Made in Abyss
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Made in Abyss ?
It takes a while to figure out what exactly makes Ozen the Immovable such a deeply unsettling figure. It would be easy to point out the brief moments throughout the episode where her sleepy façade slips and you catch a glimpse of the endless, empty darkness in her eyes, but that'd only be part of it. What eventually becomes clear as this episode progresses is that Ozen's impact as a character is a perfect microcosm of what makes Made in Abyss so special; like almost everything about the show, Ozen is fine-tuned to perfectly express a very particular aspect of the Abyss' greater nature.
When Reg and Riko first arrive, they immediately take note of two things about her. First off, she's unnaturally tall, standing at two meters (a little over six-and-a-half feet), and secondly her hair is precisely shaped and smooth enough to look almost artificial. In later scenes, as Ozen leads the children through the endless gothic corridors and stairways that make up the Seeker Camp, the camera pays special attention to her legs. Her boots are shaped in such a way that they give the strong impression of hooves, and combined with her peculiar hairstyle, her silhouette delivers the very strong suggestion of something like a satyr, the mythological Grecian creature with goat legs and a human head that inspired many of the West's artistic depictions of the devil.
As the evening continues, Ozen reveals a personality that's simultaneously inquisitive, detached, and playfully brazen. Actress Sayaka Ohara absolutely kills it with her performance, completely selling the White Whistle's earnest and seemingly unintentional malice as she invites the children to use her bath while also telling Riko that she reeks of vomit. Later on, Ohara one-ups herself as she taunts the kids with the possibility that Lyza is long dead, and that Riko has squandered her future chasing a complete stranger into the depths of an increasingly hostile and unpredictable Abyss. This is followed by a brief but powerful shot of Riko's trembling hands, an excellent example of Made in Abyss' excellent small details of character animation.
Without ever explicitly saying so, Made in Abyss uses these elements of characterization to show the audience that Ozen has become disengaged from humanity both physically and psychologically. She's still recognizable enough to feel familiar, but just removed enough from the physiology and empathy of the humans that surround her to register as uncanny. When she taunts Riko and Reg, everything about her posture and wicked grin suggest that she's genuinely amused at the notion that any child would come to such a place simply because they loved someone. Her laughter isn't the usual cliched cruel cackle, but the genuine reaction of someone who doesn't seem able to recognize the powerful emotions that Riko wears on her sleeve as anything but an aberration.
In many ways, this episode is Made in Abyss “haunted castle story”, a twist on the familiar tale of two lost wanderers seeking refuge from some inhospitable force, only to realize that the place they've come to take shelter in hides horrors of its own. In the classic stories, our hapless heroes might find a vampire or a mad scientist; poor Riko ends up encountering an inhuman torso, its head and lower limbs ripped clean from its partially exposed bones. This episode is a real showcase in lush, evocative coloring, and the looming blues and somber sunset tones of even the exterior shots contrast greatly with the brighter palette showcased in the Abyss' first layer.
The scene where the creature crawls after Riko does an excellent job of showing just why Ozen might find Riko's quest so baffling and amusing. So many anime write their preteen characters as twenty-somethings trapped in the bodies of young people, but Made in Abyss does an incredible job of making Reg and Riko feel like honest children. Riko may be fiercely determined and armed with a robot sidekick, but when she sees that horrifying beast roaming Ozen's halls, she makes a dive under her blanket like any kid would. The bed-wetting that follows is the episode's only slightly forced moment, bluntly reinforcing what the previous scene already communicated perfectly.
Episode 6's surreal cliffhanger sees Ozen opening the grand oak doors of her highest chambers to reveal a cube, and if I had any complaints, it might be that this is the first time I've felt the pang of Made in Abyss' very deliberate pacing. Every episode up until now has worked equally as both a standalone adventure and a piece of the show's larger puzzle, and this episode is the first time I've felt the show lose that balance a little bit. That's a very minor complaint to have though, since this episode manages to introduce one of the best characters of the year in just 22 minutes; I can only imagine what the next half hour might bring.
Made in Abyss is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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