Reaper's Reviews: 'Made in Abyss'

Updated on May 23, 2018

Original title: Meidu in Abisu
Production: Kinema Citrus
Genre: Drama
Format/Length: TV series; 13 episodes
Release: July 7, 2017 - September 27, 2017
Source: Manga
Review Release: May 10, 2018

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Made in Abyss is an anime series that I heard for quite a while, now. Quite a lot too, actually. In fact, it was one of the most acclaimed shows of the 2017 anime year, and its manga is equally acclaimed if not more.

As with the usual me, I am often skeptic about highly revered shows or movies that everybody feels the urgent need to lick their cases to death. So I told myself I’ll watch it later. And I did.

Made in Abyss didn’t leave first good impressions on me, I’ll admit right here. It had a slow start, and except for a cool concept it didn’t have anything truly remarkable in its early episodes.

But just like its titular Abyss, one must delve further to uncover the true gems of this sleeper hit anime.

Story & Characters

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Made in Abyss starts slowly. It’s not a particularly bad thing, but for a 13 episode anime (and first season), it does suffer from a more gentler opening pace that doesn’t show the series’ true colors until a bit later. In its first three to five episodes you will encounter the occasional grim scares, but not beyond that.

But let’s move out to a more positive point. In the world of Made in Abyss exists our titular hellhole, a mysterious, seemingly endless abyss where dangerous creatures dwell and a horrible curse takes it toll on any human brave and strong enough to take the challenge in uncovering the Abyss’ secrets.

The Abyss as a setting is incredible; it works by its own set of rules, its hostile atmosphere is constantly contrasted by its gorgeous locales and its effects on humans is terrifying to say the least. There are so many questions that remains to be answered in regards to the Abyss, but they are definitely intriguing ones.

Another thing that intrigues me is how society built itself around the Abyss, with a literal country surrounding it and we are even getting hints about how the population that lives near the endless rabbit hole bases its lifestyle around it. Some see the Abyss as some kind of god and it is hinted there are religions based on it, while others spend their lives trying to dwell deeper into it.

Our main protagonist Riko is one such child, a young cave delver who seeks to find her mother, a legendary delver who achieved the rank of White Whistler, humanity’s greatest cave delvers. Riko is an adorable, curious and hyperactive girl who despite lacking years of experience jumps straight on the opportunity to venture into the Abyss when a mysterious android called Reg saves her from a deadly monster.

It’s with the forming of this bond that our story really takes off. Riko and Reg are adorable protagonists that balance each other; Riko’s often upbeat nature lightens Reg’s more serious and thoughtful approach to the Abyss. Their interactions feel natural and heartwarming despite knowing each other for a relatively brief period of time.

I do have to admit that Riko is sometimes… a problematic hero. While it is understandable considering she is only 12 years old, Riko often acts on a whim and more than once is the cause for the duo’s troubles. Hell, they even get eaten once because Riko can’t sit for a couple hours in silence.

Reg fares much better as the co-protagonist and undergoes some decent development (Riko does too, but to a lesser extent). Despite having no recollections as to where he came from besides “from the Abyss”, the emotional hardships he is forced to endure and the fact that he is the more combat-oriented teammate put a serious strain on him at times.

Now as I mentioned earlier, the story only really gets set into motion around 3-4 episodes, maybe 5. The early episode are rather slow and calm in nature, but to their credit, they help establishing the setting and help us invest in Riko and Reg. But from here on out, the rabbit hole goes way, way deeper than one could possibly imagine.

From the introduction of a White Whistler by the name of Ozen to the finale, Made in Abyss finally removes the kids gloves and brutally delves into the uglier sides of the Abyss. Without getting too much into spoiler territory, the series shows us the reality of little kids trying to venture into dangerous worlds. Riko and Reg can barely break a sweat as one steamroller leads to a bigger one and so on.

Before you may think that this show is nothing but shock value, let me address that Made in Abyss has a gripping narrative with horror undertones that knows how play on the viewer’s expectations and emotions. And it’s really more than that; it’s a story about friendship through any hardships, and it never (and I mean never) sugar-coats how insanely dangerous AND destructive the journey would be.

Coupled with incredible world-building, charming leads (minus Riko’s decisions) and before I forget, and powerful and moving ending that sets things for the future, Made in Abyss is a beautifully bittersweet tale that is both heartwrenching and heartwarming.

And if you’re still taken aback, try to reach the story arc of Nanachi, one of the biggest woobies in recent memory.

Animation & Art

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The production of Made in Abyss was done by a studio called Kinema Citrus, who are mostly known for their work on Barakamon, Black Bullet and for being the co-producers of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 alongside Bones. And while it does have some hiccups, I’d dare say that Made in Abyss is one of the most beautiful anime in recent years.

Funnily enough, in first glance you’ll be confused at my statement, and that is mostly because of the character models being so moe and simplistic. Riko, Reg, the other children raised with Riko, and even the teacher Jirou all look cutesy and are drawn in a very soft style.

And this contrasts just how ridiculously realistic and richly detailed the environments are. Aside from the impressive aerial shots of the Abyss, its insides are lovingly animated and brought to life with some truly memorable locations like the inverted forests where every tree just hangs upside down. And that is without mentioning the creative, goofy yet monstrous design of a lot of the Abyss’ animals… If animals is the right word for them.

Barring a moment or two of noticeable CGI scenes, the animation itself is fairly fluid for the most part, and despite not being an action-oriented show, Made in Abyss has some masterfully animated and polished action scenes thrown here and there when Reg needs to protect Riko.

Audio & Sound

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What’s interesting about the soundtrack of Made in Abyss is that it wasn’t composed by a native Japanese composer, but an Australian composer called Kevin Penkin, and I’ll be damned if he hasn’t proved himself to reach the quality of somebody like Yuki Kajiura.

To describe it in one word: touching. Penkin’s score manages to balance smoothly between hopeful and heartbreaking, and can essessintily be used to both kinds of situations. I especially love how Penkin’s score in general feels so mystical and in line with the atmosphere given by the Abyss. In particular there is a track called “Hanezeve Caradiha” that is gorgeous beyond words, with its soothing melody and soft vocals yet eerie feeling, and is probably the best track of 2017.

As for the opening, I have to admit that it took me a little time to adjust to “Deep in Abyss”, but it grew on me. It has an interesting “broken” feel to it in terms of tone, but that makes it all the more memorable and compelling. I also love the nice touch of two singers mimicking Riko and Reg’s voices, which just gives it a more personal feeling.

The ending theme “Tabi no Hidarite, Saihate no Migite” also does this way of multiple singers at once, on top of being very silly and even upbeat.

At the time of this review, there is no English dub yet, sadly. And I’ll admit that I don’t have high hopes about a future release of the English dub given that 1) it’s an anime series with moe design and 2) it’s been licensed by Sentai Filmworks, who are not the most consistent out of dubbing companies. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see, and I might update this review to include the dub.

But as far as the Japanese dub goes, it is unsurprisingly excellent, and of top-notch execution. The stand-out seiyou here is undoubtedly Shiori Izawa, the voice actress of Nanachi, who gave a phenomenal performance here.

Final Verdict

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Made in Abyss is a beautifully animated and smartly written anime that damn well deserves the hype it received throughout its airing. It's not perfect, no, between its slow start and the fact that this season has only started what clearly looks like a long and perilous journey.

But I would say that even with its short running time, Made in Abyss reaches heights that full 25-episode anime can barely scratch. Its world is absorbing from the very beginning, its story uncovers some surprisingly hard to stomach themes, and its simple visual style is used effectively to evoke emotion.

Considering that we will get a second season sometime in the future, this is a must watch. Hell, even if a second season wasn't announced, Made in Abyss has enough content in its mere 13 episodes to at least satisfy the majority of viewers, and it ends well on a fairly high note.

Alongside an incredibly moving soudntrack, Made in Abyss is one of the best anime of 2017, and a strong addition to your anime library.

The Good:

  • Rich world-building and a unique setting that feels wondrous and mysterious to explore
  • Gripping narrative that isn't afraid to go serious and bold, never sugar-coats itself from its uglier scenes
  • Beautiful music and gorgeous art direction that brings the Abyss to life

The Bad:

  • Slow start may make you think this is a good, light-hearted show
  • Art-style is an acquired taste
  • Some of Riko's decisions are painful to watch and could be easily avoided

& The Ugly:

  • Some of the things the Abyss does to living beings will keep you awake for days

Alternate Recommendations

As for alternate anime recommendations, I have two:

  • I really hate overusing a recommendation, but I can't think of any better example than Hunter x Hunter 2011; both anime have a very similar premise of a child searching for their missing parent, not to mention a very dangerous world inhabited by terrifying creatures. It's a little bit of a commitment given its length, but be sure that it's worth it.
  • My second recommendation goes to Madoka Magica; granted, Madoka is less of a journey series, but it uses similar stroytelling techniques and has a familiar mood whiplash tactic to draw viewers in. It's also only 12 episodes, if you wish for a shorter series.

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