Made in Abyss
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Made in Abyss ?
More than anything, Made in Abyss succeeds at capturing the feeling of the unknown, not just the uncertainty or fear that comes but also the reverie, the majesty and pure joy that accompanies discovering a place that's completely alien to anything you've ever known. Back on the surface, the ceremony revolving around the Cave Raiders and their journeys felt passionate enough to be religious. This week, we understand exactly why Riko's world would feel such a mixture of awe and yearning for this place. If nothing else, it's truly wondrous to behold.
When you get right down to it, this episode is all about giving both our heroes and the audience a little bit of time to revel in the joy of adventure. Riko has spent her entire life preparing for this moment, and this episode absolutely nails the balance between leisurely exploration and the more tense unpredictable moments that inevitably come with venturing into an alien wilderness populated with wild monsters. Not much happens plot-wise, outside of Riko and Reg running into Habo and working their way down to the second layer of the Abyss, but the episode more than makes up for its lack of traditional momentum with an overabundance of character.
Taking a step back and telling a more deliberately paced story might seem kinda anticlimactic after the weeks of buildup Made in Abyss has put us through, but I think this is actually the perfect way to start off the real journey. We see how Reg and Riko work together as a team, as Reg's mechanical usefulness slots together perfectly with Riko's peculiar brand of know-how. She may be enough of a klutz to drop a priceless treasure into a river, but she can also fend for herself enough to make this journey of theirs believable. They're a wonderfully charming and resourceful pair. It's easy to assume that such an adventure would be impossible for this girl on her lonesome, but their survivability seems much more plausible with Reg by her side.
I'm also consistently impressed by the faith this show has in its viewers, where it's willing to tell its story through visuals and strong direction rather than overwhelming with internal monologues and expositions. It would have been easy for Leader to give the audience some little speech when he caught him sneaking out last week, but having him sneak the kids a copy of Lyza's notes is a much more intimate and interesting way to reveal his understanding of their plans. Habo's arrival felt a little too convenient, but he didn't overstay his welcome, and his reflections on the dangers ahead felt just as much about developing his own character as offering Riko and Reg some valuable materials.
I absolutely have to make mention of the score and sound design this week. Made in Abyss continues to impress with its musical and technical prowess, and this week I was struck even more than usual by how integral sound design is to the show's success. The constant ruffling of the wind throughout this episode is one great example, as it pairs with the lush backgrounds and the use of long shots during Riko and Reg's descent to emphasize just how massive this Abyss will be. It highlights the severity of the journey in a subtle and omnipresent manner that artfully undercuts the rest of the episode's lighter tone.
Most noteworthy, though, is Kevin Penkin's score, which is nothing short of masterful. The twinkling pianos and lush strings sell that sense of awe-inspiring discovery in nearly every scene, but even more impressive is how Penkin is able to turn on a dime the moment Riko and Reg reach the second layer of the Abyss, the ominously named Forest of Temptation where the strings and piano slowly transform into a heavy and oppressive ambient score. The way Penkin uses the droning reverb of his strings and the heavy notes of the piano is incredibly effective, serving as a kind of aural foreshadowing. The kids have passed their final test, but even rescue crews don't travel this deep. Any child venturing this far is just another lost soul. Riko and Reg have finally reached the Forest of Temptation, and the Abyss will only go deeper from here.
Made in Abyss is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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