Made in Abyss
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Made in Abyss ?
The eyes are what linger the most, when everything is finished. In the episode's final moments, they provide a sort of lifeline to a scene plucked out of time, a flashback of Nanachi carrying Mitty on her back, leaving bloodied prints in the snow as they escapes with their friend from some horrible unknown place. The frozen landscape is unlike anything we've seen from the Abyss so far, and the unnatural violet glow that bathes the craggy hills of ice only adds to the sense that Nanachi and Mitty have come from a truly desolate place even by the Abyss' standards. Nanachi whispers words of comfort to her friend, assuring Mitty that they “won't just let him keep doing as he pleases”. Her normally cryptic eyes well with tears as the two lowly creatures trudge onward through the cold and lonely dark, and in that final moment I was struck by the effect of Nanachi's raw emotion, mixed with the cold otherness produced by the odd color of her irises and the almost goat-like slits of her pupils. Here is a girl who has suffered an unimaginable transformation, whose only companion is a quivering mass of wriggling flesh that nests its own single, terrified eye.
This is the eye that Riko sees in her dreams, where she herself is unable to grasp the shape of her own form. There is a visceral kind of beauty to this scene as the sobbing cries build in the background, and Riko's eye moves in close enough to physically touch Mitty's. It's such an uncomfortably tangible and specific connection that it's instantly repulsive to the viewer, but it also evokes a weirdly powerful sense of empathy between the two girls. Whatever Mitty is doing as she slobbers all over both the real-world Riko and the dream Riko, she somehow seems to be pulling our heroine back from the brink.
The viscous coat of mucus that covers Riko's dream self doesn't just reaffirm Riko's lost sense of self; it's also a perfect visual echo of Nanachi's earlier demonstration to Reg, where they explain the “true nature of the Curse of the Abyss”. There is a living web of energy in the netherworld that blankets everything in the Abyss. The further down in the Abyss you go, the more you are smothered by what Nanachi calls the Abyss' “blood”, and the harder it is to break free of its grasp without suffering ill effects.
This explanation doesn't necessarily make logical sense, since Nanachi is attempting to explain an abstract phenomenon with an equally abstract visual analogy, but it makes emotional sense. The Curse isn't so much a malicious force as it is evidence of the life force teeming within the Abyss. It can be studied and documented while remaining completely effusive, a kind of psychological defense mechanism controlled by the Abyss itself. If that doesn't make things any clearer, that's okay. It isn't so much about understanding the Abyss scientifically with human metrics, but learning to adapt to the inhuman nature of this center of the Earth.
This is the lesson that Nanachi and Mitty were forced to learn. Nanachi was lucky enough to keep their mind intact, despite losing their physical humanity. Mitty was not so fortunate.
In the end, Nanachi's request isn't too surprising. When Reg takes advantage of Nanachi's knowledge to get his revenge on the Orbed Piercer, it not only results in one of the most thrilling action beats of the series, it also shows how invaluable Nanachi has become. Reg and Riko were woefully underprepared for what the deeper layers of the Abyss had in store for them, and even Nanachi can see that whatever comes next, these children will need their help. In order to leave their makeshift home, Nanachi needs to take care of one final thing, and when they reluctantly ask Reg to help them kill Mitty, Reg's eyes that become the focus of the scene. The way his face slowly slips from elation to confused shock is such a simple character beat, the kind of effortless characterization through animation that Made in Abyss excels at.
The strength of these individual moments helps dull the fact that a lot of this episode feels disjointed, like a series of important and even emotionally necessary scenes that don't have a particularly clear through-line. The central focus of the episode is Nanachi educating Reg about the nature of the Curse, but the results of this are so dependent on the Abyss' own internal dream-logic that it becomes hard to quantify what Reg or the audience was supposed to learn going forward. This is fine since I think the Abyss works best at its most unknowable, but some might be thrown by the episode's nebulous tone, especially since we've only got one episode left.
The episode's opening scene helps reassure me that Made in Abyss is going to stick the landing, even though I usually dislike the show's infrequent check-ins with the surface world. Where the previous couple scenes just existed to provide exposition about Riko and Reg's journey, this week's surface world segment is actually intriguing as its own side-story. Poor little Kiyui is suffering from the very real effects of the Birthday Curse he was teased about way back in episode three, and only when he's taken away from the village does he immediately and completely recover.
Whatever's afflicting the kids on the surface is tied to the Abyss itself, which means that even those who don't plunge into its depths aren't safe. Even when the vignettes of Made in Abyss don't tie together in a tidy manner, everything ends up connected in the end. The Abyss is an organism around which mankind has attached itself like a parasite, even if it's a parasite that seems unaware of the blood it's drinking up. No matter how careful or skilled the people of Orth are, the Abyss will take them in and change them, one way or another. Even Mitty could tell you that much.
Made in Abyss is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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