You might have reached this point by watching the first series of the anime, or you might have watched the two compilation films that proceed it. Either way, this feature film is the continuation of the Made in Abyss story, and picks up right where the first season left off. There is no attempt to make this accessible for new viewers, so if you haven’t yet watched either the series or the compilation films you will be completely lost. The action takes place in the fifth layer of the Abyss, and this is an ideal leg of the journey for the big budget treatment, because it marks a significant moment: the sixth level is extraordinarily difficult to get into, and nobody ever comes back from there. This is the point of no return.
Standing in the way of Riko, Reg, and the cutest ever anime character Nanachi is the White Whistle explorer Bondrewd. You might remember him from the end of the previous series as the absolute monster of a man who was experimenting on children, and was responsible for Nanachi’s friend losing her humanity, and Nanachi being turned into the fluffy beauty that she is (every cloud, and all that). If you thought his story was twisted before, expect a lot more trauma, tears and body horror, but notched up another level, believe it or not. This is another tearjerker of a story, and that’s because of a new character: Bondrewd’s adopted daughter Prushka.
The story reminded me strongly of Elfen Lied and Brynhildr in the Darkness, with a child victim of experimentation coming to love her captor as a father. But this is worse, because in those examples the love was reciprocated, whereas here Prushka is never anything other than a means to an end for Bondrewd. In contrast, her love for her papa seems to be unshakeable and unconditional. I could have done with a bit more light and shade to this film, because it’s nearly all shade and the shade is dark. Occasional attempts at humour to defuse the tension from time to time tend to misfire, including an inappropriate and unfunny joke about the bodily effect stroking Nanachi’s fur has on Reg.
The main aim of this film seems to be to show us some remarkable fight sequences, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint in that department, if you like that kind of thing. Bondrewd is almost an impossible enemy to beat, and those are of course the most entertaining ones to watch in a fight with the good guys. He has creatures working with him called “Umbra Hands”, who turn out to be an extension of himself in some way, so when he dies after an enormous effort on the part of our heroes, one of his servants simply grabs his head, puts it on, and becomes Bondrewd. To fight him, Reg has to discover more about himself and find a way to level up his fighting abilities, and even that isn’t enough. The standard of the animation for these sequences is breathtaking.
This is not one for the faint-hearted, with a huge amount of body horror: horrific injuries, limbs being removed, creatures that infest a body, keep it alive and hatch out. It’s a lot of nasty stuff. I’m not a fan of all that, but at the same time it didn’t put me off watching for a second, because it’s such a compelling story and the three heroes are so entertaining to watch. The film plays strongly with the idea that they might not all make it to the next level, and nothing seems certain in this dangerous location. Another question is whether the group of three friends will become a group of four, with Prushka keen to go exploring with the first friends she has ever known. The writer finds a very clever way to make the answer to that question “yes and no”, and it’s a tragedy that will have the hardest-hearted viewer choking back the tears. Prushka is a great addition to the cast of characters, a victim of great suffering, as a flashback sequence towards the end clearly indicates. But this film shows how past trials and tragedies can give a person strength. We are seeing that even more clearly with Nanachi, who is able to face off against her former torturer with courage and humanity. She remains one of the best anime characters ever created, and not just because she’s cute and fluffy… but that helps. A second season of the anime is on the way next year. I’m sure I echo the feelings of many anime fans when I say that I can’t wait to find out what happens in the next level of the Abyss. RP