Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Made in Abyss
Episodes 1-13 Streaming
It's a chasm so deep that none have reached its bottom and lived to tell the tale. It's a trove of riches from a lost age, peppered with the remnants of civilizations that created wonders that the modern world can't possibly replicate. It's a place of mystery and danger, populated by creatures that can tear puny human bodies to shreds, and it's draped in a curse that warps the forms of all who challenge it. Rico lives on the edge of this abyss, and she hopes to one day uncover its mysteries and learn the true fate of her mother. Her dream seems far away until one fateful day, when an unlikely discovery opens up a path for her into the darkest depths of the great abyss.
Made in Abyss opens with a simple and intriguing premise. In this world, there is one massive abyss that has never been fully explored. Those who attempt to probe its depths are known as “whistles,” and the strange mechanical treasures they excavate have made many fortunes and even facilitated the progress of surface-world engineering. But there is a great cost to exploring the abyss - not only is it populated by many powerful and hostile creatures, but those who descend too far and emerge too quickly are often cursed by strange afflictions. Thus it is very risky to travel the abyss, but its beauty, its riches, and its profound mysteries still inspire the bravest explorers to travel its depths.
Made in Abyss harnesses the horror and wonder of discovery inherent to its premise and executes it so well that the abyss itself feels like one of the show's most important characters. From the first episode onward, this is a world defined by savage beauty. Great trees loom over the early levels of the abyss, and strange creatures are animated with an otherworldly touch that hammers their menace home. Down below, strange winged beasts flap their way across untested chasms, and water flows from upside-down trees to boneyard basins. Made in Abyss is a story that understands the strength of its hook, and simply witnessing its scenery feels like joining in on the adventure.
The narrative of Made in Abyss is suitably minimalist, fitting for its adventure-focused conceit. The young Rico has spent all her life on the surface edge of the abyss, living at an orphanage ever since her famed “white whistle” mother disappeared forever into the chasm's depths. She dreams of one day becoming a great whistle herself, and when her early journeys downward result in the discovery of an actual robot boy, she believes her time may have finally come. After receiving a last note from her mother that simply says “I'm waiting at the bottom,” Rico and her robot friend Reg begin their own journey, descending deep into the abyss and weathering all manner of deadly obstacles.
Made in Abyss wastes little time establishing its premise - by the end of the third episode, Rico and Reg have already left the surface, with the show only returning for occasional check-ins with other characters. The rest of the show is completely dedicated to following Rico and Reg on their journey, as they forage for food, fight off predators, and descend through layer after layer of strange vegetation and bizarre geological formations. The abyss spirals downward like a series of video game levels, with each new ring offering new visual wonders and unexpected terrors.
Given the show's limited focus, it's that much more important that each of Made in Abyss's key elements shine, and the show fortunately delivers on all fronts. Character-wise, Rico and Reg are both established well across the early episodes. While Reg is full of anxieties about his true nature and fears that seem to contradict his mostly-invulnerable nature, Rico is the classic headstrong adventurer, clamoring for discoveries even at the potential cost of her own life. Rico's disregard for her own safety can verge into a sometimes unsettling pathology, and that tone of disquiet carries through into the rest of the story.
Focusing a story so completely on the wonders of its worldbuilding and the joy of discovery also forces significant pressure onto Made in Abyss's visual execution, but the show happens to be one of the most beautiful anime of the last few years. The background art ably matches the story's creative vision, conjuring beautiful setpieces even before the protagonists begin their descent. Once the formal journey begins, the audience is treated to vast jungles, strange mushroom forests, caverns filled with lonely lakes, and mossy sanctuaries tucked away in the far corners of the abyss's walls. The show's minimalist character designs form a natural counterpoint to the detailed beauty of their setting, and lively animation brings both the characters and their various natural foes to life. Animator Kou Yoshinari, credited as the series' monster designer, is likely responsible for the otherworldly animation style of Made in Abyss's beasts. Defined by off-puttingly fluid detail work, unique filters, and menacingly precise anatomy, their strange motions consistently emphasize the living danger of the abyss.
Made in Abyss's music is also a highlight, offering an evocative mix of orchestral songs that are equally adept at highlighting both the beauty and terror of the abyss. One long sequence in the first episode is carried by music entirely, as a gentle, building melody wordlessly instills a fondness for the ramshackle structures of the abyss's edge. The soundtrack was composed by the Australian Kevin Penkin, a rare collaboration that results in a series of songs designed to mirror the show's drama even down to the balance of organic and mechanical instruments, or the relationship of instruments and their recording space. The results perfectly match Made in Abyss's fairy tale aspirations.
From its storybook orphanage origins to its brutal “training arc” and lurking depths, Made in Abyss embodies a specific kind of old-fashioned adventure storytelling. The dangers of its setting are so immediately present that Made in Abyss's world never feels safe, and the tragedies that eventually befall these characters are stark enough to inspire shock or even tears. But Made in Abyss tethers that horrific darkness to a consistent sense of wonder, and sturdy storytelling that always emphasizes its love for its cast. The story of Made in Abyss is far from over, but as a paean to adventure and one self-contained leg of the journey, Made in Abyss is a nearly perfect show.
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : A
+ The Abyss is one of the most compelling and beautifully realized settings in recent years, tells a confident adventure story with creative details and stellar execution
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