Anime Review: Made In Abyss
By Christopher Kinsey
There is a lot to say about this anime, and a lot has already been covered. A lot of this hinges on what’s presented in the manga which I have not, nor have any desire to read based on the amount of sickening imagery I’ve been told is therein. The anime itself has faults in this regard which I will bring up later but if you’ve learned anything else about the reviews I do I try my best to be fair, and we strive to tell you what is good about a series we do not like for one reason or another. With this in mind, let’s begin.
Made in Abyss is a very rich and detailed series that has a lot of world building behind it. The best stories have a lot of such planning within them and it always shows. From how the more magical elements of the world work to how common folk live their daily lives all these details make the stories told all the richer. This anime has world building in spades, and as a setting it’s a real place to explore the mysteries and you want to know more. There is a general sense of discovery with every strange artifact you learn about, how structures and systems are created for the use of those who would delve into The Abyss, and the lives of the most important and greatest adventurers who challenge it.
Yeah, it’s a wonderous city over a mysterious hellhole all right. Nothing on Waterdeep tho’, eh fellow D&D nerds?
The art direction details all of this greatly, making it seem like a living, breathing world in a way that few pieces of media do now of days. Scenery compliments the tone of the moment and makes you really get into the mood of a scene as it unfolds. Character design is also very good when it comes to most of the people of this world, showing you people broken by the supernatural nature of The Abyss but determined to unravel it’s secrets. But there is a damaging mark on this design and that is the look of the child characters. They seem out of place, and in a way that can convey a message. The Hobbits in “Lord of the Rings” were rather out of place too but still retained a design in tone and illustration the audience can relate to. The simplified children in this richly detailed world stand out too much and in some cases that’s ok, but in several other issues the series has the style underlines those flaws all the greater.
Let’s talk plot. Worlds the audience was meant to explore means the plot doesn’t have to be complicated. In this case we have Riko, a 12 year old girl who stays in an orphanage since her mother, Lyza, was lost exploring the Abyss 10 years ago. As the daughter of one of the greatest explorers of the Abyss, naturally she wants to find her own adventurers but doing it by the book is stifling, so she’s a rambunctious troublemaker. One day she is saved during an expedition in the Abyss’ earlier levels by a robot boy she names Reg. Reg is an amnesiac who has basic robot tenancies of being strong and durable in addition to having extendable arms and a large laser which can melt through pretty much anything. Eventually Riko uses Reg’s powers to descend into the Abyss after she learns that her mother may have sent a message from the bottom, challenging Riko to find her there. Along the way they meet other delvers, strange creatures, and horrors man was not meant to know.
I’m sure nothing will happen to my 2 year old daughter! I’ll leave her with this orphanage that punishes them by tying them up naked!
Yep. That. So The real chestnut to crack in this series is this: are you comfortable with watching children be abused? Children realistically vomiting? Using disastrous lifesaving techniques? Because this all happens. Quite a bit. Compounded with these moments are others that attempt to sexualize the situation either for a joke or to really hammer home the whole “Wow, this kid is being abused” angle. I know that it’s toned down from the manga, but it’s still here. Come along on my little “tour de unease” episode to episode.
Episode 1: A child is shown realistically vomiting. Riko mentions she has examined Reg before he woke up, not only checking out his penis while passed out but broke a ruler off in his anus. Unease level is minimum because all of this is done off camera and relayed information, but it does get one looking around and nervously chuckling. “Shin Chan” does wiener and butt jokes all the time. Surely this can’t get worse, right?
Episode 2: It is hinted that a punishment at the orphanage is to be tied up naked. We’re treated to Riko under said punishment while being whipped by the headmistress. While it only lasts for a moment in a montage it’s certainly a moment best avoided. We learn that it’s a common punishment for children in this world as well. So you know, for the folks who think spanking a child just isn’t far enough they’re covered by three seconds of animation.
Episode 3: Surprisingly nothing of note happens here. A serious in tone episode since Riko and Reg are heading into the Abyss. Or maybe something messed up happened and I blocked it out. Who knows at this point?
Yes, when meeting a wondrous automaton make sure it has a ding dong like Tasha Yar did way back in TNG Season one.
Episode 4: Habo, a Black Whistle delver who is a great friend and inspiration to Riko catches up with her and Reg for some helpful advice. Oh and while he’s there manhandles Reg and has a gander at his wang. You know, as a responsible adult who finds a robot boy should do.
Episode 5: Some violence against deadly creatures who use a corpse as bait. Not unsettling until the mash of art styles between children and everything else is noticed by your brain.
Episode 6: Riko finds a creature of Cronenburgian horrific proportions while on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It’s then highlighted that she wet the bed after this encounter.
C’mon kids, eat up. Steady diet of unimaginable horror builds character!
Episode 7: Ozen, a fabled White Whistle delver, up and attacks Reg with horrific strength. With her inferring she’s going in for the kill, and mentioning that she didn’t because he was just that resilient. She beat a boy to see if he’d die, and he fell unconscious, and continued the beatings. If things haven’t seemed off by now to you, handwaving a bit and going “Oh Japan! You so crazy!” the warning signs should be appearing now.
Episode 8: Another episode I’m kind of fuzzy on. Pretty sure nothing particularly weird happened, just survival training akin to what happened in “Fullmetal Alchemist”
Episode 9: Riko and Reg are swallowed by some sort of digester beast and Riko has to cut herself out. Being a D&D player I’m no stranger to being digested, but I’m not gonna make kids do it. Rather tame episode again.
Episode 10: Riko is impaled by the spine of a poisonous creature that Reg cannot defeat. He is forced to take Riko up a level thereby invoking the curse of those who ascend from the fourth to the third layer: bleeding from every orifice. This is compounded by the fact Reg has to break and cut off Riko’s arm before the poison reaches her main body. Luckily he is stopped, but he still breaks the arm before this happens. Again, the unease in this scene would be averted if the children models in this series were not waify half-moe blob in nature.
Episode 11: We meet Nanachi, a jaded bunny-person who begins the process of healing Riko. While she sends Reg out on a fetch quest upon his return he catches Nanachi holding Riko’s legs up spread eagle while nude. As it turns out she’s giving her medicine and she can’t take it orally in her current state. But good news everyone! It’s also a suppository… Oh and then Reg has to go wash out Riko’s bloody urine soaked shorts. Yes, we needed to know that detail. Remember kids, it was EVERY orifice. Oh by the way, I haven’t introduced Mitty. I can do that next episode.
Episode 12: Mitty is this blob of white meat which is yet another slice of Cronenburg heaven. Yes It Has No Mouth, but It Must Scream. Wait it has a mouth. And it’s split odd. And it’s constantly oozing all over Riko. It’s OK tho’. Nanachi wants Reg to kill it.
This is fine. I’m OK with the way things are unfolding currently.
Episode 13: SADDLE UP KIDS! THIS IS A DOUBLE LENGTH EPISODE! We learn the story of Nanachoi and Mitty. Both were children duped into becoming experimental fodder for a White Whistle delver named Bondrewd, who looks a lot like what would happen if you made either member of Daft Punk the most evil person you could imagine. As it turns out he was lowering the kids to the 6th level to figure out how to beat it’s curse which is death or loss of all humanity. He lowers Nanachi and Mitty down in a special chamber which will direct all of the curse onto one of the individuals. As such Nanachi became a bunny/kangaroo person thing and Mitty became a marshmallow horror who could not die. No, they tried. No matter what they did including graphically grinding Mitty up she regenerated. Nanachi escaped with Mitty and has been trying to euthanize Mitty humanely ever since. This is our Nina Tucker moment (Again, thanks to Fullmetal Alchemist for all these great Emmy winning moments). So Reg kills Mitty, Riko wakes up and then takes a bath with Reg while Nanachi plays lookout. Do they comment on him getting an erection? You bet they do!
It was a struggle, especially at the more intense moments and the focus on the bodily functions of kids. I’m a father, done my share of worrying and dealing with the uneasy parts of that job description to be sure. But after the first few moments of establishing the world you can really tell the creator of this story either almost wants to or definitely wants to see his characters suffer. And that wouldn’t be so bad, but they are children in almost every definition of the term. Yes, it certainly gives a sense of dread but there are so many other ways to convey that. The imagery alone would be great for any style of capable characters and you wouldn’t think twice. I know I’m going back to the Fullmetal Alchemist well again, but while terrible things happened to the Elric brothers it is all backstory, it got the point across, and it never lingered in the moment of unease. We are removed from the trauma and can move into the plot, characters and world. Made in Abyss has this kind of cycle where you want to explore this world, find out it’s mysteries, see what terrible plots the White Whistles and The Abyss itself will challenge the story next. But in moments of calm you have kids getting Blue Lagoon-style sexual awakenings and in moments of danger you have kids getting ripped apart or mutated. It could have been perfect. It could have adult tone, starred at the very least young adult modeled people, had some horrific themes and been a grand adventure. But someone had to, to steal a term from the “tropers”, break the cuties.
I heard about this title when everyone was talking about it during the season, and of course when it became Crunchyroll’s Anime of the Year in 2017. I saw on social media all of the things Akihito Tsukushi, the series creator, put into this series to either really drive home the point of danger, or just be plain creepy. I found it on the recently unchained offerings of Amazon Prime. You only get a cover to look at, really. And even in this day and age it’s hard to convey what a piece of media contains without ratings guides and the like. Look at this:
I don’t want to be clutching at pearls here but this looks like a fun kids adventure. Just the things for the kids who like Pokémon. The only warning sign you get is from the saner anime fans giving it three stars or below on the Amazon reviews itself. As a matter of fact, before I wrap up my own judgement with the pros and cons let me give you this pearl of wisdom from one “football_fan”.
-Fantastic Background work
-A detailed world full of mystery to get engrossed in