Nanashi’s Smile in Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul

Although Made in Abyss is among my favorite series, I delayed watching the sequel film, Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul, for quite some time. You can probably guess the reason: I wasn’t ready to have my heart battered again.

And indeed, the movie, which shifts focus toward new character Prushka—the “daughter” of the villainous Bondrewd—is a suitably painful addition to the franchise. But while the outward struggles involving Prushka and protagonists Riko and Reg were compelling, I found Nanachi’s internal battle as she returns to face Bondrewd, the being who has devastated her life and those of so many others, to be even more so (spoilers ahead).

In fact, one could argue that Dawn of the Deep Soul is centered on Nanachi’s conflict with Bondrewd, whose character seems to be inspired, in part, by the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. It was Bodrewd’s experiments that caused Nanachi to transform into her current, half-animal condition, and which also reduced her friend, Mitty, to a blob-like creature. The evil scientist is happy for Nanachi to return to him, as it’s revealed to the audience that not only was she experimented upon, but she also participated as an assistant in his previous tortuous experiments on children, and Bondrewd apparently hopes to use her again in the same capacity.

Of course, a being as loving and thoughtful as Nanachi wants none of it, desiring instead to avoid Bondrewd until she’s able to avenge her friend and kill him—or so one (and Nanachi herself) would assume. But instead, Nanachi continues to be drawn magnetically to the vile cave raider. While she will never again serve him, she still can’t quite find it in herself to run away, much less attempt to kill him when the two are alone together.

This tension reminds me of my own attraction to “Bondrewd,” of my own turning toward actions and thoughts that I know are evil. Although I’m a new creature in God, given a new heart, indeed made more human and filled with a desire to do what’s right, I still often fight against my new spirit. It’s as Paul describes in Romans:

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Romans 7:18-20

Paul is elaborating on a life in the law apart from Christ, but the old still sneaks through while here on earth. I know that my struggles with sin are many. In recent years, one example is how I’ve frequently displayed an unforgiving spirit. I so easily forget the grace of God, and think of others in judgmental and cruel tones, rather than with a merciful heart. After feeling this way or saying unkind words, I comprehend my sin and often feel despondent because of my failure.

But Nanachi’s response to her own struggle reminds me that while we may not be able to live up to the perfect standard we aspire to, there’s hope in moving forward. For when Nanachi does finally leaves Bondrewd and that horrible place, she does not do so while deep in the throws of depression.

She leaves with a smile.

It seems odd at first. Bondrewd remains alive, after all. Prushka was turned into a cartridge. And Nanachi’s past hasn’t suddenly been erased—she and countless other children have been tortured and many killed.

Yet, because of the actions of Nanachi, Riko, and Reg, progress has been made. The trio is able to continue their journey which, to those who have encountered them (even the horrible Bondrewd), represents something hopeful, something far greater than simply one child’s search for her mother. Prushka suffered, but her pain is over and she remains with the group in a new form. And Bondrewd himself apparently won’t be able or has chosen not to conduct vile experiments anymore.

Still sinister, but greatly hampered

And so, Nanachi smiles.

Throughout this arc, she has been drawn back into temptation, faltered in the face of it, and remembered her terrible sins. But she has also chosen to move forward, try again, and become more and more of the person she wants to be rather than what Bondrewed had made her into. Her victory is messy, but it is a victory nonetheless.

When I’m the same, when I’m faltering and failing, I must also remember this lesson. When I turn to repent, when I have small victory—this is something worth celebrating as well.

Few battles are resolved perfectly this side of Heaven, but we keep striving. We rise after we’ve fallen. We continue to journey forward. For we, too, have a hope, but it’s not in something so speculative as the significance of Riko and Reg’s journey. It’s concrete, solid, proven, holy.

For while we don’t know how the Made in Abyss journey will end (Riko’s mother has likely perished after all, and with as much suffering as the series puts these young people through, an ending featuring both pain and tears isn’t out of the question), we do know how ours will, because it’s both on-going for us and already finished. Christ, the firstborn, has already walked the path and shown us the way. His journey went to the cross, where he died, was buried, and resurrected so that we need not sleep eternally. Riko does not know right now if she’ll be reunited with her mother, but because of the Son, we are assured that we’ll end up with the Father at the end of our sojourn.

But with that hope in mind, we must continue on our way, on the Way that Christ paved for the Christian. Like Riko and Reg, we move forward despite the obstacles. Like Nanashi, we move with the certainty that this is the better way than how we once lived, that we can flee from temptation and sin and do what is right. Bondrewd is behind us—the answer is front, in the image of the living God and living out the God-filled life.

And we can do that, by God’s power of transformation within us. Returning to Romans 7, Paul gives this this cry and reaches a conclusion: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”—a question he then answers: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Nanachi finds her answer in helping Riko and Reg to an uncertain future, but ours is not only full of love and hope, but assurance as well. We know the way, and we know the ending. And though life is complicated, fuzzy, and imperfect, the Holy Spirit, dwelling in us, is the Helper to propel us forward.

With all that love to guide us, and the hope of the brightest future ahead—that’s something certainly worth smiling about.

Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul can be streamed on HiDIVE.


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