The Summer 2017 Anime Preview Guide
Made in Abyss
How would you rate episode 1 of
Made in Abyss ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
A few shows have displayed some genuine potential this season, but I think Made in Abyss might be the first to have that magical, “anything can happen” vibe. This episode introduces both its story and its world by offering just enough information to stir up the viewer's curiosity without giving too much away. Too many shows tip their hands early by going overboard on information, so it's nice to see a premiere that manages to preserve an open-ended feeling of mystery and adventure.
We get a slow but steady trickle of background information throughout this episode, and a good potion of it is presented in a way that feels more natural than the usual info-dump. Little things like the vertical arrangement of desks in the orphanage classroom add to the atmosphere of a city that's clearly designed around the sole focus of climbing down into the Abyss. At the same time, the way Riko and her friends interact establishes a dynamic within their group without the need for any formal assignment of roles. These are the sorts of things that most shows attempt to do, but very few actually get right. It's the fine balance between saying and showing that makes Made in Abyss feel like it'll be a well-told story.
Honestly, though, the writing and direction could have gotten away with being weaker than they are, because I was usually too busy gawking at the environments to let anything else bother me. Riko's first adventure through the upper levels offers plenty of gorgeous views, but the city itself is easily the biggest visual highlight. The architecture has a melancholy but charming style to it, and the weathered look of the buildings lends them plenty of character. The ending sunrise scene alone makes this episode worth taking a look at. I wish I could heap the same praise on the character designs, but the aesthetic used for the kids just isn't my cup of tea. They look a little too innocent and cartoonish to fit with the tone of the story, though I suspect that they may yet grow on me.
I had more than my fill of “tragic kids in pretty places” last season with SukaSuka, so I suspect I'm not as hyped-up for Made in Abyss as I might otherwise be. It hasn't so much thrilled me as simply impressed me thus far, but I'm certainly intrigued by what I've seen. I'm eager to find out what Riko and company will discover as they head down into the Abyss, and the presentation is smooth enough to give me high hopes for the story going forward. This is definitely one to watch.
I'll admit that I was a little leery about this because of the main characters being children and an overall look which seemed to be skewing towards younger audiences, but what some others have said about darker content and its TV-14 rating reassured me enough to go into the first episode with an open mind. I'm glad I did, because within 30 seconds I realized that anyone who avoids this series because they are prejudging it is missing out on one of the best-looking first episodes of this season, if not the year to date.
That's not the only thing impressive about this effort from the director of Master Keaton and the studio that animated Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, but let's start there. The animation effort here is pretty incredible for series animation, as it features plenty of sustained, fluid movement, lots of expressiveness and detail work, and a smooth flow that even many top-end dedicated action series can't accomplish. Sure, the character designs have a youthful-oriented quality for them that can be a little disconcerting at first, but once you get used to the look it works amazingly well, too. Background design is also phenomenal; the classroom design alone, where students are seated vertically rather than horizontally, sold me on the series' look, but the layout of the city around the pit, the environs of the 100 m level, and the look of Riko's room are all wonderful touches, not to mention the amusingly perverse notion that her room is a former torture chamber and no one seems freaked out by that. There are some breathtaking lighting effects, too, especially in one sunrise scene, and I could spend quite a while analyzing that cool map at the very end of the episode.
But there's more to it than that. Riko isn't anything all that different as a lead character, but her spunkiness, energy, and daring is all portrayed in an eminently-likable fashion, enough so that you can understand why Nat and Shiggy might put up with her. Robot-boy Reg also shows a lot of promise, especially considering the mysteries surrounding him. The flow of events practically embodies a youthful energy without resorting to being frenetic, something which anime too often tends to overdo, and the well-handled introduction of the premise highlights a compelling concept: what is the pit called the Abyss, why is it there, and what's with all of the artifacts at various levels? The notion of focusing on orphans of explorers who have died in the process of exploring the Abyss is also is an interesting angle, too.
This series wasn't on my radar coming into this season but it definitely is now. If you want to draw potential new viewers in with a series debut, this is practically a textbook example of how to do it.
It's always nice when a premiere reminds me just how great anime can be.
Made in Abyss presents us with a simple but inherently intriguing premise: a city constructed around the rim of a great chasm, where brave adventurers journey to drag back strange relics. No one has ever reached the bottom of the abyss, and in fact, the dangers that lurk below have already claimed many lives. Prospective adventurers must earn the right to challenge its depths, starting a mere hundred meters into the deep and slowly proving their worth.
That exposition is all conveyed utterly naturally throughout this episode, as we're introduced to two hopeful spelunkers named Riko and Nat. Their first dive takes up the first act of this episode, with their natural banter illustrating concepts like the danger of the abyss and Riko's competitive drive. The show's gorgeous background art and dynamic direction also do a great deal of work here, effortlessly capturing the beauty of the abyss and the excitement of excavating it. Even if this episode's first half didn't have any dialogue at all, it would still succeed easily on its visual storytelling.
After a brief and thrilling run-in with a strange monster of the abyss (which provides an excellent opportunity for Made in Abyss to show off its stellar animation), our two adventurers run into a robot boy, and begin the long journey home. The second half of this episode is as compelling as the first in very different ways. The cast get a great deal more time to show off their personalities, with Riko in particular already standing as a lead well worth following. The return to the city allows Made in Abyss to display even more of its astonishing art design, offering ornate and colorful displays of their beautiful town. And the storytelling remains understated and gripping, maintaining a strong balance of worldbuilding, immediate conflict, and generally entertaining dialogue.
Small details like Riko's vertically oriented classroom demonstrate both whimsy and care - desks all planted into a wall is an inherently striking design choice, but it also points to this city's vertically oriented society. Offhand lines like “I want to become a White Whistle like my mother!” offer both personal context and unstated worldbuilding, naturally introducing the hierarchies of this world. Quick jokes are presented with flippant expertise, with sight gags like Riko feeding coal to the robot contributing to character and tone without drawing unnecessary focus. Everything about Made in Abyss exudes both expert care and offhand beauty, all of it contributing to an overall tone of breathless adventure.
I have basically no complaints about Made in Abyss's premiere, and am eager to see more. My only real reservation about the property comes from outside the show itself - I've heard the source material goes in brutally dark directions, and that makes me worried it'll lose its existing, vibrant charm. But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it - for now, Made in Abyss is a must-see.
I came into Made in Abyss feeling a little wary, to say the least. The manga upon which this anime is based features the same intriguing premise and lush artwork as the show, but it also takes certain elements in directions that made reading it more than a little off-putting. This premiere hints at some of the goings-on that were present in the manga from chapter one, to be sure, but the roughest edges seem to be sanded down here. This is not a criticism; without spoiling anything, let me just say that the manga of Made in Abyss is decidedly more graphic in what it chooses to depict. If you thought it was a bit odd that people kept mentioning stringing up naked children as punishment, for instance, then the comic version of this story may not be for you.
Fortunately, we're talking about an anime, not a manga, and I am incredibly happy to report that Made in Abyss keeps everything that worked about its source material while seemingly skirting around the more questionable content that might limit its overall appeal. What's more, this isn't just a good premiere; this is easily the best thing that's come out of the summer season so far. The animation is lush, the artistic direction is creative and engaging, the soundtrack is beautiful – I could go on. Whatever reservations I had about Made in Abyss were immediately washed away when the wonderfully cinematic opening credits rolled, and I was hooked for the entire episode.
What makes Made in Abyss such a success are its strong foundations, and what was promising in the manga feels even more fully realized here. Riko is an immediately charming protagonist, and while the overly childish character designs might not appeal to some, I find that the aesthetic perfectly complements the fairy tale tone of the story. The nature of the Abyss itself is also a perfect setup for a fantasy adventure, and the possibilities for the discoveries to me made in exploring the unknown territory make for a tantalizing story hook. This is an episode that knows how to introduce characters without shoving their backstory down the audience's throat, that can set up just enough of the world to interest viewers while keeping enough mystery alive to have them clamoring for more when the credits roll.
My biggest complaint of almost every show this season is that there is either not enough plot going, or way too much. Made in Abyss sticks true to its fairy tale aesthetic by pulling a Goldilocks and showing every other newcomer this season how to find a balance of writing and direction that fits its story just right. In short, Made in Abyss does everything a good anime should do, and it does it exceptionally well. The manga itself may not be everyone's cup of tea, but this is one episode of the season that everyone should watch.
What lurks in the depths below? It's a question that's given rise to any number of folktales and myths, whether the “below” we're talking about is the ocean or a fathoms-deep mysterious pit that bores through the center of an island. Made in Abyss is founded on that latter scenario, where a mysterious hole appeared on a small island a long time ago. When explorers began to find relics of ancient cultures within the pit, a city grew up around its edges, and when those explorers began dying in the abyss, an orphanage sprang up to take in their children…and make them into abyss explorers too. That's a pretty dark backstory for our heroine Riko, a little girl who looks somewhere between eight and eleven years old. Her mother was apparently a “white whistle” explorer (as opposed to Riko's red training whistle or the head teacher's purple one), and Riko wants to be as great as her mom as soon as possible. It feels like Riko either doesn't know her mother is dead or is actively denying it from listening to her talk, and right now my bet's on the denial – it would explain her determination to go deeper into the abyss as soon as she can; she's banking on finding her mother down there.
In the meantime, Riko's gotten herself labeled as one of the top problem children at an already strict institution – they've actually moved her bedroom to an old torture chamber. (Was it in use on orphans in the past? Or is it a relic of a previous use for the building?) So when she finds Reg, the robot boy, in the Abyss, she's definitely not keen on the adults finding out. She may have bitten off more than she can chew, though – Reg's got no memory and isn't even aware that he's a robot. That's the most interesting plot point in this episode, opening a whole lot of possibilities. Since Reg came from farther down, does that mean that there's an advanced civilization at the bottom of the pit? Was Reg once a human boy, thus explaining his belly button, genitals, and nipples, who died and was revived as a partially robotic person? Is this the show that will go where Brigadoon almost did with robot/human love? (Please don't.) Wherever this is headed, the mystery of Reg combined with the lack of real care from the orphanage give this show real potential.
The art for Made in Abyss is an interesting combination of very cartoony (the kids) and realistic in a fantasy sense. The backgrounds are beautiful, and the Abyss is appropriately both frightening and appealing. The monster design isn't particularly innovative, but since the people designs don't bother me nearly as much as I thought they would, I'm not going to complain. I've heard that this story gets very dark, and this episode makes it pretty clear how that could happen, but despite my distaste for depressing, I may stick with this anyway. There's something fascinating about this episode, and it's left me very curious to see where it will go.
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