Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul (Fukaki Tamashii no Reimei)

The Dawn of the Deep Soul film continues with the ‘let’s do unspeakably cruel things to cute kids’ approach that featured in the first season of the anime.

Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul (Fukaki Tamashii no Reimei) 2020

Now, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the movie – that would be a lie, but some scenes will probably be hard work for most viewers, so take note if you know you’re not up for that sort of thing right now (or ever).

To contrast all that was harrowing about the movie, I’ll say that the amazing perseverance of the kids who keep fighting, no matter what, ends up being uplifting.

Although, perhaps what I enjoyed most about the film was the expansion of the world featured in Made in Abyss, learning more specifics around its often twisted workings.

Another highlight for me was the first fight scene between Bondrewd and the kids – put me on the roller-coaster a bit, because I was well-aware that it was far too early in the film for a resolution.

I don’t really have much in the way of criticism, save for something that’s relatively unfair – which is that the sense of travel and encountering new wonders and horrors is somewhat reduced here. And of course – it’s one film, not one season, and one film focused on a very specific location, Bondrewd’s fortress of horrors.

And I’m not sure this is a criticism precisely, but there are times when it’s clear how the narrative is going to traumatise Riko and co, and even the seemingly more stalwart Nanachi, and so some scenes may or may not land as hard as intended.

Again, whether you experience something similar or are even bothered by it is probably not going to be a big issue, if at all. Sometimes anticipation heightens the suffering too, lol.

Other than that, the film was often harrowing, occasionally uplifting, and pretty much every minute of it compelling.

(And also – before season 2 happens during the ‘summer’ of 2022, I reckon this film is a must if you’re planning to keep watching the Made in Abyss series).

4 Stars

Now and Then, Here and There (Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku)

Now and Then, Here and There (Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku) 1999

This was no walk in the part – equal parts compelling and disturbing.

And if you want to see a fictional narrative that explores the brutal horrors of child soldiers then look no further, since Now and Then, Here and There wipes the floor with something like Children of Whales for instance.

With that admittedly dramatic opening paragraph, I won’t actually do a long review but instead mention something connected to the show first.

Not too long ago, actress Hiroko Konishi (who played Boo) revealed awful, abusive behaviour by NTHT director Akitaro Daichi. I doubt the animation industry got as much attention as Hollywood in terms of exposing abusers, so I hope things can start to change there too.

If you do take a look at this short series, expect some tough moments but you’ll be moved throughout.

Maybe the animation is not endlessly flashy, but it doesn’t need to be at all. The story and characters are the stars – and there are some real heroes here, like Shu and Sis (to name just two), based in part on how they try to solve their problems. They contrast perfectly with the villains too, from the psychopath Hamdo to the brainwashed/cowardly Abelia.

No easy answers to complex problems in this anime.

And thanks to Curtis for the rec 🙂

GunxSword (Gan Sōdo)

GunxSword (Gan Sōdo) 2005

The taciturn hero* is certainly one of my favourite types, so having ‘Van of the Dawn’ fit that mould was nearly all I needed to confirm that I’d enjoy GunxSword – that, and this post from Scott at Mechanical Anime, which got me interested in the first place 🙂

This anime is one I missed when it was ‘current’, and it lands during what I think of as one big wave of anime popularity in the mid-2000s, back when things like Bleach and Naruto were dominating.    

But this isn’t as neatly defined as those shows. GunxSword is hard (but fun) to categorise, and I’m not sure I’ll manage it fully but I think it combines action, mecha, western, science-fiction and comedy in a fairly wild, ‘try anything’ approach, with the episodes held together by a strong quest narrative.

Two main characters, unlikely duo Van and Wendy, are searching a semi-dystopian world, looking for ‘Claw’ – the silver-tongued manipulator and psychopathic villain. Van for revenge and for Wendy, it’s more of a doubt-filled search, as she struggles to learn why the shadowy Claw has abducted her brother.

These twin threads pulled me through the episodic and the connected episodes alike. Hints and clues were spread out nicely, interwoven with character-building episodes, as the cast expanded quite steadily. And GunxSword becomes a real ensemble by the final confrontation too, which is something I loved because I like to see heroes bounce off those different character types.

Even though the story is ultimately serious and at times basically adult rather than aimed at teens perhaps, there’s a lot of oddball, even goofy stuff. More, the mix of mecha and gunslinger feel allows a heap of classic western/samurai tropes to sit along side the huge struggles of huge robots**.

I think of this especially with the range of characters that Van and co encounter on their travels, like Captain Kaiji, or the mafia don’s kid (and that car!), even Wendy’s turtle or Carmen99’s yoyo are small examples that would sell the idea of the show as a comedy – well, those and above all else, the moustache-fetish guys.

(But when you look at the relationship between the lead characters, the series is a bit more like a drama, and most folks are perhaps ruled by their doubts or their flaws, but somehow manage to pull together.)

Now, it’s hard for me to be certain of this, but fifteen years ago, it seemed that studios and other backers were a little happier to take risks on works that weren’t adaptations. Not sure if that’s a fault of my memory, or a lack of wide viewing habits on my part, but I don’t know if anything quite like GunxSword would get a twenty-six episode run today. (Maybe it’d be more of a single cour, a ‘see what happens before we commit further’ kinda thing?)

GunxSword is often compared to Trigun and there are definitely similarities in setting, and in the wandering, the episodic feel and at times goofy humour, but the tone and use of technology are certainly different here. (The OST is also more varied too).

So, is this one for you?

Hard to say… if you prefer dead-serious kinda mech anime then probably not, but if you’re after something fun, this might be worth chasing down.

4 Stars

* Having said that, Van can be a straight up jerk too, and it can take him a little long to see beyond his pursuit of revenge.

** On that note, I really liked the way Gorō Taniguchi revealed the scale of the robots/armour throughout too, especially via choice of angle and camera position in many of the battles.

Ah, Michael revealing his true colours.
Classic design

Read or Die (OVA)

Read or Die (2001)

Other names tend to grace lists of ‘favourite/best studios’ more often, but maybe it’s easy to forget that Studio DEEN can certainly pull out all the stops too.

And Read or Die has some cracking action sequences indeed.

On that note, everything really did feel fluid and vivid to me, with scenes usually full of exciting near-misses. I was usually glued to the screen, partially due to the direction, but also since ‘The Paper’ is a less typical heroine when it comes to action leads.

Her ability to use paper as both protection and weapon was fascinating, and that’s another aspect I really enjoyed. Her fights were less about brute force and more problem-solving, in a way. And the anime really casts an unreservedly wide net for its historical villains and their powers too – more unconventional stuff that was most welcome, especially if you’ve seen a whole host of classic choices for weapons or powers.

Now, if you haven’t seen Read or Die (as I hadn’t until quite recently) and you’re getting a superhero vibe from that previous paragraph, then that’s not precisely inaccurate, but ‘secret agents with super-powers’ is probably better. Here and there, I was put in the mind of other action shows but rarely enough to pull me out of the storytelling.

I will note that at times, Yomiko sounds like a lost lamb, which you could argue is meant to link to her role as a ‘bookworm’, and it’s an interesting contradiction to her character. She’s pretty cool under pressure but kinda goes to pieces over books – something which is usually played for laughs, but the OVA does feature a certain book as a MacGuffin to kick things off too. So literature is not just a comedic element.

As is my way, I haven’t said much about the premise or plot, but it’s very much classic ‘save the world’ stuff but with fantastic animation and very few ‘stock’ characters or settings. There’s also a fun steampunk aesthetic – something else I loved a lot about Read or Die.

Decision time?

Well, if you want to see Mata Hari, Genjo Sanzo and Ludwig van Beethoven (among others), battling it out with secret agent heroes with inventive powers, in an easy to digest 3-part OVA, then this is worth finding.

5 Stars

Made in Abyss (Meido in Abisu)

Made in Abyss (Meido in Abisu) 2017

The story follows an orphaned young girl, Riko, who finds and befriends a humanoid robot Reg and descends with it into the titular “Abyss”, that leads deep into the Earth, in hopes of finding her mother. (wiki blurb)

So, an adventure into a dangerous abyss that mixes fantasy and science-fiction? I’m on board immediately!

I definitely remember a fair few late nights watching Made in Abyss – not just because I was really enjoying the series but because the pacing felt good and the episode endings usually left me if not precisely hanging from a cliff, definitely keen to see how certain things would be resolved next time 😀

Despite a point in the series where it was very clear that two of the major storylines were never going to come close to being resolved, I really think the pacing was top notch.

Where it drifted off a few times perhaps, the depth and variety of the world-building made up for it – that and the imagination on display throughout, along with its characterisation too.

It felt like the writers Akihito Tsukushi (manga) and Hideyuki Kurata (anime) did a great job at portraying the curiosity, fear and hope of younger children – and the heroes are a bit younger than in a lot of anime (which tends to put teens front and centre of course) so that was a nice change.

I often find myself wanting to see more stories about adults say, as teens can (unfairly) end up locked into general angst and school settings – but having said that, one of my favourite sub-genres is the Coming-of-Age-Story, so I’m hardly arguing for ‘no more teen-focused stories’ here.

As I’ve already mentioned, the world-building in Made in Abyss was enthralling – from the cave raider society and its whistle/colour-based hierarchy or the salvaging aspects, to the Abyss itself which was as disturbing as it was mesmerising. Every few episodes we were given a new horror (Corpse-Weepers come to mind here) or wonder (like the Outerhaven) as the kids descend further on their quest.

But there’s nail-biting moments aplenty that don’t necessary come from the creatures or other dangers too – often it’s via character choices, and if you’ve seen the main moment I’m alluding to here I’ll just leave it at that and not spoil things for folks who, like me, came a little late to this show.

Made in Abyss can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster too – and there’s some valid criticism floating around on one of the key tear-jerker moments. I’m in two minds about it – again, without spoilers – I think there was just enough lead-in re: the new characters to make the scenes have some impact, but I can see why folks would want a longer lead up, absolutely.

If you’re thinking of picking this one up then know that it’s unfinished in terms of the main ‘quest’ the kids are on, but it does have a resolution AND there’s a feature film due in a few months that ought to wrap some things up, so that’s nice to know.

And quickly, having said that there’s science-fiction here it’s generally of a low-key nature, more ‘tech being reawakened’ (a fav trope of mine) and appears mostly in smaller moments via our robot Reg, so keep in mind the fantasy/adventure aspects are probably stronger overall.

Perhaps worth noting also, that despite young protagonists etc, this isn’t exactly a ‘kid-friendly’ series due to some tough themes and a few equally challenging scenes.

5 Stars