If you’ve kept up at all with anime releases in the past 2 years, you’ve likely heard of Made in Abyss. It premiered in 2017 from Kinema Citrus, an animation studio spawned from former members of well-known studios Production I.G. and Bones, and saw critical acclaim immediately. It drew high praise for the story’s sense of adventure, balanced pacing, and outstanding soundtrack from Australian native Kevin Penkin. This resulted in awards from streaming service Crunchyroll for Best Anime of 2017 and Best Score, not to mention countless positive words from the anime community at large.
From left: Kevin Penkin (w/Nanachi), Masayuki Kojima, Shimpei Yamashita, and Hiromitsu Iijima
Fast forward to 2019 and a sequel to the anime has seen an announcement, but not yet been released. However, we DO have some good news in the form of two compilation films: Journey’s Dawn and Wandering Twilight. The former, which adapts the first 8 or so episodes of the anime, recently premiered at a red carpet event at the Regal LA Live Theater in downtown Los Angeles, and yours truly was lucky enough to attend the high-profile event. Not just a mere screening of the film before anywhere else in the US, the premiere brought a gathering of some of the most important people who helped craft the adaptation. Director Masayuki Kojima, producer Shimpei Yamashita, music producer Hiromitsu Iijima, and composer Kevin Penkin were all in attendance and held a brief Q&A after the screening to give insight into the film’s development: a rare treat for the sold out crowd. Though there wasn’t too much time available for all the questions, it was still a welcome bonus for everyone who stuck around post-credits. It’s not every day you get insight into the creation of a modern classic.
As for the movie itself, given my background of having already loved the anime, I feel that this compilation is generally a good adaptation with some (understandable) stumbling points. The beginning of the film has slight pacing issues and throws terms, phrases, and character names around in a way that may be discombobulating for newcomers to the series. In time this is sorted out, as more exposure and exposition clears up what the colored whistles signify, what the Layers are, and other such points of confusion. There are a few moments when the animation quality degrades a bit on the big screen, but beyond that, creator Akihito Tsukushi’s artistic style translates as well as can be. The soundtrack by Kevin Penkin works just as perfectly as it does in the anime, and hearing those gorgeous compositions on movie theater mega speakers only strengthens their emotional punch. And of course the story of Riko and Reg’s one-way journey down the Abyss is immensely captivating no matter what medium it’s adapted to.
My biggest qualm with the film is that, by nature of being an anime compilation film, it is exceedingly difficult to construct a three act movie. In particular, the climax of the film happens well before the credits roll, meaning all the events afterwards have significantly less tension or impact. Glossing over the time Riko and Reg spend surviving in Ozen’s jungle was likely to preserve the film’s length. Unfortunately, that period in the anime came across as fairly important to character growth and to deepen the relationship between the two stars, so I would have liked that portion translated better.
That said, all in all, I of course loved my time spent in the Abyss. I can gush about the world-building, the character design, and the soundtrack for days. However, I really can’t see this film as being a strong standalone. The following film, Wandering Twilight, was released only two weeks after Journey’s Dawn premiere date in Japan. This shows how closely entwined the two parts of the anime are, and watching that second movie will certainly add plenty of levity to the story. For now, I can give a hearty recommendation to watch MADE IN ABYSS: Journey’s Dawn, but expect to be craving more shortly afterwards, be it the followup film or episodes 9-13 of the anime. It’s that much of a cliffhanger that you’ll want to know what happens to our spelunking duo ASAP.