Anime Review: Made in Abyss

By Drew Hurley 02.02.2019

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Made in Abyss (UK Rating: 15)

It has never been a better time to be a fan of anime and manga. In addition to some of the best series of all time appearing, the reality of simudubs and simupubs has completely transformed the fandom. Gone are the days of waiting weeks for fandubs, of dealing with horrendous scans of manga with dodgy translations, of trading VHS at comic cons… okay, sometimes even the bad times are somewhat nostalgic… However, this  is coming off the back of 2018, which many are applauding as the best year of anime in recent memory, on par with 2009 and 1998. That, though, doesn't mean the year prior wasn't particularly good, either. It may not have had the breadth of different series of anime, or the same high amount of quality anime, but 2017 had tons of truly special series, across every genre. One of these truly memorable and notable series was called Made in Abyss, and now thanks to MVM, it is reaching the UK, available from 25th March.

Made in Abyss is based on a manga series from  Akihito Tsukushi and centred round a world where the people have become obsessed with a new discovery at the heart of their planet; quite literally. A huge chasm has appeared at the centre of an island and seems to delve further and further into what is known as the Great Abyss. At the edge of the abyss, a huge town named Orth developed, with a culture dedicated to the exploration and investigation of the abyss. Delving deeper and deeper, hunting to find relics known as Artefacts; items with special abilities that are sold to fund exploration, the greatest of which may be imbued with powers that can change the state of the world. Unbreakable thread and a vial that contains liquid reminiscent of the fountain of youth are just two examples.

Those who delve into the depths carry coloured whistles, and progress through the ranks, are "Delvers" or "Cave Raiders." There's a whole series of ranks to progress through, each identified by the colour of whistle they carry. From the apprentice Raiders, who mostly consist of children and carry Red Whistles, they are allowed to only explore the first layer of the abyss. Then there are the adept Blue Whistles, allowed to reach the second layer, usually when the children reach 16. Moon Whistles are given permission to descend to the third layer, although they primarily act as trainers and teachers to their juniors. Black Whistles may delve to the fourth layer; they are considered experts in exploring the abyss and second only to the lauded White Whistles. White Whistles are seen as celebrities or heroes. They have no limits, although there is a limit imposed on them by the world.

Exploring the depths is filled with danger, though. There's a condition known as "The Curse of the Abyss." This condition affects any human explorers who dare to head down, hitting them as soon as they attempt to return, and it worsens the further the Cave Raider progresses. At the first layer, this inflicts only mild dizziness, at the second just some slight nausea and headaches. The fourth layer, though, can result in intense pain throughout the body and sudden bleeding from the extremities, not to mention occasionally driving the Delver to insanity. Then there is the sixth layer, ascending back from this is thought to be literally impossible. None have returned once they have descended to this point, losing their humanity of their life there. Their trip to this layer is known as their Last Dive.

The story picks up 10 years after the Last Dive of one of the most famous heroes, Lyza the Annihilator. Lyza isn't the hero of this tale, though. Her daughter, Riko, is. When Lyza performed her Last Dive, Riko was only two years old. Now 12, Riko has become a Red Whistle and is desperate to follow in her mother's footsteps, and she hopes to be reunited with her mother, who she thinks awaits her at the bottom. Reiko lives with other children at the Belchero Orphanage, and is working to proving herself to becoming a Blue Whistle when she stumbles on a small boy, someone who may be everything she wishes for - a link to her mother, a way to descend further than she may ever have the chance to, and the only person immune to the Curse of the Abyss.

The boy is not really a boy at all, though, as he's a robot, yet with some parts that seem completely human. The two bond after Reg saves Riko's life and she brings him back to the orphanage, dubbing him Reg after a dog she once had. After a few months of Reg disguising himself as a human and joining the Belchero Orphanage, the pair leaves any friends behind and decides to dive into the abyss. Reg hopes to find out the truth to whom or what he is, and where he came from, while Riko still holds out hope that her mother is alive somewhere at the bottom.

The abyss is filled with danger, but they have a chance to survive thanks to Reg. When he first saved Riko, he emitted an absurdly powerful beam weapon and they are hoping this, along with his other mechanical modifications, will keep them safe from the monstrous creatures that reside deep within. Using this weapon, though, leaves him having to recharge, basically unconscious, leaving Riko to have to fend for herself while waiting for him to awaken once more.

Made in Abyss is an absolute master-class in many different areas, but especially in two: the drastic blending of different tones, and in world-building. The cutesy style of the characters and the beauty of the world belie the dark heart of the tale. There are grisly moments of gore, depressing nihilist notions, and some truly dark question elements that, while not overtly told or shown, are inferred. It's this subtlety that helps make the show just so fascinating.

Then there's the world-building; so much thought has gone into this series and its setting that it's easy to see why many have compared it to a game. Creator Tsukushi-Sensei has crafted an entire world here and filled it with an unbelievable amount of detail. The layers of the abyss and their inhabitants each have their own tiny details that are glimpsed here, but are fully realised in the manga; one definitely worth checking out for anyone who enjoys the show.

One of the greatest strengths of the series is the presentation. While the characters are mostly Moe-blob-looking chibis, the world they inhabit is absolutely gorgeous, and anime studio Kinema Citrus knows how to utilise the stunning vistas and magical settings to maximum effect. There are many shots panning across beautiful scenery, making the world infectiously intriguing, leaving the audience desperate to see more, to learn more about this mysterious land beneath the surface.

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10
There is so much anime produced every year now that every possible type of fan has something to cater to them. Heck, there's enough produced every season to keep everyone interested. However, there are few truly memorable series each year. Made in Abyss is one that will be remembered and talked about for years and years to come. Wondrous and wonderful, heartfelt and moving; a truly beautiful series in both story and presentation.

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