Made in Abyss
by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,
I already sang its praises in the Preview Guide, but go check out Zombie Land Saga if you haven't already. It's a delightfully twisted little comedy, a fun send-up of both zombie and idol shows. I know that sounds insane, but it works better than it sounds. Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
Made in Abyss
On Shelves This Week
Synopsis: Led by their teenage commander Meifon Li, the Angel Links company works to protect civilian spaceships from pirates.
Extra: We have several old reviews of this Outlaw Star spinoff, and you'll find the first two of those here and here. A couple of episodes are currently available streaming on Funimation, with more scheduled to go up on Tuesday.
Synopsis: Asta, Noelle, and Luck set out to explore a magical dungeon, but soon find themselves competing against the members of the Golden Dawn.
Synopsis: The girls of the Angel Brigade return for another round of unusual missions as they continue their search for the Lost Technology.
Synopsis: Teenage calligraphy prodigy Sei Handa is adored by his classmates, but his paranoid mindset leads him to believe that everyone's out to get him.
Kino's Journey: The Beautiful World - Complete Collection BD
Funimation - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf
Synopsis: Enigmatic traveler Kino and Hermes the talking motorcycle journey through a variety of troubled and turbulent nations.
Synopsis: Young wizard Negi Springfield ends up becoming the teacher of a group of unusual teenage girls while also taking on sinister magic villains.
Extra: In case you're rusty on your title punctuation, this is the second of the animated adaptations of the Negima manga. You'll find reviews here and here, and we also have a feature article on the franchise. Looks like this season is scheduled to release on HIDIVE over the next few weeks.
Patlabor the Mobile Police - Ultimate Collection BD
Maiden Japan - 2161 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $129.98
Currently cheapest at: $84.49 Right Stuf
Synopsis: In response to a rise in crimes involving giant construction robots called Labors, a new police unit is formed to protect the population using giant robots of their own.
Extra: This set includes both OVA series, the TV series, and the three animated movies. Our coverage of the franchise includes several different reviews and a Buried Treasure article. Nearly all of these are available streaming on HIDIVE.
Synopsis: Ash and Pikachu travel to the tropical region of Alola, where new Pokemon, friends, and rivals await.
Extra: Just to clarify, this set contains all of the Sun & Moon portion of the franchise, not to be confused with the more recent Sun & Moon Ultra Adventures. You can stream it on Pokemon.com.
Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 - Part 2 BD+DVD
Funimation - 325 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $43.49 Amazon
Synopsis: The crew of the Yamato continue their journey beyond the edge of the galaxy, but they must face the relentless pursuit of Lord Desler.
Shelf Life Reviews
Made in Abyss made a big splash when it aired last year, and now it's finally available on disc. Gabriella took a look at this very unique series for this week's review.
So there's this big hole in the ground and everyone wants to find out what's at the bottom of it. The problem is that pretty much everything in this hole will kill you horribly, so people have only gotten so far down after thousands and thousands of attempts. In the meantime, an entire society has built up around the hole's rim, populated mostly by excavators who find and sell the mysterious technological relics buried throughout the hole. This is where a young aspiring excavator named Riko grows up. One day she runs into a strange boy while on a training mission in the Abyss's shallowest layer. This boy – Reg – turns out to be a robot and thus an invaluable relic from the deepest depths. Rather than turning Reg in to the authorities, however, Riko requisitions him as her travelling companion on her own quest to reach the Abyss' bottom. You see, Riko's mother – the legendary excavator Liza the Annihilator – may still be alive down there, and Riko desires to reunite with her. The two set out to experience a series of torturous trials at the hands of the Abyss's brutal and beautiful denizens.
So yeah, it turns out that how you recreate childhood fear/wonder in an adult work is by upping the shit out of the fear part while keeping everything else the same. Don't let the cuddly character designs fool you – this is a story about children barely surviving a harsh wilderness populated by all sorts of deadly animals, plants, environmental hazards, and the occasional human serial killer. While it does maintain a childlike quality, Made in Abyss is not appropriate for children in the slightest, unless you'd also put 127 Hours on your kid's shelf. This all works because the show's setting is beautifully realized in both its concept and production. Mangaka Akihito Tsukushi's scenic imagination is frankly breathtaking. I can only compare his work to some of the environments in Princess Mononoke or the illustrations for The Edge Chronicles books, if anyone remembers those. The score is equally lush, and it can be difficult to believe that this was a televised production sometimes.
It helps that the story is no slouch either. It isn't particularly complicated, but it nails all of its emotional beats (including its heartbreaking season conclusion) and more importantly, never allows what its characters experience to feel excessively cruel or sadistic. The show isn't suffering-porn, although its characters do spend a lot of time in immense physical pain. It's more a show about the smallness of humans relative to nature and how easily the exterior world can crush both our bodies and our ambitions. What's amazing about Made in Abyss is that it never turns this perspective to nihilism in response. Even while it's eating you alive, the world is still beautiful in the Abyss, and the journey is still worth going on provided you have the unquenchable desire and the mettle to keep going.
The only gripe I have with the show is so extraneous, so occasional, and so unpleasant that I barely even want to talk about it - the pedophilia thing. Now, anime has known problems with sexualization of children before. It's a societal problem that's reflected across many forms of media, but anime is particularly shameless about its reflections of this desire. Fortunately for me, this problem usually manages to stay out of the shows that I like, so I tend to only encounter it during particularly dire review assignments. Made in Abyss, however, is one of the sad exceptions to this rule. It's only clear that this is an element of the author's fascination every once in a while in a scene that's often completely extraneous, so you could probably avoid it all if you had the timestamps marked down to skip, but it's still unfortunate. It's made even worse because the show's art style isn't moe infantilization of post-pubescent characters, but rather the type of child character designs you might see in actual books for children. Ugh. It really sucks to see this black mark on a show that would otherwise be an unmitigated recommendation. I still think that it'll be worth powering through for most people, but take heed if you're really sensitive about this sort of content.
As a nice bonus, this disc release comes stacked with extras. They include a long interview with the show's composer, Kevin Penkin, footage of an event featuring the show's voice actors, making-of specials for the first two episodes, and another making-of episode dedicated to the show's music. You'll notice that quite a few of the extras are dedicated to the show's music, because Made in Abyss is notable for the scope of its score, which possesses a breadth of tracks far closer to a theatrical production than a television anime. It's another place where the show overachieves, and they want to show that off. These extras are all very informative, both when it comes to anime's general production process and the conditions behind this show specifically. There's also an English dub, which I enjoyed. If I have any complaints, it's that Brittney Lauda's Riko started out somewhat shrill. This improves by the end though, and Luci Christian's Reg and Brittney Karbowski's Nanachi were strong from their first moments.
All in all, Made in Abyss is like no other made-for-TV anime that I've ever seen. Within the medium, I can only compare it to films - those of Ghibli, a few of the Pokemon movies, Digimon - as I experienced them as a child, being drawn into their scenic landscapes of wonder and peril. It's incredible when a piece of art manages to evoke sensations that you thought were lost to you, like breathing a whiff of fresh air from out of the depths of the earth.
That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading, and remember to send your Shelf Obsessed entries to [email protected]!
discuss this in the forum (42 posts) |