Another trend that I am seeing is what I call the Cutely Brutal show. The artwork is more along a cartoony, slightly exaggerated approach, but the story itself is mean and cruel and vicious and horrific, so you have a difficult time reconciling the two. Such is the case of “Made in Abyss”.
The story is centered around an orphan girl named Riko (her) who lives in the town of Orth on an island in the sea of Beoluska. The city surrounds a strange, giant hole going deep into the earth, potentially miles, which is commonly called The Abyss. The Abyss harbors artifacts and remnants of a civilization long gone, and is therefore the popular hunting spot for so-called Cave Raiders, who undertake arduous and dangerous descents into the mist-filled pit to recover whatever relics they can find.
Returning from the Abyss, however, can be dangerous, as “the Curse of the Abyss,” a mysterious and potentially fatal malady, manifests itself upon ascension. The deeper one goes, the more acute the effects of the curse becomes; few who have descended into the lower regions have returned to tell of their experiences. Some legendary Cave Raiders earn the title of White Whistle, one of them being Riko’s mother, Lyza. In fact, Riko was born in the depths of The Abyss, and was returned to the surface. The fate of Lyza is unknown.
One day, Riko explores some caves and discovers a robot named Reg (him) who resembles a human boy. She and her friends take him in, as he needs a place to be and is a real curiosity piece. In fact, the lot of them live at the Orphanage. Soon after that, Riko is informed that some items sent by Lyza were recovered, including a message to her, telling her to meet in the bottom of The Abyss. Riko then bids farewell to her friends and departs to The Abyss, with Reg in tow, in search for her mother, despite knowing of the risks and the fact that due to the Curse of the Abyss, she may never be able to return.
You need to know about the whistles. They bespeak your grade as a Cave Raider. Everyone starts out as a Bell, which means you are not prepared at all to go into the caves. Red (please note Riko’s neck) means you have gone to the First Level. Blue gets you to the Second Level and you have significant experience. Moon gets you to the Third Level, but these are worn by teachers to impart the necessary knowledge to navigate and survive the levels. Someone’s gotta teach them Bells, right?
Then come the Black ones. You can get to the Fourth Level, but you may be losing your mind and it is tough to come back up, owing to the Curse. You have tons of experience and have survived some pretty brutal attacks by the creatures that populate those lower levels. Then, the Whites. There are only five White Whistle holders, like Riko’s mother. These folks practically live down there, as even the toughest may not be able to endure the trek back up. Seriously, why go down there, when all you will see is your death and your destruction and your demise?
Riko believes that her mother is waiting for her and must go down.
This is certainly a series filled with adventure and peril and endless death. Their will has to be strong, as Riko and Reg encounter things they were not prepared for and when things take a dark and perilous turn over the last four episodes, it gets hard to watch. As I said, it is the incongruity of the light and frivolous artwork, combined with the horrors that beset them that make this difficult to watch. And when we learn the tale of Nanachi, this becomes a particularly bleak show.
Go watch it.
Among other things, anime is to push the boundaries. It’s not always romantic rom-coms or giant fighting robots or smexy vampires. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable situations or jarring events or disquieting imagery done to tell a greater story. This show does that well. Perhaps the kindly artwork is to suck you in and make the discordance even worse than it is. And the conclusion begs for a second season (I thought I read somewhere that they are picking it up, but I couldn’t confirm it.)
This is a show that requires your attention, as the artwork throws you off your game. You are expecting something soft and get a face full of stones instead. The only drawback in all of this is Reg. He uses his arms and legs to act as rope, lowering them down a sheer cliff face. But he seems to have miles of it coiled inside his body. But that is a minor snarf in an otherwise stunningly disturbing series. I vote against binge-watching, as you need time to recover. Even my normal approach of back-to-back episodes was a bit much on days.
Another tough call for binging, owing to the grim and horrific nature of the descent. I just found the show harrowing and gruesome and needed to have that time away. If you are made of sterner stuff, much like an expedition, then go on your journey and take it as it comes.
On a scale of 1 to 10:
Artwork 9 (Cartoony and anarchistic)
Plot 9 (Matchless execution)
Pacing 8 (Almost too much at times)
Effectiveness 8 (Solid use of flashbacks)
Conclusion 5 (It reaches a ‘coupler point’, but hasn’t ended)
Fan Service 2 (A similar show would be “Okamisan”)
Bingeability 8 (Perhaps too brutal)
Overall 8 (Perhaps too brutal)
And remember, it’s first run until you’ve seen it. I will find her.