Made in Abyss Season 1 Series Review: Adventure Calls

Overview:

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.

Review:

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.

Abyss5

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).

Abyss2

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).

Abyss3

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?

abyss6

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.

If you enjoyed this post and like the blog, consider becoming a patron to support further growth and future content.

Patreon2

Thanks,

Karandi James.

avatar

Advertisements

Pandora Hearts Series Review

Overview:

Oz has just turned 15 and at a coming of age ceremony is attacked and cast into the Abyss where he meets and makes a contract with a chain named Alice. on their escape from the Abyss, Oz is going to have to confront these mysteries head on as well as a whole pile of new ones.

Review – Not holding back from spoilers at all:

Right, if you are looking for an anime that finishes or offers any resolution you can pass on Pandora Hearts right now. While there are 25 episodes of this we are really just starting to meet the characters who have some of the answers to some of Oz’s and Alice’s mysteries when the show comes to an abrupt and inconclusive end.

Pandora3.jpg

Before I talk about the end anymore, I am going to point out that Pandora Hearts is actually an amazing anime and I really enjoyed watching it. Right, so now I’m going to spoil the last few minutes of the final episode so if you want it to be a mystery skip over the next bit.


 

Okay, Oz has an epiphany about his own existence and goes and tells his father off but otherwise we aren’t given much in the way of a resolution. And are Oz’s daddy issues really the main point? Other than that we’re given this pearl of wisdom from the final episode:

Pandora.JPG

And I’m just not sure that writers should advertise the fact that their own story is ridiculous.

Anyway…


 

If you can forgive an ending that pointless what you will find in Pandora Hearts is a really interesting piece that is an incredibly dark tale with heavy influence from Alice in Wonderland as well as a unique story in its own right.

While Oz remains 15, his time in the Abyss doesn’t measure up with time in the real world so his childhood friend is significantly older than him on his return to the real world. This creates a really interesting dynamic in the show because Oz’s memories of his friend and the reality of the man he has become keep blurring and his expectations are met and then betrayed again and again. For Gilbert, while his motivation never changes, he’s had a lot longer to sniff around the mysteries surrounding Oz and has had to give up a lot to gain the power that he needed to be able to help him. It makes for one of the more interesting childhood friend stories I’ve seen in a while.

Pandora4.jpg

Oz himself is a bit of an air-head. He comes off as rich and pampered but of course has been rejected by his father and has been lonely and hurt (because who doesn’t need a tragic back story). He’s also really weirdly accepting of strange things to the point where even the creepiest characters in the show point out that Oz is in fact quite creepy. The thing is, we’re never really sure where we stand with Oz. Is he what he looks like, a rich 15 year old who went through a trauma and is now out for answers and revenge, or is there really something going on with him (other than possible possession, past lives, or just plain evil). It’s fun guessing but without the series giving any answers that’s all it remains (and yes, I know some people will say read the manga and in this case I am seriously tempted but haven’t committed to that just yet).

pandora5

Outside of the Oz/Gilbert relationship we also have Alice. She’s a chain from the Abyss but was human. She’s lost her memories and part of the story involves Oz helping her find fragments of her memories, though they might be better off if they just gave up on that one given every time they find one things get more twisted and confused and darker. She also transforms into the Bloodstained Black Rabbit who is kind of awesome in a fight (at least at first) and seems overpowered though later in the series she seems to get defeated more and more often. Stronger enemies or loss of focus we aren’t really sure. That said, as is always the case in anime, when Alice and Oz’s feelings match up, she suddenly gets signficantly stronger again.

Pandora6.png

I’d also have to mention Sharon and Break. These two characters are fantastic (if equally creepy) but never really give us anything more than fragments of information. Whether that is because they genuinely don’t know the answers or because they are working at manipulating the situation (or a bit of both) is also never made clear.

The last character I’m going to talk about (although there are literally dozens of others that could be mentioned) is Jack Vessalius. He mostly appears in Alice’s memories and looks suspiciously like an older version of Oz and occasionally takes over Oz in order to make weird and confusing declaration. He’s definitely got his own agenda but what that agenda is remains shrouded in as much mystery as the rest of this series.

I think what I like about Pandora Hearts is that it just kind of goes. It has that Alice in Wonderland feeling of she’s fallen down the rabbit hole and now she’s reeling from encounter to encounter and along the way she’s going to learn about herself and she wants to find the way out but you are never quite sure when that’s going to come of why. The exploration of darkness within humans is done really well and the idea of being careful what you wish for is also woven through the story quite nicely. That said, the anime is a mess of ideas that don’t get enough time or attention to ever be actually called a storyline. Instead our story is just Oz running from place to place and dealing with immediate threats while piling up foreshadowing that never really eventuated into a climax.

Pandora7.jpg

Normally I don’t rewatch anime that don’t end but Pandora Hearts just hits the right notes to suck me into the world and the story. It’s dark while not trying to be soul crushing, it has action but balances that with character development and dialogue, there is intrigue in the overall narrative but also smaller stories with side characters that are resolved, and at the end of the day I just enjoy watching it.

Pretty much if you like darker fantasy adventures with some character self-reflection this anime is going to appeal, though be prepared for an ending that just makes you want to throw your hands in the air and ask ‘why’.