Without ever reading the original source material and peeking at the key visuals for the series while perusing through this summer’s anime season titles, it took four months for me to sit down and watch Made in Abyss (mainly because I was busy in the real world, #SorryNotSorry). I originally went into the first viewing of the first episode thinking that it would be a cute shounen adventure featuring a duo of young protagonists; you know, something along the lines of a Ghibli family-friendly anime or close enough to the anime film, Brave Story.
Made in Abyss was released by Japanese animation studio Kinema Citrus, responsible for creating notable titles like Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (which left me bawling every episode) and Barakamon (which elicited many guffaws and huge smiles on my face), Made in Abyss is a thirteen-episode dark fantasy adventure, filled with beautiful landscapes to paint and bring to life a vast amount of world building to describe a mysterious cave system with numerous levels, namely the Abyss. The anime series is currently airing at episode 10 as I write this post and can be viewed on Amazon’s Anime Strike online. Made in Abyss is an adaptation of its ongoing webmanga counterpart that began in October 2012. It was written and illustrated by Akihito Tsukushi and was serialized in Web Comic Gamma.
Made in Abyss follows the story of a young orphan named Riko. She is a red whistle, which as we learn is an explorer adventurer who seek to travel and discover the mysteries behind the Abyss. Upon one of her excursions, she encounters a strange robot boy whom she dubs Reg. The two then travel to the depths of the dangerous Abyss. Riko, to meet her mother, and Reg, to discover his own origins and to hopefully regain his lost memories.
A definite pro of the first episode is its beautiful backgrounds and scenery. The forest where we find our protagonist Riko focusing on finding and collecting artifacts that would be later sold for profit is nothing short but dazzling from the very first episode. Using camera angles to emphasize how immense the size of the petrified trees are while suggesting how expansive the area really is and integrating fine details into the tree bark and using light to make the forest appear both dynamic and realistic makes my heart flutter. I love how the artwork doesn’t skimp over these minute aspects. It feels like I’m being spoiled with eye candy.
The second aspect that I appreciate about the story line itself is the fact that it’s a female lead who pushes the action and direction of the series. I think it’s a nice change of pace to have more of a variety in protagonists. Riko is a rambunctious twelve year old with a dream of becoming a legendary cave-diver or white whistle like her mother. With a strong ambition and an inquisitive nature that thirsts for knowledge about the unknown, Riko is at fault a troublemaker, going to whatever lengths, breaking any and all rules in order to attain her dream, making her the perfect and traditional shounen anime protagonist.
To balance Riko’s bright personality, her friends are pretty relaxed. For example, Reg, who we know will be her permanent companion into the Abyss, is quieter and more cautious of the two. Being an amnesiac, Reg is still curious about the world he’s found himself in but instead of the enthusiastic eagerness to discover the answers to his questions, he’s the type to calmly observe and reach his own conclusions.
But like everything in life, we can’t judge a book by its cover. Because with anime, you never know if you’ll wind up in a much darker, cynical and strangely perverse place than you had first anticipated and of which you sure didn’t willingly sign up to be in. But to be perfectly honest, I hadn’t researched the series before my viewing, which is what I tend to do. And I do like surprises, believe it or not.
Although there isn’t many instances of violence in the first episode of the series, it only foreshadows what’s to inevitably come. And nope, it’s not gonna be pretty. But even having the idea of sending orphaned children to venture out into dangerous territory to make a living, having to fend for themselves against horrible creatures and other mishaps is a pretty dark concept, now that I think about it.
The animation paired up with the camera during action sequences was effective in the first episode, being fluid or jerky to match or emphasize the tension the characters were experiencing. For example, the entire sequence of Riko escaping from the frightening crimson splitjaw includes Riko being flung into a pit by the creature’s strong tail whip like a tiny bouncing golf ball hit into a hole. The animators took the time to make the creature’s raised tail whip out and hit Riko’s backpack, sending her and her treasures flying into the air and skidding to the ground. During the latter part of the sequence, the camera quickly switches points of view between the creature and Riko, showing Riko’s desperate and frantic escape to avoid the crimson splitjaw and the creature’s smooth slithery body violently pressing itself into smaller spaces in order to hunt down Riko. Their intentions are very clear in their body movements on screen and lends for an exciting chase that nearly costs Riko’s life.
The music in Made in Abyss is another strength of the show and is composed by Kevin Penkin. I also appreciated the first few minutes of the episode for allowing natural sounds to fill in the breaks of conversation between Nat and Riko, giving the audience a chance to breathe in the sounds and visuals of the forest. The music definitely enhances the emotional experience of watching Riko’s body crashing down to the ground after she had been thrown by the crimson splitjaw’s tail. With the tense string instruments humming strongly into a short pause where a sole trumpet breaks through, as if it were a sign of hope that she didn’t break any bones from her fall. My favourite track off the first episode is definitely the opening montage credits titled “Made In Abyss.” It starts off soft with guitar strumming and the orchestra coming in faintly with light vocals blending into all the instruments.
As an introduction to this dark fantasy story, Made in Abyss is intriguing and will definitely keep my attention and capture my feels as it progresses.
I need to binge-watch it.