Anime Reviews: Made in Abyss
Some Basic Information About This Series
Title: Made in Abyss
Production: Kinema Citrus
Series Length: 13 episodes
Air Dates: 7/7/2017 to 9/29/2017
Age Rating: 15+ (strong violence, mild language, dark or disturbing thematic elements, partial nudity)
Summary: The Abyss is a chasm so deep that none have ever reached the bottom and lived, where a mysterious curse causes crippling or even lethal effects to those who try to return from its depths. But ancient treasures and boundless possibilities lie at its center, drawing cave raiders from all over to explore its hidden secrets, including rambunctious 12-year-old Riko, daughter of Lyza the Annihilator, one of the most famous cave raiders in recent memory. Riko wants more than anything to be like her mother--a daring and fearless explorer who makes great discoveries--but her cave raiding skills (and discipline) are lacking. One day, Riko and her friend Nat encounter a vicious beast on a beginners' cave raid, but are saved by a mechanical boy who fired a beam of fire from his hand. The robot boy, named Reg by Riko, has no memories of who he is or who made him, but he feels drawn towards the Abyss, just as Riko is. And when a long-lost message from Riko's mom arrives at the surface ("At the netherworld's bottom, I'll be waiting."), the pair realize that the time has come. Together, they hatch a daring plan to sneak into the Abyss--to reach the bottom, find Lyza, and learn the truth of what lies waiting for them in the deepest pits.
The Good: Lush, imaginative visuals; beautiful use of music; engrossing mystery plot propelled by earnest, attaching characters
The Bad: Hits a bit of a lull halfway through; sequel-baiting strikes again!
The Ugly: Cultural context, and how the lack of it makes things incredibly uncomfortable
What brought me to this series?
The hype train is a dangerous machine, but more often than not a reliable one. So when Made in Abyss rolled into the station and got all the passengers ever, I knew we had something that either was truly great or simply pandered to idiots. Given the dark fantasy nature of the show and hearing of its eventual Lovecraftian influences, I was poised to believe the former. And I was right. I'm getting ahead of myself a bit, though--Made in Abyss interested me not only because of the hype surrounding its horror influence, but also because of its art style and its premise that promised a wild and engaging adventure--oh wow, remember when anime used to be brimming with adventure stories?--and that's precisely what I got. Now let's not waste any more time and get to it!
What makes this series a journey worth taking?
First things first, if anyone tells you that the art of Made in Abyss looks generic or bad, they're outright lying to you. The rounded, simplistic character designs animate well and are appealing to look at, on top of being bright and colorful and deliciously at odds with the tremendous darkness that comes later in the series (both narratively and visually). And those backgrounds! Every layer of the Abyss is just gorgeously realized with breathtaking background art and imaginative creature designs and immersive details abound. And then there's the use of color and lighting that makes every scene pop, creating a thick atmosphere of mystery and wonder and oppression. I love the artistry on display of Made in Abyss--it just reminds me why I love animation so much. Top-shelf stuff, right here.
One thing I haven't experienced in a while is an anime whose background music left a lasting impression on me. It feels like it's been forever and a day since an anime wowed me with its incidental music, but that dry spell's been broken--Made in Abyss utilizes folksy vocalizations and acoustic instruments in a way that evokes imagery of pastoral greenery and makes me want to embark on an adventure, myself. The soundtrack was brought to us, unusually enough, by Australian musician Kevin Penkin, and now I feel like an utter failure because he's even younger than I am--he's out there making outstanding and emotional music, and I'm writing mediocre buyer's-guide reviews for a handful of people. Point being, the soundtrack is awesome.
As for the story and characters, I don't wanna get too detailed here as a lot of what makes Made in Abyss great is the stuff you don't see coming. I already told you it gets dark, and I already knew that going in, but I was still knocked off my feet by the circumstances and the direction and just how far these kids have come since they first took the plunge. Riko and Reg are a perfect set of opposites--Riko being intelligent and ambitious but weak and reckless, while Reg is strong and cautious but naive and indecisive--and the many, many ways they complement each other's flaws and overcome adversity (or, in one notable instance, completely fail) makes the series so engaging to sit through. The mystery of the Abyss never gets old, never gets predictable, and only deepens as the story progresses, and our vulnerable heroes' descent only gets more and more harrowing. I don't want to give away the entire game, but man is season two going to be a barn-burner!
And what'll make you just want to jump into the abyss and end it all?
Two things. First, the series does kinda fall into a slow patch around the episode 6-7 mark. Riko and Reg are forced to stop their forward momentum to undergo a trial that's not really much of a trial for them at this point, and the whole exercise just feels like a waste of time. This episode isn't terrible, by any means, as we get to see more of Riko and Reg bonding in a relatively safe setting before leaping back into the heart of danger, but its side-effect of bringing the series to a crawl is quite noticeable. Not the show's brightest moment.
The other problem I have is that we got sequel-baited yet again. Hooray, I sure do love getting into the swing of an ambitious new series only to hit a brick wall because, for some ungodly reason, every new show must be 13 episodes long instead of 26 episodes like the good old days. Siiiiiigh. At the very least, Made in Abyss is tremendously popular, so that second (and maybe third) season is all but confirmed and we won't run into another Yona of the Dawn scenario where the studio makes an incredibly addicting and popular series and yet refuses to make a second season despite the fact that there's enough material to make at least 100 new episodes AND YET THEY CONTINUE TO LEAVE IT IN LIMBO WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO US STUDIO PIERROT WHY DO YOU HATE DOING WHAT'S RIGHT OAFNJAWDJKQWDMKQWD
Oh, and this has nothing to do with any flaws or mistakes made by the studio, but it nevertheless deserves mention: Japan has this thing where nudity, even nudity or implied nudity involving kids, is okay to show on TV as long as it's not in any remotely sexual context. Made in Abyss has a few scenes where Riko is hopping into a bath and stuff like that and she has no shame whatsoever in front of Reg because he's not people. It gets a bit uncomfortable, is what I'm getting at, even if it's a perfectly mundane and everyday situation. Just the kinda thing you oughta know before diving in.
So, modern classic anime confirmed?
Damn straight. Even if it hits a speed bump halfway through and makes us salivate angrily for a second season, Made in Abyss is just so great in its current form that I feel comfortable saying that it, along with Violet Evergarden and Mob Psycho 100, ranks among the most exciting and rewarding anime-viewing experiences that the past few years have had to offer. If the second season is just as good (and there's no indication that it won't be), then we're looking at a title that anime fans a decade from now will be heralding as one of the shining gems of a new golden age of television. If you're even remotely interested in dark fantasy (which statistically is almost all of you), then you have no excuse to skip out on this one.
Final Score: 10 out of 10. Made in Abyss is a harrowing, powerful, and awe-inspiring adventure anime that isn't afraid to put its lovable lead characters through the wringer, but also isn't afraid to awash them in marvels and wonders to make both their journey and the audience's journey an intense and memorable one.