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In The Depths of Abyss Not Your Usual Anime Review

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Made In Abyss is one of the 2017 anime that made a lot of us excited and wondering, thinking and wanting more. Instead of a classic anime review with all the positives and negatives, we made a rather in-depth discussion. From what we liked, what we thought could be done better to theories and many, many questions. A treat for fantasy lovers out there, who never pass up a good adventure!

In the depths of Abyss

Astral: While Made in Abyss wasn’t my favorite show of last year, I feel like it definitely game me the feeling of “Fantasy” that I’ve been missing for a while, what do you think? Like, it seems like true (and good) Fantasy shows are kinda hard to come by nowadays.

Polona: I wouldn’t say it was my favourite either, but it does have a very good representation of a fantasy world. A combination between design, artwork and storytelling gives a very strong overall impression. It’s definitely an anime I would probably pass up, but I heard so many great comments, I had to try it out! And the more I’ve seen the deeper and more invested I got.

Astral: The visual storytelling was amazing in the show, I totally agree! If you look closely at many of the shots, the camera angle makes it seem like the characters are travelling downwards, even if they are really moving on a flat plane. Really interesting how they utilize the concept of “descent” to the fullest.

Polona: I’ve noticed that as well, makes the whole animation look even more fluid. The artwork in general creates a very strong sense of wonder and amazement. Looks very much like a classic RPG at moments, but maybe a bit more polished.

Astral: The choice to make the show almost entirely artwork, barely any use of CG whatsoever, really does give it a unique feel, huh? Makes everything feel a lot more natural and at home in the environments, in my opinion. Funnily enough, where the more dangerous monsters live deeper in the pit, at times it’s more dangerous to go up than it is to go down, which I find very interesting. I actually wrote a whole article about the visuals and themes of descending in the abyss on my personal blog, it intrigued me so much.

Polona: Made In Abyss definitely counts as one of the most visually appealing anime of 2017. Descending down and exploring the depths can also have a deeper meaning for the viewer, aside from just seeing what is right in front of you. The way they combined descending into Abyss with character development is truly an amazing example of great overall storytelling.

Astral: Agreed. And speaking of storytelling, they really handled it well in more ways than just visually. The first episode, for example, is a fantastic example of what writers can be capable of. No infodumping, really no expository dialogue, we’re given hardly any information about the world at all, right up till the very end of Episode 1. And yet the story hooks still work, because of the way they are presented.

Polona: True, first episode really doesn’t feel like a part of the show once you’re done with it. It’s presenting a new world but at the same time keeps it simple and we don’t really get to know much about it later on. The anime then centers solely on the exploration of the Abyss. I think the writers here really had to make the interaction between the two main characters, Riko and Reg, believable and it always had to somehow progress. Through that we as viewers got the most information and through the visuals, of course. There’s rarely a boring moment with too many informations, not even when deep in Abyss trying to escape a monster and such.

Astral: I’ve seen some people complaining about the characters, how they are presented and stuff, like how Reg always seems to be trying to rescue Riko, but I don’t feel that way at all. While Reg is physically much stronger and more durable than Riko, he’s very emotionally immature and inexperienced. Riko’s not very strong, but from an emotional standpoint she’s extremely mature, and her decision-making skills are outstanding. They work very well in tandem, but each of them struggles when apart from the other, because they tend to make up for each other’s weaknesses. I really like that element of their character interactions.

Polona: Their adventures are always wonderfully narrated. What I like about Reg is that he’s really developed well through the show. From a clueless robot he goes into someone who could be easily a normal boy. He got very human at the end, both emotionally and mentally. But first impression really looks like he’s there just to support Riko out and help her on her quest. Some reviews mentioned that Riko couldn’t get far on her own, which is not entirely true. She’s determined, resourceful, stubborn at times. But she always had her wits about her, is quick to jump to action and actually knows a lot about the Abyss and what lives in it. Without her even Reg’s strength couldn’t get them far. They mutually depend on each other, but it’s presented in a very endearing way.

 

Astral: Yeah, Riko is extremely competent, a result of her determination to explore the abyss from a young age. Both technically and knowledge-wise, she’s far more competent than Reg.

Polona: Not to forget, Reg lost his memories and maybe he could help her more, if he remembered anything. Apparently some, like Ouzen, know what he is or at least his potential.

Astral: But that’s one of the driving forces behind the show, wondering who Reg really is, what connection he has to Lyza, and where he originated. That, along with the whereabouts of Lyza herself, and the general exploration of the Abyss itself, are like, the main story hooks. That being said, they do a great job, because I genuinely want to find out!

Polona: You ever felt like the reason why they went down to Abyss was  sort of forced? Because Riko lived for so many years without her mother, I always expected that someone will just go and say it to her face that her mom is most likely dead. And then when they do just that and she still insists on going I wasn’t sure if I should feel bad for her or not. Should I admire her determination or think she’s just a little girl who wants her mom?

Astral: Without giving away too many spoilers, Ouzen does reveal a potential reason why Riko has such a strong draw to the Abyss; it’s possible that finding her mother is nothing but a fictional construct in her mind, trying to give her a somewhat plausible reason to explain why she’s so insistent on going to the bottom of the Abyss.

Polona: Yeah, the reasons and explanations Ouzen offers seem  a bit lacking. Something I hope they might explore and define more in a possible Season 2? And I agree, what Ouzen reveals somewhere mid-season gives the whole anime a chilling effect. Stops that happy-go-lucky vibe we get at first when they set out and seem to have little troubles descending down.

Astral: I’m thinking of it sort of like an Inception type of thing, due to the relic she has an uncontrollable desire to go towards the bottom, her mom is just an excuse. I’ve been very tempted to buy some volumes of the manga to try to get more info on that dilemma.

Polona: What about Reg’s reasons? Aside from him wanting to help Riko, which he grew very fond of very fast, I can only think of him wanting to get some answers about himself. But once in the Abyss, I felt like the sole focus went to Riko and how he wanted to protect her. He does go to great lengths to keep her alive.

Astral: Is it possible that the whole reason he came up from the bottom of the Abyss is that someone or something sent him up to possibly fetch Riko?

Polona: I was thinking about that, but I think it’s either Lyza’s doing or someone elses. We don’t know if she’s really still alive or not. The note that was found so many years later could easily be written by someone else, so all of that is a mystery yet to be discovered.

Astral: There’s so much mystery and so many unexplained things going on in the show that on one hand makes it makes it somewhat questionable as to how some elements of the story pan out however if the author has taken all of that into account then it’s a brilliant string of mysteries that only help to draw you into the story even more. I guess the question is are the gaps in the narrative intentional or not?

Polona: Watching it I never felt like the anime has any major plot holes, simply because the deeper we go the more I got intrigued. I think the gaps that we are now mentioning might be intentional and might get filled in next season, but even if they are not, the show will definitely make sure the story will continue fluidly. Each episode ends with a sort of cliffhanger and made me question what will happen next. That’s quite a rare really, usually I can either guess or they serve the answer right out and destroy that genuine sense of amazement and exploring. Even the finale leaves a lot of questions open. So the way we are describing this anime may sound like it lacks in storytelling, but it truly doesn’t. It feels like a whole story, it’s presented like that as well and makes you think once you get out of that haze of watching an episode.

Astral: Yeah we definitely did some nitpicking there. The show is great and honestly one of the best shows of last year. However, I would say that as good a show as it is I’m actually not terribly inclined to rewatch it as many times as I may other shows. While I am excitedly anticipating a season 2 and really hoping that we get one the show itself especially the latter half, contains so much dark content that after watching it, it actually leaves me feeling somewhat depressed and… Kind of… Icky? What I mean is well some other shows such as dramas might have content that can elicit an emotional response, the nature of MIA leaves you feeling much worse for wear after finishing it.

Polona: When you mentioned not wanting to watch it many times again my mind went to clue games, when once you solve them you don’t really want to go back, because you already know the answer. With Made In Abyss I’m inclined to watch it again, because it made me think of life in general. Not just about the main two characters, but interactions, hope, depending on someone else, getting to know yourself and your own boundaries. I think there’s a lot of that in this anime and can serve up as a good reminder to maybe evaluate such things from time to time on yourself. I find MIA a rollercoaster of emotions. One of the aspects that makes this anime great is definitely the feelings it is able to draw out of me. The second part of the anime is definitely darker and even morbid, but it did leave me feeling sort of depressed as well. Isn’t it interesting that humans find the most beauty in sad and painful things? This comes to mind whenever I think of MIA.

Astral: Interesting. Maybe my reluctance comes from the fact that I’ve seen it several times already, once by myself and a couple more times through with friends. I will agree that there is something profoundly beautiful in the pain and suffering portrayed in the show.

Polona: I’ve only seen it once so far. I feel like there’s a lesson in there that I might be able to apply to my own everyday life. However the second part of the anime gets a lot more melancholic and tackles some more serious, deeper questions in regards to life and it’s worth. All of it is beautifully represented and I feel like it’s still shielding the viewer to a degree. But there is a scene, in second part of the anime, that quickly made me forget that I initially thought this anime will be way too childish for me.

Astral: If it’s the scene I think it is, which I’m relatively sure it is, I agree. Things go down hill very quickly.

Polona: I was watching that scene totally invested in it when someone came home and started standing behind me, watching with me and making stupid comments. I will resent that moment forever. It was so emotional and sad and important. And then that happens. And now it’s forever the moment I think of when someone mentions this anime. Because it was just too real even for me and I’ve seen my fair share of such moments in anime. That’s when I knew this anime gave me a lot more than just beautiful visuals and a good story. It’s truly a survival adventure.

Astral: That’s the worst! But really, MIA really does do a good job of getting you attached to the main characters, getting emotionally invested in their well-being, and really making you feel the heat when things go wrong.

Polona: That’s so true! At first I was just watching children orphaned and such, getting to do their daily chores everyday and then Reg comes into play and the Abyss instantly gets a more dangerous feel to it. Like at first you know it’s a dangerous, not yet completely explored space, but then it really gets to me that  it kinda reminds me of Dante’s Inferno. In a sense, that it peels of layers upon layers to who we are, to how we function in this world and all the ugly things we want to hide from.

Astral: Oh, that’s a really good analogy. Having read Dante’s Inferno myself, I can definitely see the similarities. Each layer has a different theme, a different sin, a different punishment, much like the layers of the abyss, like the Forests of Temptation, the Giant’s Goblet, etc. Each punishment seems greater and more brutal than the last. I’m especially interested in the strain of ascending from the 6th layer – Loss of Humanity, or Death. While in the last few episodes, we get a very real look at what “loss of humanity” might entail, i.e. being transformed into an inhuman abomination, I wonder, could the loss of humanity encompass something else, potentially? We see the various White Whistle explorers, each of them generally possessing a trait that makes them “inhuman” in some way or another. For example, Ouzen is not only frighteningly strong, but immensely long-lived. And Bondrewd seems severely lacking in empathy; could these be different ways of “losing one’s humanity”?

Polona: True, there are definitely some similarities to the Inferno. I’d like to think that lose of humanity will be explored even more in next season as it’s something that can be developed more than just showing us people turning into hollows. The sense of dread is very strong the deeper they travel into Abyss and I’d like them to somehow expand it. I know that also means a darker season 2, but I’d love to see just that. White Whistles haven’t been explained much, except that they are great divers that came back up many times and survived the Curse of the Abyss. I’m sure that they have discovered relics and used them on themselves, modified their own bodies and like with Ouzen, even their life span. Ouzen is truly a scary character, a bit creepy as well and her nickname, “The Immovable Sovereign” is probably quite deserved. How much of humanity has she lost in the Abyss? Not just how much she transformed her body, but how much can she still get close to the human moral values? She’s shown caring for Lyza in her memories, but it doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll risk her people to save her or her daughter again. I’m also suspecting that Lyza, if she is truly still alive, has lost parts of her humanity as well. It’s something I’d love for them to show in the future.

 

Astral: Yeah that’s something i’ve kind of suspected as well. Considering how the journey down so far has taken such a huge toll on Riko, i’m pretty worried about exactly how Lyza is going to be once they find her, having been down in the Abyss for years at this point. I hope we get to see more of the White Whistles in the future, and I hope there’s some revelation about what makes them so unique and special. Is there something cave raiders have to go through to become a White Whistle in the first place?

Polona: That is something I wonder as well, how did they even get to be White Whistles? Also the Black and the Blue ones get to travel deep into the Abyss. Do they all go as far as they can handle or what separates the White ones from the rest? The modifications using relics? Also, on the Ouzen note – the way they hint in the show makes me think she already knew Lyza was alive but couldn’t save her or refused to. Or maybe, as she hints, time passes by differently down in the Abyss, which makes me wonder has it really been 10 years for Lyza? Is she stuck somewhere beyond 6th layer or has she gotten through to the other side?

Astral: That is interesting to think about. What does the time passed look like from Lyza’s perception? The other question I have, going back to White Whistles; in one scene, we see the sound of Ouzen’s whistle trigger a relic. Does that have something to do with why the Whistles carried by White WHistles are different and unique? Are they relics themselves? Does that mean you have to find a white whistle to become one, and what trials might you have to go through to accomplish that? Lyza has been separated from her whistle, but what does that mean? Is she dead? Has she quit cave raiding? Or is there another reason she sent her whistle up to Riko, perhaps you need the sound of a White Whistle in order to proceed past a certain depth?

Polona: The relics haven’t really been explained either. I mean the show is really making us guess a lot. Aside from them being important and valuable to sell, we don’t know much about them. Also, who are they selling them to and what can they do with them if they can’t use or trigger them? I think the white whistles must have some connection with the rest of the relics, otherwise it just doesn’t make sense why they would affect them. If you need a white whistle to operate relics in the 6th layer then who gave it to you in the first place? It would make more sense to get it before you enter the 6th layer, unless you have to somehow fight for and earn it. I’m sure Ouzen has more answers then she was willing to give to the two. As for Bondrewd, we don’t know anything about him, except what he’s doing at the bottom of 5th layer and what he did to Nanachi and Mitty. Why does he dwell in 5th layer if he could go deeper?

Astral: It’s possible that Bondrewd has set himself up there as kind of “guardian” or “gateway” of sorts, personally filtering the people he allows into the 6th layer. I’m not sure why that is, that’s just my own little closet theory. I seem to have lots of those concerning this show.

Polona: That’s a possibility as well. Though there were supposed to be more White Whistles. We only get to know about three in first season. I think it was hinted somewhere there were more once, so I’m guessing the knowledge they had about relics and white whistles has been lost with them as well?

Astral: Yeah, supposedly there are 2 more, Srajo and Wakuna, representing Mystery and Guidance, respectively. We haven’t really seen any of them in the show, but I seem to recall Ouzen saying there were at least 2 white whistles in the Abyss at the moment besides herself (and Lyza), one of them being Bondrewd. It’s possible that we might see another White Whistle if/when season 2 rolls around. As a side note, I looked it up, and apparently Ouzen earned her rank as a White Whistle over 50 years prior to the events of the story. So she’s REALLY old, yet doesn’t seem to age like at all.

Polona: Following this logic it’s possible that Lyza doesn’t even know it’s been 10 years since she went missing in the Abyss. And she might not age as well. I’m really intrigued if they will show her in the future and whether or not she’ll be changed like Ouzen and Bondrewd seem to be. Maybe the Curse of the Abyss can be turned into a good thing, using the right relics, like it happened in the past. It still doesn’t explain why the Curse doesn’t affect Nanachi and where he lives or why Reg doesn’t have any issues with it either.

Astral: I wonder if Nanachi’s existence as a Hollow might have something to do with why the curse seems to affect her far less powerfully than it does most people. It also doesn’t seem to have any effect on the monsters that reside in the abyss, so maybe only beings considered “human” are affected (though why that would be I can’t begin to guess). Nanachi isn’t human anymore, so the curse doesn’t affect her, not to mention that she seems to be able to see the ebb and flow of the curse, similar to the Orb-weaver and other creatures of the Abyss. Similarly, Reg isn’t human, nor does he have living body parts or organs. As Nanachi explains, the Curse activates when vital parts of a human’s body pass through the invisible membranes of the “force field” that surrounds everything in the Abyss. So, the curse wouldn’t affect Reg, because he’s not really alive.

 

Polona: I thought that Nanachi got somewhat part of the Abyss when she entered the 6th layer and went through her change. So with her it was sort of natural why it doesn’t affect her much anymore, but I seem to have forgotten the part where she can see the flow of the curse. Reg almost managed to pass as a human boy and there were way too many mentions of his body parts and how he looks and talks and feels just like a human. Aside from his helmet and the weird sign that shows, which they haven’t explained at all. Or how he got those impressive arms of his.

Astral: Yeah, i’m not entirely sure how Reg works. His body seems to function very similarly to a human’s; he can feel, he can eat and sleep, and his body can react to various stimuli. I don’t think we’ve seen any mention of him needing to use the bathroom, however, his arms certainly aren’t natural, and he’s far more durable than any human should be. While we don’t know the specifics of relics, how they are made, or how Reg himself functions, I do think we can clearly state that he’s definitely not human… or at least not enough of one that the Abyss will harm him. Not only that, but I don’t think we’ve seen any instance where the creatures of the Abyss will voluntarily attack Reg, apart from the Splitjaw that he had previously harmed coming at him for revenge. They always attack Riko, and Reg ends up fighting them because of that.

Polona: Agreed. Could it be that Reg is really a former White Whistle, who turned into younger form upon descending into 6th layer but then managed to use the relics on himself and become this mix of robot and human characteristics? Besides, he never really seeks out trouble, it’s always Riko being aware of the dangers in front of her, but like ignoring them completely. Her determination to get to the bottom of the Abyss sometimes seems very reckless.

Astral: She definitely can be reckless. That’s an interesting theory about Reg, if time moves slower in the lower levels, who’s to say that it can’t reverse someone’s time?

Polona: The body is fragile and easily broken, corrupt. The mind is also easily affected in the Abyss so I feel like the only counterpart to this is the endurance of one’s soul. No matter how much time passed Nanachi stayed with Mitty and the friendship that’s developing between Riko and Reg is also very endearing to watch. I think MIA truly enjoys showing the duality of this world – the light seeking out the darkness and vice versa. Just like you mentioned with the shots and angle of descending, the layers they travel through to how we perceive time and the changes that we undergo. The changes are not just those of the characters we get to meet in this anime, but I think also within the viewers. I am truly amazed at how much this anime has to offer, it’s been a while since I was so interested in a story.

Astral: I totally agree! It’s such an interesting story that can allow us have these kinds of conversations, thinking up theories and stuff to try to explain the mysteries. It’s really been a while since a show has made me think about it so much.

Polona: My initial thoughts were that this is gonna be a cute childish story, with adorable and pretty design and animation. I got all that and so much more, I’m glad I was wrong and gave it a try. Definitely one of the best anime I have seen in 2017 and in general. It’s based on manga so we might have to wait for next season, if there will ever be one.

 

 

Have you seen Made In Abyss? What was your take on the show? Leave a comment below!

Thanks for reading!

Astral & Polona

 

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