Darkness & Longing: A Review of "Made in Abyss" Season One
I have since returned from Japan to the United States, and while I was in the land of anime everywhere, I ran into trouble with shows not being subtitled, or being region-blocked. So there was a ton of anime I had missed out on while living abroad, and I have since tried to check out some of the series I'd heard of, but never had a chance to watch. Thanks to Amazon Prime, I found Made in Abyss (2017), which I only heard of in passing, though I did know it won Anime of the Year and Best Score during the 2nd Annual Crunchyroll Awards.
Basically, I knew it was supposed to be good, and I knew little else about it. I was flipping through Prime and happened to see it, and I sat through all thirteen episodes in about two days. I just zoomed through all of it, and I knew I had to write about the show. .
"Within the depths of the Abyss, a girl named Riko stumbles upon a robot who looks like a young boy. Riko and her new friend descend into uncharted territory to unlock its mysteries, but what lies in wait for them in the darkness?"
Story: The story is deceptively simple. In the city of Orth, there is a giant hole known as the Abyss, whose true depths are unknown. The deeper you go into the Abyss, the deadlier it gets--strange and wild creatures hunt you, and then there's the curse of the abyss, where at different levels of ascension, you get deathly ill, even to the point of losing your humanity or dying. This means that once you get to a certain depth point, there is no return from the Abyss.
Riko's mother Lyza was a cave explorer who gave birth to Riko in the Abyss, and Riko gets a letter supposedly from her mother saying to come and find her in the netherworld (the Abyss's deepest depths). Plus, Riko discovers and names Reg, a humanoid robot boy who is believed to have ascended from below the Abyss. Armed with her mother's letter and Reg, Riko makes the journey to the bottom of the Abyss, knowing full well she will never return topside to Orth.
The entire show chronicles Riko and Reg's journey through the Abyss, but there's this theme of longing woven constantly throughout the show. Riko longs for her mother. Reg longs for answers. The explorers who dive into the Abyss do so out of this constant pull, a longing to get to its deepest parts.
It reminds me a little bit of the pull mountain climbers feel towards ascending treacherous heights, particularly Mount Everest. I can't help but think of the reporter who asked George Mallory why he wanted to climb Everest, and Mallory responded, "because it is there." There is no other desire for explorers to have but to explore. I think this is one of the many Big Ideas that permeates Made in Abyss and makes for a compelling series.
Characters: There are a lot of characters in this series, so I'm just going to focus on the main ones.
The ages are never quite confirmed in the series, but I'm pretty sure Riko (voiced by Miyu Tomita) is twelve years old. She's energetic and strong-willed and a bit foolhardy and impulsive, and ever the optimist. Sometimes she got on my nerves with the risks she took in the Abyss, but I have to remember that she's a child and doesn't have the same reasoning as an adult. Despite some mistakes she makes here and there, she's a good protagonist to follow through the show and so much happens to her on their journey. She's a strong character, very determined, and enjoyable to watch.
Reg (played by Mariya Ise) is my favorite character in the show. There's the mystery behind him--who made him? Did he genuinely come from the depths of the Abyss, and why doesn't the curse affect him? But also, right off the bat, he is an endearing character. He immediately proves himself helpful and valuable, always coming to Riko's aid. He is steadfast and loyal and a good friend. I want to learn more about him! I don't think he was always a robot--he seems too human at times to be one--but alas, this is a mystery and I'm not sure if I'm right at all. There's a chance I'm not. When Riko first meets an unconscious Reg, she plays with his skin and says it almost feels real, so that would shoot my "former human" theory out the window. But there has to be something there, because Reg is just like a real little boy!
OZEN THE IMMOVEABLE
One of the Abyss's White Whistle explorers, Ozen (voiced by Sayaka Ohara) is a weird character. She is an ally, but basically tests Riko and Reg cruelly while they take shelter at a base camp in the Abyss. She also reveals some heavy information about Riko--she was stillborn, but a mysterious cube in the Abyss brought her back to life. Ozen was Lyza's friend and helped bring baby Riko to surface in the cube. Ozen imparts wisdom on RIko and Reg and gives them rigorous, life-or-death training to help them descend further into the Abyss. Her morality appears ambiguous, but she ultimately proves she is an ally. But maybe she's spent too much time in the Abyss and it's affected her?
Nanachi (played by Shiori Izawa) has such a tragic backstory. They appear as a rabbit-like creature and refer to themselves as a "Hollow," a being who survived the 6th layer's curse but has lost their humanity. Hollows usually become physically distorted and deformed, and often lose the ability to speak or remain cognizant as a human, but Nanachi is an exception. Nanachi used to be a human who lived in the slums of Orth and agreed to go to the Abyss with Bondrewd, another White Whistle explorer. But Nanachi didn't know the nature of Bondrewd's experiments happening in the Abyss, and not only did Nanachi transform into a Hollow, but their best friend Mitty was also transformed, completely losing her humanity and becoming little more than a lump of flesh that was tortured due to the strange immortality she gained in her transformation.
This is all revealed when Reg takes Riko to Nanachi to be rescued from a vicious animal attack. When Riko recovers and Nanachi learns more about Riko and Reg's goal to visit the bottom of the Abyss, Nanachi joins them on the journey.
We see very little of Bondrewd (voiced by Toshiyuki Morikawa) except in a flashback and an after-credits scene in the final episode of season one. Bondrewd is the most dangerous White Whistle explorer. He has a base in the 5th layer of the Abyss and conducts experiments with countless children in the 6th layer. He is responsible for transforming the children into Hollows and for torturing them, all with the excuse that he's trying to understand the nature of the curse of the Abyss to make it safe for explorers to traverse to the bottom and survive.
It's clear he's being set up as the Big Bad of the series, and his experiments are quite disturbing. The scene where he lowers Nanachi and Mitty into the 6th layer, then shoots them back up to trigger the curse, is harrowing.
I think what makes him even more disturbing is the fact that he sounds incredibly calm and cool-headed while he's doing all of these terrible things to the children.
Animation: The characters in the series are depicted very simply and straightforward. Riko and Reg are almost chibi-like given how round their features are, and I think this does a tiny bit of disservice to the anime, because it makes it look like it's an innocent children's show, when this is one of the more darker series I've ever seen. So, I'd encourage you not to judge the book by the cover here. This is no kids' show.
There is beautiful animation to be found. The maps and guidebooks of the Abyss are well-drawn; the monsters well-designed; but I think my favorite part is of the city of Orth and the landscapes of the Abyss.
Voice Acting: The voice acting is superb here. Filled with incredible emotion. I would give awards to Riko, Reg, and Nanachi for their tremendous acting chops during scenes of absolute tragedy. For Riko and Reg, it's when Riko is impaled and poisoned by the sharp quills of a monster of the Abyss, and Reg has to break her arm and attempt to amputate it to save her life. Riko nearly dying as she bleeds from every orifice thanks to the curse of the Abyss, and Reg's inconsolable tears when he thinks she's died, were incredible.
Nanachi's big acting moment comes just before Reg shoots Mitty with his robot arm, and Nanachi breaks down and apologizes in a moment of weakness before committing to the death of Mitty, and then afterward, Nanachi's extreme anguish at the death of their friend.
At times this show is hard to watch. But I encourage you to give those tough scenes a try, and you'll see incredible performances from the cast.
Low Points of the Season: I wouldn't say there were low points, but I think the jokes with Reg's penis weren't exactly necessary to the plot. Neither was Riko getting naked. It wasn't depicted as fanservice (thank God because these characters are twelve), but they still felt superfluous to the story and characterization.
High Points of the Season: This whole season was incredible. I can't narrow it down to a single moment. The pacing is excellent, the storytelling brisk and emotional, and everything really worked together into a cohesive, adventurous story.
As a sidenote, I will say the music to the series is quite good. The soundtrack is gorgeous. The music was written by Kevin Penkin and I've never heard a soundtrack like it before. Here's some of it if you want to give it a listen:
Final Thoughts: This is one of my top anime series and I think I want to add it to my permanent collection at home. That's how high in esteem I hold it! It's such an emotional rollercoaster of a show and this season of course ends on a cliffhanger. As I write this, a sequel film came out as a setup to the second season, which is now airing on HIDIVE in English and Japanese. I'm desperate to continue the story as it's one of the most memorable shows I've ever watched. Please give this one a try, though it's not for the faint of heart. Arm yourself with the sense of adventure, and plenty of tissues!