Studio Ghibli meets George R. R. Martin
- Episodes : 13
- Genre : Adventure, Fantasy, Drama
- Airing Date : Jul. 2017 - Sep. 2017
- Studios : Kinema Citrus
Made in Abyss Introduction and Story (Spoilers)
A city atop a gaping pit. The hopeful offering their well wishes to the fearless. A daughter searching for her mother. A boy trying to protect his only friend. This is Made in Abyss.
The 1,000 meter wide and presumed 20,000 meter deep hole residing in the middle of the sleepy town of Orth is known as the Abyss. It has claimed countless lives of the Delvers who have tried to root out its mysteries, and even without any hope of returning, countless more rush in head first. Riko, the daughter of one of the greatest Delvers in Orth’s history, resides in an orphanage with other aspiring Delvers her age. These children, left behind by other explorers who have lost their lives in pursuit of answers, prepare for equally perilous lives as they try to eke out a living in the only way Orth’s inhabitants know how.
After nearly losing her life on a routine trip to the outer layer of the Abyss, Riko is saved by a mysterious robot boy named Reg who has lost his memories. Shortly afterwards, word reaches Riko that her mother Lyza, Lord of Annihilation, a legendary White Whistle, had perished in the Abyss. Her only remnants are her whistle, and tattered parchments that lead Riko to believe she is still alive. These documents also mention Reg, and they both believe they are meant to search out for answers at the bottom of the Abyss.
Thus begins a journey of longing. Riko seeking answers of her mother’s whereabouts and the true nature of the Abyss and Reg, hoping to find out why he traveled from its depths to the surface in the first place. Their journey will have joys and hardships, and test the very limits of human attachment. The Abyss is nothing if not treacherous, and no one who has ever stepped foot into its depths has come out the same. It’s a one way trip for this pair, they knew that before setting off. But they may not live to see the end of it, and death will not be the most frightening danger lying in store.
What We Liked About Made in Abyss
This is without a doubt one of the best anime I have ever seen. It showcases storytelling and character growth in ways I thought modern Japan was no longer capable of, outside of a few talented studios. It’s masterfully crafted, reeling you in deeper and deeper like the very Abyss itself.
No matter how much screen time they have, each character makes an impact. There are zero dead scenes in this show, and every moment serves a purpose. Every phrase of dialogue answers a question, but also brings up a new one. The voice acting also lends itself perfectly to the work. By the end of the series, I hadn’t felt that a pair had fit their characters this well in a long time. There are some shows that you feel simply couldn’t survive a dub, and this is one of them.
The chibi characters and fun, cutesy art style belie the true dark undertones in this mature work. Similar to Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica, once you get in too deep with Made in Abyss, there’s a point of no return. You have to watch it until the end, the damage is already done.
It’s a beautiful story with beautiful imagery, all set to a beautiful soundtrack. I can’t imagine a more perfect work meant for the small screen than this. It evokes some of the best themes in fiction with 2D animation, similar to Studio Ghibli’s work. It also hits you hard, taking you on an emotional journey that very few stories can accomplish.
The sadness that permeates this work is what makes the joys all the more memorable. Even as the gripping darkness wrenches the last bit of hope from Riko and Reg, in the very next scene, you will find their excitement and sense of wonder uplifting. As a fully grown man, this show had several scenes that had me bawling more than I had in over a decade. I personally see comments online of posters crying to scenes I felt apathetic to and simply gloss over them. That’s how surprised I was by how powerful the drama in this story was.
1. Beautiful Art and Music
The very first episode will wow you with its seemingly handpainted backgrounds and detailed backdrops. Televised anime just doesn’t have this level of detail. The sunlight hitting the outskirts of the town of Orth, the rivers and streams interweaving the districts across each slope, it’s all drawn to perfection. I hadn’t yet seen an anime I was jumping to buy a Blu-Ray of until Made in Abyss. Whichever way you’re viewing this series, this work is worth far more than a stream.
The music is also striking and powerful. The show’s soundtrack, composed by Kevin Pekind, is moving and direct. Within the initial scenes, the song Underground River sets the tone for the series. Beginning slow and quiet, all the way to sharp and blaring, and finally mellowing out. It also contains some very meaningful lyrics that highlight themes found within the story. The imagery and sound are in perfect harmony in this work, and it’s hard to imagine either without the other.
2. Masterful World Building
We’ve all seen some massive info dumps in fantasy stories, and anime is guilty of many of these. Animation teams have limited time to adapt written work, and chapters of light novels and manga don’t sync up to anime episodes all that well. Made in Abyss, however, is surprisingly faithful; if not entirely so. After watching a good portion of the series, I was intrigued enough to begin the manga. Details all matched up, and the important elements of the story were emphasized in the anime.
As mentioned previously in this review, there are no dead scenes. Nothing added for pure comedic or dramatic effect. It all weaves in perfectly to tell the story and add background details. Questions and answers are brought up in the same breath. The first three episodes of the series lay the groundwork before the journey truly begins, and while none of this is boring, it is all to get you ready for the chaos that awaits.
The Abyss is complex and terrifying. It has tens of thousands of creatures, some harmless, but many dangerous. It is also littered with countless corpses, some made by those who were adventurers who perished, but far more from the inhabitants of some long lost civilization before mankind ever discovered it. Each Delver has their own reasons for exploring the Abyss, and every episode gives you insight into some of the reasons one might have to continue on this impossible journey.
3. Memorable Characters
Riko and Reg are as sympathetic a pair as you can find in a story. They’re children, and as such, can be prone to making poor choices. Even still, it would be a hard journey for anyone, adult or otherwise, to make this journey. They’re headed to the very bottom of the Abyss, a place that the legendary White Whistles only visit when they’re making their last dive. A trip to a place where no one can return. It’s not a place for children, but due to Riko’s cunning and the knowledge that she has learned from following her mother’s exploits, along with Reg’s mysterious power and strength, the two have more of a chance than anyone else to finish their journey.
In Made in Abyss, you will encounter some exceptionally crafted characters. You feel for them. When they laugh, you smile. When they cry, you frown. And when they suffer, you suffer as well. Nanachi, one of the main characters from the key art, is introduced very late in the series, but she is one of the best newly introduced characters I’ve seen in a work of fiction. Her purpose and the path she’s taken to meet Riko and Reg are tragic and heartrending. She herself is such a warm and lovable character. She livens an already lively show and simply commands presence on screen.
Even the lesser characters that only have a handful of lines make their mark before leaving. The earnest and friendly Maruruk, the quiet and sleepy Kiwi, the reliable and responsible Gilo, and the intimidating and forceful Ouzen all round out a diverse cast of memorable characters. They all serve their roles wonderfully in the story, making you wish they could remain on the journey, but knowing the destination, it’s impossible. You will wish the best for these individuals, but knowing where they are and why they’re there, you can’t help but worry for them. The Abyss is not a safe place. Not at all.
1. It is Merciless
As I mentioned previously, I cried. I sobbed. I teared up. There was snot and everything. Episode 10 broke me. I felt a bit sorry for the characters previously. With each one that they met and departed from, the story was filled with sorrow, but nothing that even came close to bringing out the waterworks. And then “it” came. A beast of the Abyss. It came at them in the fourth layer, the layer from which no child could survive an ascent from. This devilish creature, an orb piercer, Tama-chan as Nanachi calls it, attacked Riko and Reg. Its poison quills struck Riko, and unable to protect her, Reg risked an ascent. Riko was as good as dead.
The ensuing scene broke me. Riko crying bloody tears and spitting blood, and Reg powerless to save her. It was simply a matter of time before this enthusiastic young girl who you watched grow and trudge fearlessly on took her last breath. Reg, her protector, cried endlessly as he watched his first and only friend slowly die. In a last ditch attempt to save her, he tried to break her arm with a rock to expel the poison. This gruesome scene which seemingly lasted an hour but was only about 7 or 8 minutes, almost left me dehydrated from loss of tears.
This would not be the only episode to get me to lose masculinity. Fortunately, episode 13 also was a double episode, so it gave me two chances to cry. Nanachi’s backstory is tragic, horrifying and a true testament to the bonds of friendship. I will say, if you don’t at least feel sad, then you’re probably a monster, a veritable Johan Liebert. With that said, I would watch these scenes all over again. They took the show from an amazing series to simply a masterpiece. I know this is listed as a reason why NOT to watch this, and I say that for the people who cannot deal with anything bloody. Skip it if you must, but if you can at all, endure it. It’s worth it.
I can’t imagine watching a better anime this year. I watch a number of shows each season, most of which range from decent to terrible. The cream of the crop lands on the scale from good to exceptional. Made in Abyss stands above all those as magnificent. It redefines the scale, and every fantasy work I watch going forward will more than likely be compared to this work.
What did you think of Made in Abyss? Did you laugh or did you cry? Am I going to be alone in losing man points from this show? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments section. We’d love to hear from you!