Made in Abyss is being lauded by anime fans as the second coming of Anime Christ. However, what does this anime have to offer me, a hypercritical asshole who doesn’t watch anime a lot?
First of all, I see a lot of negative reviews of this say that “It’s over hyped”, or “Hype ruined it”, so let me preface this review by saying I wasn’t really affected by the hype. I did know it was well received, but as Madoka has taught me, something can be critically acclaimed, but still suck major donkey balls. I had planned to watch it when it was first airing, because it was the only show to pique my interest, mostly due to the fact it was an adaptation of a webcomic.
After finishing this show, I can safely say that I have allergies towards shows that have a cutesy art style then proceed to add gratuitous amounts of violence into it, because the general public thinks goreshit is synonymous with good storytelling.
Made in Abyss has a simple premise. Two kids go off into a mysterious chasm for their own reasons, full well knowing they may never return to the surface, but the calling of adventure is too much for them to turn down. I see a lot of criticism regarding the pacing, but I really think the only issue would be with the first few layers of the Abyss, as they managed to steamroll them without much difficulty. I personally find the slow pace to be alright, as it allows for the viewer to soak in the atmosphere.
But on the topic of steamrolling things… that leads to the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that you need to do what I couldn’t, and turn your brain off a bit to enjoy this. I stopped feeling any danger past Episode 7. Why? Because we’d been revealed something about an important character, and I instantly knew that for effective storytelling, said character wouldn’t be killed off, considering our other protag is revealed to be an unbreakable robot.
But even before Episode 7, I never really felt danger, as there were always contrived reasons that allowed the characters to succeed. Riko is about to get eaten by a giant monster? Don’t worry, Reg can blast away any danger with his overpowered laser beam! One of our MC’s on the verge of death? Help is on the way! This continues beyond the aforementioned 7th episode as well. This issue could have easily been rectified if we had one of those orphans who saw the two off decide to tag along and die at the second layer, so then we could pretend the possibility that our main heroes might die would be an actual possibility to cross the authors mind at that point.
On the topic of characters, how are they? The amount of people who are able to ignore major story flaws thanks to phenomenal characters is rather large, and even the most simple of stories can be told effectively with charming characters! While I am more of a plot man myself, I understand completely how and why people consider good characters the meat and potatoes of a good show. With a simple premise of “Two kids go into mysterious chasm”, I’m sure this means that the characters are grea--
Reg: RIKO RIKO WHAT AM I RIKO RIKO.
Riko: MOM REG MOM REG MOM REG.
Now I’m no expert, but I think that There’s a big problem when your viewers find your supporting cast more interesting than your main characters. Ozen and Nanachi told me more about the setting than half of the story did up to that point, with Ozen being my personal favorite, as her personality showed how twisted White Whistles truly are. I give credit where it’s due, and it’s amazing to extend your world building down to a character's personality. Nanachi’s backstory made me think back on scenes with her and see them differently, and I’m always a huge sucker for that kind of stuff.
But back to our main characters, Riko and Reg. I do admit I might’ve had an emotional disconnect due to the fact they’re kids, and I am one year away from being an adult, but I don’t even find them really good as characters either. Besides my aforementioned issues of ‘They’re onenote’, nothing makes them want to change. Nothing makes them question what they’re doing, and they have no major losses. Riko probably gets it the worst between the two.
Riko almost never gets a chance to show us that she’s related to this great cave raider, and as it goes on, it feels like her entire point in the story is to be made to suffer or do things for the authors enjoyment. I never got the impression that her suffering would help her grow as a character, which it doesn’t, because she faces many situations that almost kill her, and the average twelve year old would’ve been like “Fuck it, that’s it, I’m done”, and it’s even more confounding when Reg never asks Riko to reconsider everything she’s doing, especially considering how half of his character revolves around her. I can only think of one time she was cool, but then the instant she was faced with life threatening danger, Reg quickly took center stage because why should she overcome any obstacles.
Now I fully understand that some may argue that one could not traverse The Abyss alone, or that Riko’s area is more suited in knowledge, so it makes sense that Reg does more of the combat. I’m still going to have to call bullshit on that, because first of all, we are SHOWN she’s more than capable of taking care of herself (she IS related to one of the best cave raiders). Second of all, it’s still a disservice on both of the characters parts, because what happens is Reg just comes off as a Gary Stu who can do anything when the situation calls for it, so it’s hard for me to care about him.
(I’d also like to take this moment to complain about the fanservice. Inherently, I don’t find an issue with fanservice or ecchi, but the problem lies with the fact it’s always with the children, and never with the adults, so the author comes off as a giant sleaze. It’s almost always distracting, not helped by the constant excuses added to put more in.)
I’m gonna get to why I’ve written that much about something you’d assume I’d have nothing to say about in a minute, because I’d like to go into the greatest aspect of the show: The setting.
See, the setting to me felt like the best part of the show. The art and sound of the show (Which are both great, by the way) does a fantastic job of complimenting the Abyss, and honestly, the biggest compliment I can give Made in Abyss is how amazing its aesthetics are. I do have a few nitpicky issues with some of the biology, but I feel like the pros here heavily, HEAVILY outweigh the cons. Each layer of the Abyss has its own ecosystem, along with a different general feeling, so that the viewer doesn’t grow bored of each layer, and the abyss is set up in a way that doesn’t make each layer feel jarring compared to the last one. All of the residents of the world are interesting as well, though some of the unique creatures I would’ve loved to learn more about., but if I feel that way, it really goes to show how effective the world is.
Even in places we don’t spend a lot of time in, such as Orth, there’s ample world building as well that isn’t told directly to us; I always found the orphanage so messed up, because I had gotten the impression these children aren’t given a choice in the orphanage-- become a cave raider or die on the streets. I really, really would’ve loved it if there were more instances where we the viewer have to figure out the world, because the characters are already used to it.
But even then, there are questions that even the residents don’t know about when it comes to the Abyss. Perhaps this would be fantastic, but remember my not so kind words on the characters? You put those two together, and you’ll find oil and water mixes better than them.
I really, really do get that the characters probably only want to focus on issues that only pertain to them! But some questions are so easily answered that there could’ve at least been a side conversation or something about it, and it could’ve added a bit of charm to the world, or better yet, just be like "Hey what about X mystery of the abyss?" "I don't know, but I bet we will once we get to the bottom! :D", to give Riko and Reg more depth.
Things that are mentioned, we don’t learn anything about them most of the time. Why did all of those people die in a prayer position 2,000 years ago, and why don’t we find any of them in the lower regions of the Abyss? Who knows. Why does the ancient civilization have their artifacts scattered all over the place? Who cares. What does a Star Compass do? Riko just lost it so don’t ask. Why did the Abyss develop a curse in the first place, and are the creatures that live in it affected by it like humans are, and if not, can humans naturally develop resistances to it? Shut up. Is it possible to replicate the artifacts of the abyss, and if not, what are the results of people attempting to? Sorry, can’t hear you over all of this fanservice!
Half of those things I’ve mentioned were all that kept me watching the show, because I kept HOPING they’d be answered, but they never were. Because the leads are kids and the writer does things to try and distract from it all, which just annoyed me. The only questions we the viewer seem to be expected to have in our minds is what Reg is, If Lyza is alive or not, and maybe this wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t questions in the world building that’d make it so much richer if they were assessed, or even just gave a vague answer.
Before you defend this by saying “Well another season has been greenlit, so maybe it’ll answer the questions then!”, let me explain: I’m not saying this is bad writing, but it happens enough for me to notice that if my question isn’t answered in that episode, It’s going to be a plot point. That argument also isn’t factoring in that some people might just catch up with the manga so their questions get answered, and not watch the second season of the show.
Feel free to argue that it adds to the mystery of the Abyss, even though that actively contradicts how there was an entire part in Episode 13 dedicated to telling us what Nanachi was and her deal, despite her never telling Reg or Riko about it, because god forbid we add mystery to the residents that live in a place that's supposed to be mysterious.
Overall I personally felt like my time was wasted with this anime, but from a purely objective stance, once you muscle through the fanservice, it isn’t terrible, because I know damn well I would’ve fallen in love with it if I were a few years younger, and this was the constant thought I had while watching it. That’s what really holds it back for me: it’s edgy coat of paint that seems to make anyone who enjoyed it where I couldn’t say its for adults, when in reality It’s an anime best enjoyed by anyone in the 13 - 15 range.
The biggest Reccomendation I could give for you to watch instead of this would be Kino's Journey. If for some reason you haven't seen Kino's Journey, do yourself a favor and watch it. Both this and Kino are about two characters traveling in a fantasy world, but rather than following a linear story line, Kino's Journey is about the places they visit. I've only watched the 2003 version, but I have heard that the 2017 version is more about Kino, and 2003 version is more about the Journey.