When I covered Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn back in March, I have to admit that I was a little bit disappointed afterwards. The movie itself is still pretty good, but I remembered the series being so much better than what Journey’s Dawn showed off. The elements that got me hooked into the series were there, like the stellar world building, its likable cast, and that it wasn’t afraid to get dark, but a lot of its problems seemed like glaring beacons to me. Journey’s Dawn was meant to be a retelling of the first eight episodes of the series that removed all of the fluff and faults, but the faults were still there and became more pronounced due to the compressed nature of the story. It made me ask; was this really the series that I fell in love with?
So I went into the second part of this duology, Made in Abyss: Wandering Twilight, with trepidation. I didn’t want to be disappointed in this movie like I was the first. All of my fears melted away after the first five minutes. Then I realized that THIS was the Made in Abyss that I loved. And now I hate myself that I ever doubted the quality of the series.
Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn
Director: Masayuki Kojima
Release Date: May 27, 2019 (Limited Release)
First thing’s first, if you have not seen Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn or the original anime, do not watch this movie. Wandering Twilight assumes that you’re familiar with the story so far and does not spend a single second making sure that you’re up to date. The movie begins mere moments after the first film and given the fact that this is literally the second half of a 13 episode season in movie form, there are no callbacks or moments where characters will reflect on events from the prior film. That’s the biggest criticism that I can lob against Wandering Twilight, but then again, why would you see the second half of a duology without seeing the first half?
Once you’ve gotten over that hurdle, we continue following our protagonists Riko and Reg as they continue to descend into the gargantuan abyss, though things take a turn for the worse almost immediately after entering the fourth layer of the near endless abyss. Riko is incapacitated for most of the movie, leaving us to follow Reg as he meets two new characters, a rabbit girl named Nanachi, and her pet/friend/blob-thing Mitty. The rest of the movie tells the backstory on who Nanachi and Mitty are and their encounter with Bondrewd the Novel, the White Whistle who adopted them, and how Riko and Reg can help Nanachi and Mitty in the present day.
If you thought that the first movie was dark in its imagery and plot devices, Wandering Twilight is outright malicious, assaulting viewers with horrifying imagery and situations. There are three moments in the film that are extended sequences of such great suffering and sadness that I was vocally begging for it to end. This is not because those scenes were terribly executed, but because the movie did such a phenomenal job at getting me to like these characters that I didn’t want to see them suffer as badly as they do. Even just taken on their own, these are scenes that would make anyone, anime fan or not, wince in pain at the horror on display. The funny thing is that I was expecting these moments. I knew that they were coming and they were going to be brutal to watch, but I still forgot just how brilliantly bone-crunching those scenes were handled.
All of the praise that I heaped upon the original still stands here. The animation is beautifully executed, although there aren’t as many action scenes as the first movie. In fact, most of the fight scenes are relegated to the first half hour and are swiftly forgotten about by the end. This is a movie where most of the characters stand around and talk, yet the delivery, writing, and atmosphere makes you forget that most of the visuals are static. I neglected to mention the soundtrack last time, composed by Kevin Penkin. That was a crime against humanity, because his soundtrack is magnificent. The second one of his songs came on, I knew that I was in good hands and I never wanted it to end. When was the last time you heard a score like this in a TV show, let alone an anime?
Most of the uncomfortable bits from the first movie have also thankfully been dulled down, though that has more to do with the fact that they weren’t present in the original episodes than them being edited out. The focus on child nudity is still there, though it’s played as less of a joke here than in the first movie and portrayed more realistically. Or at least as realistically as a movie about kids talking with a rabbit girl can be. In Journey’s Dawn, multiple characters make reference to Reg’s penis because he’s a robot, despite him being clearly uncomfortable by it. In Wandering Twilight, Riko has to take her clothes off due to them being covered in blood and she doesn’t want to risk infection. It is not played for a joke at all. There’s actual context to their situations that justify their actions, although I would still prefer if there was no child nudity at all.
Wandering Twilight isn’t just a dirge of child misery, though. While the characters do suffer, there’s also a heart on display that feels unique from most other anime. Reg genuinely cares about Riko and his actions throughout Wandering Twilight show that he is constantly worried about protecting Riko from harm. So when the characters, Nanachi and Mitty included, are able to just relax and take a breath, it feels quaint and you never want it to end. Combined with the soundtrack, these moments feel like an ethereal respite from the cruelties of the abyss, which in case you’ve forgotten, includes such terrifying moments as people bleeding from every orifice of their bodies if they decided to ascend it.
But the real reason hardcore fans will want to see Wandering Twilight has to do with the extra content added. There are two scenes here that were not in the first season that are intended to flesh out the world and add in a few teases for what is to come. One is a dream sequence that offers some interesting avenues that the show can explore at a later date, but the big revelation is the new ending. This ending serves to flesh out Bondrewd a bit more and introduces an essential character for the next movie, which will be a direct continuation of the events of this film. Bondrewd, in both the movie and TV show, is a terrifying man that goes beyond anime bastards like Shou Tucker from Full Metal Alchemist, so seeing extra footage of him only whets my appetite more for what’s to come.
I’ve actually hesitated on writing this review for a couple of days. I saw this movie on Saturday, yet I wanted to be very careful and formulate my opinion just right. I didn’t know if I loved this movie because it was Made in Abyss, or if it was because it was simply a good movie. So let me say this with completely certainty, as I’m writing this three days later:
Made in Abyss: Wandering Twilight is goddamn art. It is a masterpiece of world building that is the single best example of how amazing anime can be. This film, when taken out of the context of the series, is one of the best anime feature films of the decade. If the Mitty and Nanachi section was taken out and shown as a short film, it would then be one of the best anime short films of the past decade. I can’t say this enough; watch Wandering Twilight. This is why I love the medium, and if you identify yourself as an anime fan, you have no excuse.