology already is – and Made in Abyss is a series for which the term “world building” seems comically inadequate – we’ve barely scratched the surface (pun intended) of the mysteries at its core. And as emotionally draining as experience this story is, that’s a very exciting prospect.
What does the future hold for Made in Abyss? More films, seemingly – but probably not another season of the TV anime. That’s not for a lack of success, because – to my surprise, frankly – this weird series has proved to be a major commercial hit in Japan. Rather it seems that the parties involved have concluded that movies are the best way to continue the story, both in terms of budgetary demands and Tsukushi-sensei’s sometimes erratic publication schedule. While my feelings about that are somewhat mixed, there’s no question that the sweep and grandeur of Made in Abyss are such that the theatre is probably the best place to experience them – something I encourage fans worldwide to do, once it’s again safe to do so. Just make sure you prepare yourself for the emotional barrage first.