Made in Abyss
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Made in Abyss ?
“Let me warn you: It's not going to go back to the way it was before.”
This augury is delivered to Reg by Nanachi, the furry new companion that Made in Abyss has been teasing in its opening and ending credits for weeks now, who we finally get to meet here in the season's tenth week, though it's hard to be particularly excited about this development, given the circumstances. While she is ostensibly referring to Riko's mangled right arm, Nanachi's words cast our heroes' entire journey into a hazy, uncertain gloom. As a single episode, this is one of the most gut-wrenching and visceral stories likely to be told in anime all year. When viewed in the larger context of Made in Abyss' narrative, this is as harrowing a turning point as any Riko and Reg have experienced so far, the first true test of the limits of their physical and psychological endurance.
Last week, Riko learned just how valuable an ally Reg is, especially now that they've descended past the Third Layer and into the Fourth. This week, she and Reg both get to see how little any of that will matter. While we get a few brief moments of Riko and Reg enjoying the natural beauty of the Goblets of Giants, their disastrous encounter with an orbed-piercer turns the rest of the episode into a bitter fight for survival, one that doesn't shy away from depicting every awful moment of Riko's suffering and Reg's despair. From the moment Riko's hand is gored by the piercer's venomous barbs, she knows just how close she is to losing everything. By the time Reg is forced to fly her away and subject her body to the crippling effects of the Curse, he too is acutely aware of the stakes. For roughly two-thirds of this episode, Riko isn't just hurting – she's literally dying in Reg's arms.
I cannot stress enough how immaculately constructed this entire sequence is, and how shocked I was to see its full commitment to every brutal detail of the situation. Both Reg and the audience watch, helpless to act, as viscous blood spills out of Riko's eyes and ears and mouth. She bleeds so much that she practically chokes on every word she manages to speak. Though the expulsion of her fluids managed to stave off the immediate fatality of the piercer's poison, her hand is nonetheless transformed into a hideously bloated and rotten thing. Riko knows that her arm needs to be broken, so the hand can be cut away entirely. Through choking sobs, Reg manages to snap the bone, but he can only cut into her flesh so much. The sound design in this scene is horrifying, with the buzzing of otherworldly insects and the sounds of rending flesh and snapping bone making this cartoon feel as palpable as any live action production.
Mariya Ise and Miyu Tomita have done an incredible job voicing Reg and Riko for this series, but this episode highlights just how vital their work is in making Made in Abyss work so well. Tomita is an especially noteworthy talent, given how new she is to the seiyuu game. She injects an unbearable level of honest suffering and fear into Riko's trauma; when her façade of bravery finally crumbles, and she reveals through bloodstained sobs how utterly terrified she is of dying, I actually had to pause the episode for a bit and take a breather. I can say without exaggeration that this is one of the most upsetting episodes of television I have ever watched in my life, and the outstanding vocal work is a large contributing factor to that.
Yes, Made in Abyss confronts its viewers with a level of human suffering that is genuinely difficult to sit through this week. It's an event that the whole series has been building toward, a callous reminder of how this netherworld has neither patience nor sympathy for the human struggle to survive. Coming into this season, a number of people (myself included) were very skeptical of Made in Abyss' intentions. Its use of underaged protagonists, combined with its reputation for leaning into sadistic (possibly fetishistic) violence, gave many newcomers to the series pause.
However, this episode proves that Made in Abyss is not just another exploitative gore-fest. By guiding its viewers along Riko and Reg's descent with such a steady and confident hand, it has managed to evoke a level of empathy and depth of character that many similarly grim shows only ever dream of achieving. In taking its time to craft a stunningly lush and terrifying world, and in using that word to truly test the mettle of these terribly brave (and terribly foolish) children, Made in Abyss has shown that, while it refuses to shy away from the violence and bloodshed that's inextricably linked to its world, it doesn't revel in its characters' suffering. What happens to Riko and Reg this week is almost unbearably cruel, but it is cruelty with a heartfelt purpose.
Made in Abyss's ability to pull off such a cruel gambit without abandoning the fundamental core of empathy it has for its characters is the real testament to its skill. Plenty of anime are all too eager to depict pain and suffering and gore. Made in Abyss is one of the few shows I can think of that manages to depict such a level of violence without feeling like it was reveling in it. This suffering isn't meant to be relished – it is meant to be shared.
By the time that Nanachi finally arrives to offer Reg some hope that Riko might not be lost for good, it doesn't end up feeling like a cheat or a cop-out. Riko might have survived this ordeal, and she might even get to keep her arm, but Made in Abyss has clearly established how deeply scars can linger for these Cave Raiders. Ozen ended up so disfigured by her time in the Abyss that she began to embrace her encroaching inhumanity. Both her flesh and her mind have been stolen from her in a sense, and it would seem that all of the White Whistles are similarly broken in their own unique ways. Riko has only ever wanted to live up to her mother's legacy, but Lyza was a White Whistle too, after all; even if her arm is healed, the scars left on Riko's body and mind aren't likely to fade any time soon.
This is what Riko and Reg are finally beginning to learn. The worst thing either have them have ever experienced, the most pain and terror that has ever occurred in their tragically young lives, comes only about halfway through their damned journey. It's the perfect example of a point of no return, a mid-story climax in the most difficult sense of the word. No matter what comes next in these final few weeks of the season, it can only serve to further Riko and Reg's descent into the Abyss, and things can only become harder from here. It's a lesson that had to be taught, even if it is a cruel one. Nothing is going to go back to the way it was before.
Made in Abyss is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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