Anime Review: Made in Abyss (2017)

TL;DR – Riko goes in search for her mother and the secrets behind the Abyss, a seemingly bottomless chasm where monsters lurk around every corner, and treasures can be found for those who dare to enter. With the help of an amnesiac robot boy, which Riko names Reg, they descend into the depths risking their lives.

Review (warning: spoilers)

The Abyss is a giant hole in the earth, its origins a mystery. For a normal human being, the deeper they go into the Abyss, the more dangers they will encounter and the less likely they will get out alive. Even without the monsters, the levels cause all manner of bad things to happen to the human body. Known as the ‘Curse of the Abyss’, it is actually the ascent from the depths that causes physical symptoms. For example, ascending from the highest level, you will feel dizziness and nausea. Ascending from the fourth level, you experience pain and bleeding from every orifice. Manage to get to the fifth level and you want to head back up will cause sensory deprivation and self-harm. It’s basically a one-way ticket; the Abyss is happy for you to journey down but if you want to go back up, you’re going to have to pay a price, and it could be your life. .

Divers will risk this, however, for the many treasures and artifacts buried in the Abyss. The town of Orth surrounds the giant hole and divers are trained from a young age to go in and raid. Divers are ranked by the colour of their whistle. Rookies are red whistles and can only explore the highest level. Blue whistles can go down to the second level, Moon whistles the third and fourth levels, Black whistles can journey to the fourth and fifth levels, and White Whistles are the legends that have managed to go deeper than any other diver.

What starts off as a cross between Dungeons & Dragons and Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda turns pretty dark and morphs into a fantasy horror with deeper psychological questions (most of which are left unanswered in this first season).

What sticks out the most about this anime series is the character art. Depending on your point of view, some will think it is one of the show’s strengths, others will argue otherwise. The artistic style reminded me of the cute characters in Zelda. The two main characters, Riko and Reg, are adorable to the point of being too cute. It is an interesting choice by writer and illustrator Akihito Tsukushi because it contrasts starkly against the monsters and violence they confront. Combine this with a story that has dark psychological elements and it creates a weird shock factor seeing such cute child-like characters experiencing the horrors of the Abyss.

The central plot to the series is when Riko’s mother, Lyza (a legendary white whistle diver), delivers a message saying she is waiting for Riko at the bottom of the Abyss. The message also contains a drawing of a boy that looks very similar to Reg, an amnesiac boy robot that Riko discovers on the highest level of the Abyss. Together the pair set off through the levels in search of Riko’s mother.

Along the way, other sub-plots are revealed that demonstrate that monsters come in many forms and those that look like monsters may not actually be monsters on the inside and vice versa. An example of this is the white whistle diver, Bondrewd, who took a bunch of children down to the sixth level to experiment on them to find a way to counter the curse. Many of the children died and those that manage to survive are transformed into grotesque creatures that have lost their minds. Bondrewd is a monster on the inside even though he may appear normal on the outside, likewise Mitty (one of the children that survives the experiment) looks like a monster on the outside but is actually innocent on the inside.

At the time of writing this review, season 2 of Made in Abyss is slated for a release in 2022. Lots of mysteries are yet to be resolved, so don’t expect season 1 to give you answers. It sets up the series well and the story is intriguing. As for where I am with regard to the character art, I would have to say it doesn’t quite work for me. I’m not against cutesy characters, but it does not do anything for me to see them get bloody and bruised. I almost think creator Akihito Tsukushi did this on purpose just for the shock factor.

7.5 out of 10

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