#1 A world filled with mystery
The Abyss is a massive, gaping hole found on an isolated island. Filled with various biomes that have their own creatures and fauna, it’s a dangerous place whose true depth remains unknown. Within The Abyss one can find countless relics, both valuable museum pieces that look pretty, as well as bizarre technology unlike anything available to the people today. Because of that, a lively city has been erected on the island, where people are trained from childhood to delve into The Abyss and retrieve its valuables.
The world in Made in Abyss just had me intrigued pretty much from the first episode and onwards. I was interested in how the inhabitants of the island structured their society around these treasure hunters going in and out of The Abyss, how they have orphanages that train kids to become the next generation to go in there, and how the current adventurers are seen as heroes and idols. At the same time, The Abyss has a lot of mysteries around it that make you want to keep watching to see how they’ll turn out. I was especially curious about all the old skeletons found near the treasures, which are always positioned as if they were praying in their final moments.
Naturally, such an interesting world is wasted if there isn’t an adventure to be had within it. Made in Abyss is actually one of the few anime that I’d label under the adventure genre, which I feel is under-represented in our medium.
The story is about Riko, an orphaned girl whose mother was among the most famous and beloved of explorers. Naturally, she follows in her footsteps and is already going down to the first tiers of The Abyss to hunt for relics that keep her orphanage’s finances afloat. On one particular outing, however, a friend of her is almost eaten and she winds up endangering herself. Just as she is about to turn into a monster’s meal, a beam scares it off. Turns out she was saved by a little robot dude who looks remarkably Human.
Soon after, the belongings of her mother are found alongside a letter, claiming that she awaits at the very bottom of The Abyss. When that letter also mentions the robot boy, who they end up calling Reg, Riko decides to leave behind her life and sets out to find her mother. On the way, she and Reg must avoid other adventurers who would take her back to the orphanage, deal with the vicious monsters that roam The Abyss, and survive its harsh conditions.
#3 Emotional weight
Besides being adventurous and, in general, a fun anime, another quality that Made in Abyss has going for it is that it has the right tone and feel to it. Not only does the soundtrack lend the show the right atmospheric background noise, but the story itself feels just right emotionally.
Riko setting out on a quest to find her lost mother makes it feel personal and while I thought episodes 2 and 3 were a tad slow, that all serves to set up a heavy scene as Riko and Reg say their farewells to the surface world for what everyone realizes is a suicide mission. After all, few people have ever lived to even come close to lowest tiers of The Abyss, so what chances do Riko and Reg honestly have of reaching the fabled bottom of the darn place.
A similar pacing also characterizes the other high points of this first season, as the adventure slows down a bit to explore the stories of new friends and endear them to both the viewer and our main characters. Sometimes it feels like this goes on for too long, but when the eventual farewell or twist comes, all that build-up suddenly hits like a tidal wave.
The sad scenes are great, but what makes it work is that they are properly balanced against everything else. There are moments of wonder and beauty as the duo explore The Abyss, exciting action as they come face to face with its inhabitants, and, of course, there is the budding friendship between Riko, Reg, and the people they meet that everything else happens around.
#4 Blood, gore, and everything else
When I first began watching Made in Abyss, one of the arguments I intended to use was that it was the kind of show I’d have my own children watch. It has an adorable art-style and the subject matter is adventurous in a way that I feel properly challenges young viewers. What I didn’t realize is that the cute exterior of the show would soon open up to reveal a violent and gory core.
That is not to say Made in Abyss ranks among Elfen Lied or Akame ga Kill, because the gore in this is grounded in some reality and not intended to be cathartic, which is incidentally also what makes it feel so heavy. I haven’t seen many shows, for example, depict urine and vomit so graphically, with especially the latter being a common side-effect of ascending and descending the vast depths the of The Abyss. Reg and Riko also need to deal with a variety of wounds as they venture on, both to themselves as well as the people they meet. Towards the end there is even an amputation scene that was harrowing to watch.
And what I appreciate here is that the writer isn’t pulling any punches to spare the innocence of his young characters. They were both warned of the dangers of The Abyss and still made the decision to go. Riko and Reg end up filthy and tired, wounded in various ways, and pretty much every creature of The Abyss will wind up trying to eat them at some point or another. The brutal nature of Akihito Tsukushi’s story is impressive and with Kinema Citrus’ animation bringing it to life, I felt shivers run down my spine one more than one occasion.