One of 2017’s best anime (or the best, if you listen to Crunchyroll) was Made in Abyss, and if you remember our 2017 Yuri Anime/Manga/Visual Novels Awards, you might recall that this anime was my pick for Best Non-Yuri Anime. Clearly, I think very highly of it, but why exactly is that? Let me explain~
Synopsis: The Abyss—a gaping chasm stretching down into the depths of the earth, filled with mysterious creatures and relics from a time long past. How did it come to be? What lies at the bottom? Countless brave individuals, known as Divers, have sought to solve these mysteries of the Abyss, fearlessly descending into its darkest realms. The best and bravest of the Divers, the White Whistles, are hailed as legends by those who remain on the surface.
Riko, daughter of the missing White Whistle Lyza the Annihilator, aspires to become like her mother and explore the furthest reaches of the Abyss. However, just a novice Red Whistle herself, she is only permitted to roam its most upper layer. Even so, Riko has a chance encounter with a mysterious robot with the appearance of an ordinary young boy. She comes to name him Reg, and he has no recollection of the events preceding his discovery. Certain that the technology to create Reg must come from deep within the Abyss, the two decide to venture forth into the chasm to recover his memories and see the bottom of the great pit with their own eyes. However, they know not of the harsh reality that is the true existence of the Abyss.
On the surface, the story in Made in Abyss seems fairly simple, yet all of the story elements come together to form something greater than the sum of its parts. The starting point for this grand journey is Belchero Orphanage, where many a young cave raider train to plunge into the depths of the Abyss. After discovering the mysterious robot boy, Reg, during an ordinary raid, Riko’s desire to explore the vast chasm intensifies even further.
When things really get underway, details of the Abyss remain scant, and I think that’s part of the beauty of the story. The mysteries of the great unknown leave you wondering what pitfalls our heroes will encounter next, and the huge investments made into the lore of the Abyss pay off handsomely. The legendary White Whistles, the ancient relics and dangerous creatures that reside in the depths, each unique layer of the Abyss that brings with it all sorts of new and challenging obstacles, it’s all incredibly interesting, and I’m impressed by how fully fleshed-out the world is.
The world is great and all, but the personal stories of the characters are the real meat of the overall story. Riko’s story, an aspiring cave raider who wishes to follow in the footsteps of her celebrated mother, Reg’s story, a mysterious robot boy from the Abyss who strangely possesses many human traits (as well as the stories of the other characters), slowly provide more breadth and depth to a story that might have otherwise felt a little shallow or straightforward. Tolkien, it’s not, but this is an entertaining tale that gets woven, and it’s very good at keeping you interested in what will happen next.
After the first few episodes serve to help us get to know our little friends a bit better and shape the crux of the plot, the real adventure begins, and I think the pacing feels just about right. This traversing continues until a new character, Nanachi, is introduced, and she ends up being very critical to the plot. As enjoyable as this anime was up until that point, things get ratcheted up a notch, and the thirteenth and final episode—which is twice the length of a normal anime episode—is probably one of my favorite anime episodes in recent memory. It’s probably not a coincidence that it’s also the most emotional, and despite the kiddy look, the overall story is surprisingly grown-up.
One thing I’m not necessarily a fan of is how there isn’t a conclusion to this show. A second season and two recap movies have been announced, so there’s still a lot of adventuring to come, and this season can kind of be viewed as the first stanza. I’m not saying I would have wanted to rush through the story, but stopping part-way through the journey is not the idealist of scenarios. Back in the day, I watched Deadman Wonderland and was curious to see where the story went, so I picked up the manga. The same occured after I watched Shingeki no Kyojin, and I really wanted to do the same with this show, but the second season of SnK was so much more epic than what I read in the manga that I can’t bring myself to see the spoilers like that. The second season of Made in Abyss may be on its way, but it can’t come soon enough, and I can’t wait to see what happens to our pint-sized explorers.
By the end of the season, there are still a lot of unanswered questions, but that just speaks to the richness of the world. If you’re into fantasy adventures, then you definitely owe it to yourself to watch this. It’s an incredible journey that takes the scenic route (literally and figuratively) down a harrowing path, and I found it to be very engrossing and entertaining~
Riko and Reg are our two protagonists, and although there isn’t exactly a ton of character development involved with these two, they’re both engaging characters that make for a great team. You can sort of view them as brains (Riko, with her knowledge of the Abyss) and brawn (Reg, with his physical abilities), and even though they may be children, they’re great together, and I can’t help but ship them. Reg is often called a robot, but he exhibits a lot of human traits and emotions (it doesn’t help matters that he’s also suffering from amnesia), so I don’t know. He’s an intriguing little munchkin that’s almost like a miniature super hero (think one part Iron Man and two parts RAD Spencer from Bionic Commando), but as extraordinary as he is, his partner in crime is still my favorite of the two.
She may not be the most complex of characters, but Riko’s dogged determination to reach the bottom of the Abyss is impressive, and on top of it all, she’s absolutely adorable! You could say that about many other characters, but even more so with her. Reg may be the one who does the heavy lifting in terms of combat, but Riko has to protect Reg as well, so their relationship is another thing I loved about this anime.
It’s impossible not to get emotionally attached to the characters, so when bad things happens (and they will happen), it’s like a punch in the gut. That dastardly onion-cutting ninja visited me at one point during the series, and I’m probably not the only one who can say that. It certainly doesn’t help that these are orphans who’ve already been through enough, and nothing’s worse than harming a child, so it’s tough, man.
Besides Reg and Riko, there are a few other characters that are particularly noteworthy. The other children from Belchero Orphanage—Nat, Shiggy, and Kiyui—don’t get much screen time after Riko and Reg head into the Abyss, but they’re nice sidekicks for our lead duo, and I hope they get slightly bigger roles in the second season. The other White Whistles that play important roles (Lyza, Ozen, and Bondrewd) are nearly as mysterious as the Abyss itself, and it’d be nice to learn more about them. There are a couple of other characters I want to get to, but that’ll be in next section, since it’s definitely spoiler territory. Anyway, it’s pretty easy to end up caring about the cast of supporting characters as well, and despite not necessarily being the focal points of the story, they’re well-developed and greatly appreciated.
As much as I enjoyed Riko, Reg, and the other characters, there’s one other thing I should mention, and that’s the Abyss itself. It seems many citizens of Orth treat the Abyss as an entity and believe and fear it so much that you could say it’s the closest thing they have to a god. A quote from Pulp Fiction that comes to mind is “Because you are a character doesn’t mean that you have character.” Granted, it’s used in a different context, but what I’m trying to say is that even though the Abyss isn’t a living being itself, it still displays as much or more character than some actual characters from other anime. Does that make sense? 😀
Lastly, while doing a little research for this review, I learned that Maruruk is a boy. I’ve watched this show twice now, and I had no idea until now. It doesn’t really matter either way, but it’s still surprising to me. You may have noticed that I’ve deliberately left out a couple of characters, but let’s get to them already.
It’s impossible to talk about the yuri without getting into spoilers, so this next section will be hidden away. To view, simply click on the drop-down arrow at the beginning of this paragraph.
First up, the elephant in the room. It’s not explicitly stated what gender Nanachi is, so even though a majority of people seem to believe that Nanachi is female, a gender-neutral pronoun is used when Nanachi talks about themselves. The creator of Made in Abyss himself refuses to clarify the situation and is happy leaving it open to speculation, so my interpretation is that Nanachi is female. I’m not biased at all. Really! 😛
As much as I liked Riko and Reg, Nanachi was easily my favorite character in the anime, and it wasn’t really that close. Appearance-wise, she’s as cute as can be, what with those bunny ears, but her personality was what really drew me to her. She’s a warm and caring individual, but you wouldn’t immediately recognize that due to her sardonic nature. The best examples are the instances in which she uses her adorable and hilarious catch phrase, “Nnnaaaa”.
On MyAnimeList, it’s not surprising to see that Nanachi has more member favorites than every other character on the MIA character list combined. She’s brave, funny, cute, talented, tough, loving, and so much more, and Made in Abyss is a lot better because of her.
Nanachi is first introduced at the end of the tenth episode, so there’s essentially only three (or four, if you count the final episode as two) episodes worth of content, yet it didn’t really feel like her story was rushed at all. During the majority of this time, Riko was slowly being nursed back to health, so Nanachi essentially becomes a main character in her own right.
Now let’s talk a little bit about one of the sweetest, most tragic, relationships that you’re ever likely to see. The thirteenth and final episode is where the majority of Nanachi and Mitty’s story can be found, and luckily, the episode is supersized, so it’s twice the length of a normal episode. That extra time is well appreciated, as their tragic backstories help paint the picture of a pair of orphans whose desire to head into the Abyss ultimately leads to their downfall.
After both orphans are recruited to join Bondrewd’s expedition, the outgoing Mitty quickly befriends the more reserved Nanachi, with their longing to descend into the Abyss being what binds them. While being held at Bondrewd’s forward operating base in the fifth layer of the Abyss, Nanachi and Mitty become best friends and partners, and despite not knowing what fate that awaited them, they manage to be absolutely adorable together.
Mitty suffered the most out of anyone, and watching her go from an outgoing girl who wanted to become a White Whistle to a hollow husk of herself, was heartbreaking, to say the least.
Ga-Rei: Zero features the tagline “Will you kill someone you love, because of love?”, which is literally perfect for this situation. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect finale, and the scene where Nanachi (and Reg) finally sets Mitty free from all her torment was as emotional and bittersweet a moment as I’ve seen in anime, and for me anyway, it was also the high point of the entire season.
For such a brief story/character arc, Nanachi and Mitty’s story left a huge impression on me. We all knew what would become of them, but that didn’t make matters any easier, and I think it’s rare to find such a touching and sweet—yet sorrowful—relationship. Riko and Reg may get the limelight, but for my money, it’s the relationship between Nanachi and Mitty that really cemented the idea that this is a great cast of characters.
Moving on to the animation, the first thing that catches your eye is the incredibly cute style that gives off the impression that this is a kid-friendly show, but in reality, this anime is actually quite dark. I’ve heard some people say that the cutesy look was a turn-off, and that’s understandable, but personally, I thought the juxtaposition was fascinating to watch. And speaking of fascinating to watch, the environments are pure eye candy that add to the wonder of the Abyss. It’s a gorgeous, sprawling underground world that you wish you could explore yourself… you know, except for the deadly creatures, deadly curse, and the extreme likelihood that you’d never return to the surface. But other than all that, hand me my itinerary! 😛
One thing that kind of irked me was how these kids were kind of sexualized a little bit. Riko is twelve, but she’s at least semi-naked on a few occasions. Later on, she makes an… interesting… discovery about Reg’s anatomy while they’re both taking a dip in a lagoon. The sexual tension during this scene is strange, and there were probably other, less awkward, ways to build up the romantic aspects of their relationship. Anyway, that didn’t take away from the overall beauty of the world, which is about as lush and vivid as you’re likely to find in anime.
I’m listening to the original soundtrack as I write this, and it’s probably one of the best anime soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Whether it’s during a battle, during Reg and Riko’s trek down the Abyss, or any one of several more emotional scenes, it always seems like the music suits the situation perfectly.
Pathway, Hanezeve Caradhina, The First Layer, and Nanachi in the Light are a few of my favorites, and overall, the music is just great at enhancing the viewing experience. During my second time watching this, one of the fun things I did was to try and pinpoint which track was playing at what time. It probably helped me appreciate the music even more, and the composer, Kevin Penkin, deserves all the praise for crafting such an outstanding score.
Not only is Made in Abyss my favorite anime of 2017, it’s probably one of my favorite anime of all-time. The characters, the mystery, the adventure, the emotional aspects of the story, the music, the art, Nanachi x Mitty, there are so many things that I love about this show. In my opinion, all the hype for this one was well-deserved, and if the second season can even come close to the overall quality of the first, then I’ll be as ecstatic as can be~