Made in Abyss
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Made in Abyss ?
After last week's harrowing gauntlet of suffering, it only makes sense that Made in Abyss would take one of its final three episodes to slow things down and take stock, especially since poor Riko is still completely sidelined by her injuries. This isn't to say that Nanachi's long awaited introduction episode doesn't contain some disturbing material; it's just that the sinister and horrifying underbelly of the Abyss definitely takes a backseat to a more lightly adventurous tone that calls back to those first few weeks of the season.
We have our wonderful new rabbit friend to thank for that, and Nanachi truly is a delight. (I should note that despite being coded with a lot of female characteristics, Made in Abyss opts specifically for gender neutral terms regarding Nanachi, so I'll do so here as well). Not only is Nanachi's design a wonderful evocation of classic JRPG fantasy aesthetic, their sardonic and playful personality is the perfect antidote to the intense emotions that have been driving this show forward for the past few episodes. Plus, their interactions with Reg provide a fun character dynamic that we haven't seen yet from this cast, and I look forward to seeing how the whole trio plays together when Riko is back in the game. Buzz has been abundant for Nanachi from the moment they showed up in the show's promotional material, and now I understand why. With only an episode's worth of screen-time under their belt, Nanachi has already managed to become a delightful and essential addition to Made in Abyss' universe.
The brief glimpses we get into Nanachi's personal history are also fascinating, with the flashes of macabre that the Abyss is clearly so filled with. We see fragments of Nanachi's past, which is somehow tied up with that of Bondrewd the Novel, one of the White Whistles that Ozen warned Riko and Reg about back in Episode 8 (voiced by the incredibly talented Toshiyuki Morikawa, no less). We also meet Mitty, another human transformed into a Hollow by the forces of the Abyss' Curse down in its Sixth Layer. Unlike Nanachi, Mitty wasn't lucky enough to be turned into an adorably feisty humanoid rabbit, instead taking the form of a grotesque assortment of flesh and misshapen limbs. Mitty almost resembles what would happen if a fish, a slug, and a pile of nightmares all got together and produced some unimaginable spawn. The fact that the show manages to make her inhuman gurgles even a little cute and sympathetic is just a testament to its skill, though I still found the unfortunate thing to be one of the most unsettling creatures Made in Abyss has conjured up yet.
Despite the ever-present sense of dread and uncanny despair, a lot of this episode feels like another opportunity to showcase the absurdly lush animation and backgrounds of this series, not to mention Kevin Penkin's incredible score. Reg's journey to gather the materials needed to help Nanachi bring Riko back from the brink of death is played with the soft urgency of the show's opening episodes, and it's a visually arresting and entertaining sequence. The gag of having most of the stuff be ingredients for Nanachi's dinner isn't just a great tension-breaker given last week's intensity, but it also serves as great interplay between the bunny and the bot. Reg is his usual loyal and persistent self, even in the face of Riko's suffering, while Nanachi's snarky façade is impenetrable, which is invaluable given how much of Riko's wellbeing rests in their steady hands (or paws in this case).
Speaking of Nanachi's medical prowess, I do feel that I should call out some of the more questionable asides taken this week, particularly with the episode's treatment of Riko. Made in Abyss has a longstanding “fascination” with its main characters bodily functions that's remained clinical enough to avoid feeling too sexualized, which is what makes it more tolerable overall. However, the show's frequent need to stop everything and call attention to the bits and bobs on its prepubescent heroes is still odd, and this episode highlights those peculiar preoccupations. I get that these digressions all have somewhat sterile plot-based explanations behind them, but there will still be plenty of people who are justifiably put off by the time spent detailing Riko's medical suppositories and urine-soaked clothing. Honestly, at this stage in the game, these scenes feel more and more like kinks being put on display. It doesn't ruin the show or anything, but it is a reminder that some portion of the audience is bound to avoid MiA on principle, even though they might otherwise be completely on board with its content. That makes these otherwise innocuous preoccupations a potentially significant flaw of the material.
It's a real shame, because even a more low-key episode like this one is filled with the artistic and thematic depth that makes Made in Abyss such a triumphant and compelling production. The use of the fungi to purge Riko's infection remind us of how intrinsically death is tied into the life that flourishes in the depths of the Abyss. Reg's memories of Lyza not only hint at future developments, they also mirror the fragments of memory we see haunting Nanachi's decisions. From the beginning, it was made clear that Cave Raiders were never just treasure hunters. They are archaeologists and anthropologists, poring through the ruins of a world that is both long dead and teeming with life. The deeper down our heroes dive, the further they plunge into their own histories, and if the Abyss has proven anything, it's that terror and beauty thrive in equal measure within lives left behind in its depths.
Made in Abyss is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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