Made in Abyss has to be one of the biggest surprises of the Summer 2017 season. I certainly did not see this show I had never heard of, that looked like it might be geared towards a younger audience, becoming one of my favorites. But once I started watching, I couldn’t stop. The world that was being built from one episode to the next, the characters, the overarching story, and even the smaller stories all combined to hold my interest. Though the romance aspect is a very small part of the show, I couldn’t help but write a post about this anime. Originally a manga created by Akihito Tsukushi, it was picked up by Kinema Citrus for the anime. In the US, Amazon’s Anime Strike service picked it up for simulcasting.
The anime centers around the city of Orth that surrounds a mysterious hole going deep into the earth, called the Abyss. In the city lived a young orphaned girl named Riko who is training to become a Cave Raider, or someone who ventures down into the Abyss to dig out and bring back ancient artifacts. On one raid, she finds and befriends a humanoid robot named Reg. Some time later, she is informed that personal effects of her mother, who was also a cave raider, were recovered in a deep part of the Abyss. One contains a note that encourages her to make the long and dangerous journey to the bottom of the Abyss.
One of the main aspects that captured my attention with this series was the art and character designs. Large sweeping shots of Orth give us a great view of the Abyss and the surrounding city. It sits crowded in the crater and you can just image how it built itself up around the industry of cave raiding that this huge mystery afforded. Down in the Abyss, we see ecosystem after unique ecosystem, all rendered beautifully. Kinema Citrus is a fairly new studio, with its first anime coming out in 2009. However, within that time it has also produced Barakamon and co-produced two movies with Studio Bones. Regardless of their experience, I think they certainly went all out with this anime, putting all their skills and imagination into bringing the manga to life.
If we take a look at the character and monster designs as well, we see those skills present themselves. Each character looks fairly unique and displays outward characteristics that match their personality right down to the clothes that they wear. Take Ozen for example. She’s a White Whistle, the highest cave raiding rank you can get, and that intimidation is displayed with her height and strength. Her general dislike of people is also displayed through her armor that she wears, her expressions (or lack thereof), and her voice acting. There’s little mysteries and clues about the world hidden inside a character design too. Reg’s helmet has an insignia on it that has yet to be identified, Riko’s need for glasses are due to the effects of the Abyss, and Nanachi’s whole character design points to the sinister nature of the deeper levels. Not to mention the monsters they we run into. The corpse weeper especially freaked me out just by the nature of it’s design and animation.
And I think all of these things point to the extensive work Tsukushi put into crafting this world and its characters. That is honestly the factor that catapulted this show to the top of my list. The simple fact that this show is doing more with its world than I have seen in other shows that season. That this show sparked a sense of wonder and mystery that kept me hooked just to see what other weird and horrifying things might be the next level down in the Abyss. Those are the key aspects I look for in a truly great show, the ones that force me to read the manga just because I can’t wait for the next season (which I am highly considering doing now). There is so much world building going on in each second of the show, from the book both Riko and Nanachi read that shows the different levels of the abyss, to the weird and oftentimes dangerous artifacts they uncover, to the completely separate and distinct biomes that take up each level. All of this intrigues me and makes me come back for more. And as we see in many Miyazaki and Shinkai shows, and as I talked about above, the art and directing play a key role in truly showcasing this world-building. Wide shots of Orth and the different levels gives us a clear picture of the world and a sense of direction that their journey needs to go in.
Originally, I had seen some pictures of this anime when it first came out and was kind of turned off by its apparent younger audience slant. With its young characters looking as if they were going on an adventure, I wasn’t completely sold that I would find any enjoyment out of this series. But boy was I wrong. There were moments that made me cringe, feel nauseous, or even cry, moments that I would not recommend for a children’s show. There are storylines that are pretty messed up, that make you question the moral fiber of certain characters or question your own beliefs about what’s morally right. It’s a show that knows how to combine the creepy and mature with the almost moe animation style to create something that has a completely different feel. One minute you’ll be watching Riko and Reg be cute, cooking together, scaling walls, and the next you’ll be reminded that they will never be allowed to return from their journey. It’s a show with a dark ending, a place the characters look forward to, but is essentially something they can never return from (if they want to keep their humanity that is).
And through this all we see this build up of undying devotion between Riko and Reg. Neither can be without the other. They are bonded together by this place full of fear and near death experiences, but also by unconditional trust in each other that develops slowly into love. However, what I also see under the surface is a kind of inconsistency with how Riko views Reg. We see Reg fall in love with her, but it seems like Riko is a bit more complicated. You could say she equally views Reg as an inhuman robot (a product of the Abyss) and a unique person in his own right. It becomes a complicated relation to try and follow as the story progresses and we begin to see Reg in a more human light.
I know a lot of you might not get a chance to see this show as it is exclusively on Anime Strike, but if you can, I would highly suggest checking it out. I feel like one of the reasons it might not have gotten a lot of attention was purely because of the platform it is on. I’ll be wrapping up some other anime’s from last season in the next couple weeks and then the next First Impressions post will be coming out.