Riko is an orphan training to be a cave raider as the city she lives in is built around Abyss, a mysterious giant hole in the ground. The Abyss holds many secrets, including fantastical creatures, a curse, and possibly Riko’s mother.
The spirit of adventure is something that a lot of stories are built around. You have your random ‘hero’, put some insurmountable something in front of them and let them have at it. One advantage most of those stories have over Made in Abyss is they usually finish with either the hero triumphantly returning, dying heroically, or surrendering the challenge in some moral statement that they will then hit you over the head with during the epilogue. Made in Abyss isn’t finished from a narrative point of view (hence the second season announcement) and that makes it difficult to really talk about at the moment. Mostly because if this is it then I would have to say it is deeply unsatisfying.
I really was disappointed when I didn’t get to watch it while this was streaming. I read so many reviews where people talked about how good it was so when I did sign up for HiDive I was very happy to see I had gained access to this series. And there is a lot to like about it. However, despite its many positives, there’s also a few elements that just kind of rubbed me the wrong way throughout the series. And then of course it seems to end just as the journey threatens to get interesting. So, backing up, I’m going to look at this in a fairly logical manner.
Where Made in Abyss shines is the setting. You wouldn’t think you could make exploring a hole in the ground this visually impressive, but apparently with a bit of fantastical imagination you really, really can. From the different level designs, to the impressive array of creatures Riko and her acquired partner Reg encounter, the setting is never dull. That is the best thing about this adventure story. The place they are exploring is interesting. Improbably and unrealistic (given the whole curse thing), but interesting. And I’ll take interesting over realistic most days when it comes to fantasy settings so I really did enjoy the world building that was going on in this.
This interesting setting is further enhanced by the actual quality of the visuals and the direction. There’s been a lot of thought put into how to present this world and the shot types, use of colours, and just the general style of this anime all bring out the best of this world. Throw in good music and sound design and you really have an immersive world for your audience just to lose themselves in.
Unfortunately, the story and characters haven’t fared quite so well. It isn’t that either are particularly poorly done, but the story is slow to get going and then incomplete and the characters are… Well, they are interesting in pieces but on the whole they are kind of dull (and I know I just annoyed a lot of people by saying that).
Riko is probably my biggest issue with the show. Early on she is insufferably smug (before they begin their descent). While she has some skills, she’s still a beginner and she really doesn’t have enough actual talent to back up her towering opinion of herself. With the discovery of Reg, she immediately decides he is going to help her descend to the bottom of Abyss in search of her mother going against every rule she’s been taught. Because, why follow rules that seem to only be in place to stop you from committing suicide?
They do try and justify Riko’s relentless drive to the bottom of the Abyss with the whole back story reveal from her birth, but to be honest it doesn’t paint her in any better light. She’s a weak girl, relying on Reg’s strength to protect her, as she tries to accomplish a journey she has no business being on and the very vague motivation of meeting her mother (who might not even be there or might be dead) and she learns mid-journey that might not be the reason she feels compelled to travel anyway. Don’t let that deter you Riko. Just keep plunging headlong down a hole. It kind of made the more horrific moments of some of the final episodes less horrific because really it just seemed like Riko had asked for such a thing to happen to her (though Mitty’s story was pretty horrific no matter how you view it).
Reg doesn’t escape criticism though given he chooses to put up with Riko’s selfishness and even seems to actively encourage it, though he seems to get little out of it. The whole get his memories back motive seems paper thin in most episodes given he doesn’t really seem to care except in tiny snatches where I guess even the writers realised that if Reg had any independent thought he would have left Riko already. As useful and strong as he is, and immune from the curse apparently, Reg’s lack of action in most situations makes you wonder what his purpose is other than elevator and designated crier on most occasions.
But even the characters are functional. Okay, they have a very singular motivation that doesn’t seem sufficient to warrant what they do to achieve it, but otherwise they work well enough and the general relationship between the two work (assuming you are happy believing Reg is a doormat). Then we have the story itself.
Admittedly, the story isn’t finished, so the lack of finale isn’t a problem at this point. What is more of a problem are things like the compass Riko has that gets built up to be important, and then gets washed away and forgotten. It never does anything of consequence. Her mother’s weapon? Get’s used once, by Reg, and then is lost the next time they even try to think about using it. They introduce devices and elements into this story that just seem to be distractions. It doesn’t help that a lot of the early episodes are explaining features of the setting in the upper levels of Abyss, that we then leave and from what we understand of the story, won’t be returning to. So much time is chewed up in developing that marvelous setting that it leaves little room for real plot development.
What that means is things become fairly straight forward in that Riko and Reg descend to a new level. We get a brief tour guide of the features of the level, usually courtesy of Riko, before something attacks them. They might meet people on the level who usually start off looking scary and like they are going to hinder the journey but then they will continue to let the two kids descend into the depths. I know I questioned Riko and Reg’s motivation but I really need to question the motives of every adult in existence in this story. What are they thinking?
Toward the very end of the series we get an introduced subplot back on the surface about some improbably disease that is killing people on their birthday, but this is kind of introduced and then put to the side. There’s also Nanachi and Mitty’s story which I’m certain will become important to Reg and Riko as they descend to level 5. However, neither of these points have played any significance in the plot so far. They are set up for future developments that hopefully will do something with them.
I think that while I liked this as an introduction, I feel this is a story I’d have liked have been dropped into the middle of. When Riko and Reg were already a fair way down and we could have learned how they got there over time. I think less explanations about the Abyss and more just letting viewers be a little bemused and astonished by the mystery of the place, might have made it an even better setting and wouldn’t have devoured so much screen time that could have developed character or plot elements.
That doesn’t mean this was bad. It was thoroughly enjoyable. What it does mean though, is that I took quite a few breaks between episodes when watching this because I seldom felt compelled to move on to the next episode. While watching it was enjoyable enough, but there was no sense of haste or need to see what happened next. And without an ending, I probably wouldn’t recommend this series as a must watch. There’s too much still left to be revealed and too much that could go severely wrong with the plot so I’d prefer to wait and see how it develops before I’d firmly throw a recommendation behind this. Still, if you want a bit of a fantasy/adventure fix and you don’t mind a lot of set up, this was a good watch and for all my issues with it, most of these are things that could probably be overcome with more time for the story and characters to find their way.
Let me know what you thought of the series.
Thanks for reading.
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