Made in Abyss
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Made in Abyss ?
There's a moment about halfway through this week's episode of Made in Abyss that perfectly exemplifies just how strongly the show's themes tie into its storytelling. Riko and Reg have just barely escaped the clutches of some of the Abyss' most deadly monsters yet, the amazingly-named “corpse weepers”. Thanks to Reg's freshly-remembered ability to blow stuff up real good with his hand lasers, the two kids are enjoying some meat off one of the recently slayed monsters. The catch is that the corpse weepers prey on cave raiders, and the kids even saw one of them feasting on the innards of some poor anonymous raider just hours before.
“Doesn't that bother you?” Reg asks, referring to the almost cannibalistic nature of feasting on creatures that use humans for sustenance. But for Riko, it only makes sense, since so many of the creatures they use for food have also preyed on humans, and that loss of human life is given meaning by helping sustain those left behind. To descend into the Abyss isn't just about excavating the histories of long dead civilization, it's also a kind of existential time travel, where human beings transport themselves into a world where they're just as much prey as predator. To be a Cave Raider is to constantly be cognizant of one's own mortality; even eating a meal is something that comes with a human cost. It's genuinely remarkable how Made in Abyss uses everything in its repertoire, from its music to its visual design to its nuanced conversations, to convey how every inch of these kids' journey is steeped not just in the possibility of death, but the consequences of it.
This becomes especially clear to Reg, who's a newcomer to this culture and gets haunted by dreams of Riko being torn to shreds by the unforgiving wilderness of the Abyss. Despite being only partially human, Reg's reactions to this place feel more in line with what the audience themselves might be thinking, which doesn't just make him a good audience surrogate, but also helps him function as a foil for the headstrong Riko. His nightmares are also appropriately haunting while being just coy enough about the bloody details. Reg's visions and Riko's nudity were both more explicit in the manga, and while Made in Abyss has managed to stay just clinical enough about the kids' anatomy to avoid feeling exploitative, I appreciate the more reserved visuals all around. They stay true to the tone of the source material while also being more digestible for the average viewer.
This is also a good week to mention the show's creature designs and animation, which have been uniformly excellent. I've seen some grumblings about the stiffness or strangeness to some of their movements, where they have an almost cel-shaded look to them that makes them stand out from the rest of their world. I think this actually works well for the show, giving the creatures of the Abyss an otherworldly quality that's further complemented by their striking visual designs. The corpse weepers look like some kind of unholy mix between a giant bird, a lizard, and a leech, and the shadowy, lemur-like inbyos highlight the veil of uncanny dread that cloaks the Inverted Forest. Made in Abyss would have really fallen apart if the Abyss itself turned out to be dull or lacking in creativity, but thankfully that couldn't be further from the truth.
This episode ends with the introduction of Ozen the Unmovable, the delightfully ominous White Whistle that Habo warned the kids about last week. It's a compelling cliffhanger to end on, and while I've seen some readers of the manga bristle at the relatively slight number of chapters being covered now that we've made it into the Abyss, I think the show's pacing has been just right. We get just enough action and character development to satisfyingly fill out an episode, and the mysteries and character introductions are enough to hook the viewer in for another week. If it seems like I can't stop singing the praises of Made in Abyss, it's because I honestly can't remember the last time I was so charmed and intrigued by a show, anime or otherwise. The manga's reputation may have given me pause at first, but I'm all now, in for better or worse. Regardless of where this journey might be headed (though I do have some idea), Made in Abyss has completely won me over. At this point, I don't think I could get off this ride even if I wanted to.
Made in Abyss is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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