I will admit that at first I was reluctant to watch Made in Abyss. Despite the good reviews I had read about it, the art style and character designs did not appeal to me very much. Though the plot sounded interesting, most of the more recent “fantasy world” anime haven’t been my cup of tea, so I didn’t think about it much.
However, after I decided to drop both Dive!! and Touken Ranbu, I was looking for a new show to pick up, and I finally decided to watch it. I certainly had been missing out for the first part of the summer season by underestimating it. Seriously, if you’re only going to watch one new show from the summer 2017 season of anime, make it Made in Abyss.
Very, very light spoilers and details about the plot of first four episodes of the show are below, but none that would reveal any of the bigger surprises shown in the anime so far, and none concerning the manga. It’s not anything big enough to ruin the story for anyone who hasn’t watched Made in Abyss yet, but if you’re a complete purist it’s better to turn back now.
Made in Abyss tells the story of Riko, a spunky 12 year old girl living in an orphanage, in the city of Orth. Orth is a town built around a massive pit, called the Abyss. The Abyss is a gigantic system of caves, and is the last known place on Earth yet to be fully explored. Journeys into the Abyss are treacherous, as not only are there deadly creatures lurking inside, but “cave delvers” – as explorers and excavators are called – also suffer from the curse of the Abyss during their accent.
The Abyss is divided into levels, and while climbing up from each level the curse manifests itself as a different form of suffering. The first level causes some benign dizziness, and maybe some nausea. The second layer causes heavy nausea, headaches, and numbness. The third causes a loss of balance, and hallucinations. Layer four causes terrible pain and bleeding from all orifices. The fifth layer causes a loss of sensation, which causes a higher likelihood of self-harm. Beyond this is considered the point of no return. For delvers who go below the fifth layer it is considered their “last dive”, as ascending from the sixth layer results in an ambiguous “loss of humanity”, and the seventh layer results in certain death.
Despite this, countless people have journeyed into the Abyss, hoping to solve its mysteries. Ancient relics of tremendous value are hidden inside the Abyss, and the economy of Orth is built off them, like a gold rush town, or a mining town. Being a cave delver is a noble profession, and the orphanage Riko and her friends live in trains the young residents to be the delvers of tomorrow. The children are regularly sent into the first layer of the Abyss to hunt for relics, to earn money for the orphanage. During one of her delves into the first layer, Riko discovers a robot boy, who she brings back to the surface world with her, and names Reg. Reg cannot remember anything about who is, or where he comes from exactly, but it is clear to Riko and her friends that he is from the depths of the Abyss.
Riko’s dream is to become a great cave delver. She has big shoes to fill, since her mother, Lyza, was one of the very few “white whistles” – the highest rank one can achieve as a delver. Even among white whistles “Lyza the Inhalator”, as she is called, is a legend.
Lyza set off on her “last dive” 10 years prior, and has been presumed dead. However, a package, sent up by balloon, and containing notes of her discoveries, along with her whistle, contains a letter to Riko that implies that she may not be dead after all. Determined to find her mother, Riko sets off into the Abyss. Reg, who wishes to know where he comes from, joins her for the adventure.
The world of Made in Abyss is at once fascinating and unnerving. There is an ominous feeling that persists throughout the show, and an underlying darkness beneath the generally upbeat first four episodes.
The town of Orth treats the Abyss with a sort of religious reverence. Their lives revolve around it. Though death due to the dangers of the Abyss is nearly inevitable for delvers, it is a much desired, honorable field of work. Upon the discovery of Lyza’s notes and whistle, the town concludes that since she has gone further than the sixth layer, she is as good as dead. Rather than a funeral, the town throws a festival in her honor, and performances tell children about her heroics, and about the glory of delving.
People in Orth are conditioned to believe that death in the Abyss is normal, and glorious. Delvers who die there are but a number, only remembered by the valuable relics they have brought to the surface.
Although the casualties of the Abyss are high, orphanages further condition children to desire to be great delvers themselves. In Riko’s orphanage the children are told that since their parents have “fallen nobly” they should work hard to follow in their footsteps. The children occasionally find skeletons with their hands together in prayer during their treasure hunts. Though the first layer of the Abyss is relatively safe, monsters from lower levels occasionally find their way upward. After one such monster nearly devours Riko’s friend Nat, their teacher, only mildly concerned, reminds Riko that in the future they should be more careful.
Also concerning is a story told by Nat to Reg, that there have been a series of recent deaths among children on their birthdays. The story appears to be meant to try to scare Reg, but considering past towns around the Abyss have disappeared after 2000 years, and with the town of Orth is coming up on being 2000 years old, it’s unsettling. This story becomes even more unsettling when Reg – before setting off on he and Riko’s adventure – says one last goodbye to Kiwi, a toddler who he spent a lot of time with when he first arrived at the orphanage. After Reg notes that Kiwi has recently been very tired, the little boy tells him that his birthday is the day after next.
Even Riko and Reg’s choice to travel to the bottom of the Abyss is ominous. While Reg, as a robot, is able to travel through the layers of the Abyss without suffering from the curse, it is clear that should they manage to travel beyond the fifth layer, Riko will be unable to come return as the person she is now, or even at all. It’s interesting that we see their departure through the eyes of Nat, who attempts to dissuade them from going. Nat shares the concerns of the audience, fully understanding the weight of the decision Riko is making.
Made in Abyss is beautifully animated, and each shot is a pleasure to take in. With art direction by Masuyama Osamu – who has done background art for films such as Spirited Away, Howls Moving Castle, Ponyo, and Kimi no Na Wa – the Abyss and the town of Orth look stunning. While I wasn’t initially a fan of the art style or the character designs, it’s hard to deny that the world of Made in Abyss, and the characters in it look charming, and the children in the story are absolutely adorable.
The characters of Made in Abyss themselves are also fantastic. Riko, our protagonist, is a delightfully mischievous tomboy, with a thirst for adventure, and is hard not to like. Her friends in the orphanage, other citizens of Orth, and Reg are equally interesting and full of personality.
A word of warning; having read the rest of what has been written so far in the manga, I can tell you that the generally happy, yet ominous first few episodes eventually turn into a series with some heavy, dark elements, and is at times gruesome and upsetting. I don’t think this series will end up being one for the faint of heart.
If you’re a fan of high fantasy and adventure, and are not deterred by dark themes, I highly recommend checking out Made in Abyss this season. I highly doubt you will regret it.