Holy shit this review is long. I’m trying out a new review format because I felt like the last one was getting stale and…well you can see for yourself.
On the eve of February 24, many nerds threw their giant toblerone bars in the air when after My Hero Academia predictably and unfairly claimed six awards at Crunchyroll’s laughable version of the Grammys, most of which weren’t balanced all that well to begin with (who the hell makes a “best hero” award anyways? And how on earth did Tsuyu lose out to that one Hero Academia girl who does nothing?), everyone’s favorite anime on Crunchyroll lost what many consider to be the most important award to that one show on Amazon that ended up slowly but surely taking the community by storm just as hard, if not harder: Made in Abyss. And believe me, the victory of that show was not only welcome, it is considered by many as undeniable proof that sometimes good taste is unanimous amongst the fanbase. I’m not exactly sure when or how this show got to be so big, or even if it was taking the manga world by storm beforehand, but if my actual favorites weren’t even going to be made eligible for the “best anime of the year” award, then I’ll gladly accept the one that’s not My Freaking Hero Academia or Land of the Make Something Happen Already Fest.
I propose a new rule to Crunchyroll when they do these awards shows from now on: sequels should be BANNED. Period. Yes that means Rakugo 2 would have technically been banned as well, but who cares? It had its chance in the Yuri on Ice sweepstakes last year. It failed. If you want to include it, make a “best sequels” award or something, but otherwise don’t put so much backing in an anime that already had an established fanbase that began two years ago. I don’t care if Hero Academia only got majorly popular with the second season. I don’t care if it’s in my top five anime of 2017. It better not show up next year for any category that doesn’t say the words “sequel” or “continuing” in it. And for the record, Made in Abyss should be banned as well when its second season inevitably shows up, because I don’t want to see it win any more awards, or even see more praise of it in general.
Yeah as much as I liked 2017 in terms of anime, one of my big problems with that year is that the really popular stuff was everywhere. You just couldn’t escape from it no matter where you went, whether it be sleeper hit anime video games like Nier: Automata and Doki Doki Literature Club, or popular anime series like Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid – which I should point out was everywhere at every single anime convention I went to, and it wasn’t just because Lucoa is easy to cosplay.
I knew who Tohru, Kanna, Elma, and yes even Fafnir, were before I even got to watching that show proper due to how many girls (and guys) wanted to wear dragon horns on their heads. And while Made in Abyss isn’t exactly the most influential of big hits (try Google searching “Made in Abyss cosplay” and then google “Kakegurui cosplay” to see what I mean), pretty much every anime person I associate with has seen it and made it their favorite anime of 2017, so it might as well be everywhere. Too bad Devilman Crybaby had to claim “anime of the year” before we were even two weeks into 2018, but to be fair it’s not drawing that much attention away because of its more divisive nature. The number of RL anime friends I have who like it is in a vast minority compared to the people who don’t.
Now I generally do my best to stay away from hype and just judge anime how I see it, which is why I have no problem dismissing a good chunk of 2017’s more popular anime. Hell, I’m dismissing Devilman Crybaby and the rest of Science Saru’s resume more and more with each passing day. But despite initially dismissing Made in Abyss because “little children + anime + don’t give a shit about ironic moe = better than Princess Principal but still no”, for some reason I just couldn’t stop thinking that maybe if I gave it a proper chance, I’d like it. I eventually gave it said chance and wrote some stuff, but I never ranked it high nor gave it a proper review because I didn’t quite like it upon finishing the thing.
However, it was the kind of “didn’t like” that I had with Ping Pong and Mob Psycho 100 in that maybe if I gave another try in the future with more knowledge of what to expect, I’d like it more. I can’t really explain why I occasionally run into this sort of feeling. Maybe it’s because I try harder than most people to not be a hypocrite when it comes to my own personal judgments along with being aware that the initial watch can betray you, especially due to experiencing some wild mood swings on this blog in the past.
Yet despite that self-awareness, I found myself unable to ever go through with a rewatch of Made in Abyss until now because even after eventually finishing said rewatch in order to write this review, there are some things about it that I do think hinder my enjoyment which I’ll get to in the “Personal Dissection” section, and I generally don’t do rewatches for shows that aren’t initially my favorites unless I get something new from them. So I sort of planned to go back to it right before the sequel hit, but with my anime club voting it as the next discussion topic for March, the increasing amount of attention and acclaim it’s gotten, and the fact that I’m going to be busy with Netflix anime by the time this review goes up, this was pretty much the best time to actually go through it again and get out a proper review for 2017’s anime of the year.
Also, it’ll give me a chance to experiment with this new review style, which basically removes the “general plot” and “conclusion” sections while simultaneously trying to inject way more words and personality into the “pre-review background” and “personal dissection” sections, which were always the most important parts of the review to begin with. Hope you Made in Abyss fans are happy with it.
Anyways, that’s enough paragraphs to warm you up. Oh, and just for the record, the anime is produced by Kinema Citrus (and its pretty much the only anime you’re going to remember from them), the director previously made Monster and Black Bullet, the series composition dude is the man who gave us Now and Then, Here and There, I don’t know anything about this show’s manga origins, and nobody really acknowledges who actually brought this source material to animated form besides desperates who vainly hope this is a sign that these people will accomplish great things in the future. Yeah, how’s all that hope working out for the guy who made Steins;Gate right now?
…well, he’s getting better at least. Although seriously, Darling in the Booty Booty Butt Cheeks has been disappointingly subpar as of…always when you think about it.
So the big thing we need to address first is that Made in Abyss is an “ironic moe” show. If you don’t know what “ironic moe” is, it’s basically when an anime uses cuteness in order to provide contrast to its darker themes and tone. Since general audiences tend to like cute things by default, it’s easier for them to get really attached and really sad when bad shit happens to kawaii characters. Anime like Elfen Lied and Higurashi were famous for this back when they were popular, and today we’ve got shows like Madoka Magica, School-Live, Girls’ Last Tour, and even a comedic version in the form of Pop Team Epic using cute girls as a softening tool for some really disturbing content.
I’m not a fan of ironic moe personally, but it’s not like the intention is fundamentally flawed. Disney animated films have been doing ironic moe since their very formation with Snow White eating that poisoned apple or Bambi’s mom getting shot. Don Bluth basically made his career around how you can make characters suffer through anything as long as the ending is happy. And who can forget the more recent trend of indie games that are focused on small children trying to make it into a dark world like Limbo and Ori and the Blind the Forest? So yeah, it can be done well. I just prefer not to chance it because I’m not really for seeing little kids suffer – and it doesn’t help that anime has a tendency to make it come off more like fetish porn than it does actual dark storytelling. Remember when I mentioned the director of this show is the same one who did Black Bullet, a series that literally killed a bunch of innocent girls for the sole purpose of shock value?
And that the writer did Now and Then, Here and There, a 90s isekai show that showed overextended torture scenes and broke the psyches of young kids in order to hammer into the viewer’s head that “war is bad and turns people into monsters”?
Yeah, this team may have experience with this kind of story, but oh dear lord is that experience awful.
So what exactly is the plot of Made in Abyss you may ask? Well you’ve got this little girl named Riko who discovers a robot boy she names Reg whilst going on an expedition in this world where cave-exploration is a form of life. After becoming inspired by his discovery, along with recent news that her mother may still be alive within the bottom layer of a giant hole called the Abyss, Riko sets off to find her with her new robot friend for protection.
From that starting point, the show is basically about the struggles that happen when two kids delve into such a dangerous place, and one thing that escaped me on first watch because my colleagues were too busy praising the superficial aspects like the excellent sound design and the magnificent-looking creatures to bother talking about something I truly cared about was that ultimately Made in Abyss is also a tale of “memento mori” that’s told through the setting. But the difference between Abyss and Magus Bride is that the latter is more about finding beauty in death whilst the former is about using its inevitability as motivation to accomplish great things.
Already we have a much better reason to see little kids go through hell than these guys’ previous anime. Screw empty emotional weight and “we’re being important” crap. We’ve got a meditation on humanity’s darkness providing the support this time. Good thing too, because when it comes to dangerous settings, Made in Abyss basically has death everywhere with the only safe spots being the occasional area inhabited by abyss dwellers. Most of the suffering the characters go through is actually kind of tame compared to other ironic moe shows, let alone Now and Then Here and There, and I’ll admit I didn’t cringe at all at that famous scene when Riko gets her arm poisoned and Reg tries to help her through increasingly desperate means. But then again, I’m way more squeamish around violence against animals than I am against violence against humans. You should see me whenever I try to get through Watership Down and shut my eyes at the violence those poor rabbits suffer.
Hell, this trailer alone scares me.
Speaking of rabbits, you know that one bunny girl who’s featured on the main Amazon promo art like she’s a main star and is even shown forming a protagonist trio with our initial two leads in the kinda spoiler-ific ending? Yeah, you don’t actually see her until the last few episodes, but trust me when I say that she really helps raise the show’s quality when she actually joins our main duo. Reg and Riko are a likable pair for the most part due to their determination combined with their naivety, but one thing I’m not too big on are their motivations for going into the Abyss. It’s kind of lacking in personal stakes since Riko doesn’t exactly lose anything if she never finds her mother and Reg doesn’t have much besides vague memories as well. And what makes Nanachi such a welcome addition when she finally shows up is that she brings Made in Abyss’s story to a more personal level whilst also having a whole lot of personality thrown in as a bonus.
I never found her situation too heart-breaking like other people because again, I’ve seen that sort of dark story before. Nevertheless, it was an emotional piece of storytelling that really shows why Made in Abyss is so beloved by anime fans – although I don’t think it was season finale material, but I’ll get into that later.
So you’re probably thinking at this point, “you really enjoyed our favorite anime of the year after giving it a second shot, Mr. Flawfinder. Does that mean it’s going to beat out that shitty Scum’s Wish anime we all hate so much?” To which I respond “fuck no! Scum’s Wish is way better and my spite for you guys is just making me defend its’ spot even more!” And then we argue for a few minutes before you inevitably ask “well is it going on your favorites list at least?” Yeah, you’d think so because it has good visual storytelling and the story itself is quite good. Why don’t I put this on my favorites list?
Oh yeah, that’s why.
That’s why too.
…Yeah I’m really glad I never watched this show weekly, because some of these episodes kind of leave a frustrating aftertaste in my mouth due to the misguided notion that it can do comedy, so I want to watch another better episode right after. You’re not funny Made in Abyss. Like, at all. So please stop having Reg get flustered at underage boobage and his own naturalistic penis. I’m pretty sure everyone who calls that finale perfect conveniently forgets that stupid scene.
And it really is a shame too because around Episode 5 or so, I was getting primed to list this anime as something I’d rewatch in the future. But unfortunately, even when I’m into Made in Abyss’s story, it still finds ways to annoy me at inopportune moments. Anyone who knows my taste in humor knows that I hate sexual harassment, I hate chibi humor, and I hate little girls, especially when they’re not wearing clothes.
Now to be fair, practically none of the fanbase is in support of Riko showing off her skin. Most of them either ignore it or raise eyebrows before trying to move on. But here’s the thing: if the humor isn’t good, why have it at all, and why are you meandering from the story in the process? You know why Scum’s Wish gets more love from me than Made in Abyss? Because even when it was doing its lame shoujo-ai humor, it never got off track from the story it wanted to tell. It was constant drama that moved forward all the time and I’ve never been one of those people who needed a break from the story in order to indulge in fun.
Made in Abyss though? I didn’t quite pick this up at first, but upon rewatch, I noticed that the self-contained execution of some of the episodes is a little off, which was the main reason why I never watched it while it was airing weekly. It feels like the show was meant to be seven hour-long episodes, but obviously that’s not going to fly for thirteen weeks of summer, so the creators chopped the first six into twelve separate episodes not too dissimilar to the bi-weekly format of the first Darker than Black. Practically every odd-numbered episode in this series either put a halt on plot progression in order to take us on a tour or ended in what felt like the middle of an important scene. And most of the time, these were the episodes that decided to make Reg flustered for the umpteenth time to the point that I wanted Kokichi from Danganronpa V3 to guest-star in order to troll him before shooting lightning out of his hands like he was Emperor Palpatine.
As such, even if I could ignore the humor, I’d have to deal with the fact that Made in Abyss doesn’t seem to realize that world-building is not a good excuse to put a halt on plot progression, especially when you could have just easily merged the two by removing the pervert jokes or, y’know, combining the half-hour episodes into full hour ones?
Were they just really confident that people who read the manga will power through its lesser parts because they’ve already seen it in drawn form and will thus settle for those panels getting animated? Given how you basically spoiled the entire first season and bits of the second season with your opening and ending visuals, it wouldn’t surprise me that the production team went in with a “only manga fans will watch this” approach. After all, there are a good chunk of anime fans who base their opinion of an anime based on the source material as long as it doesn’t try to fix what ain’t broken and the animation doesn’t look like dogshit. Although as we’ve seen with the latest Berserk adaptations, sometimes you just got to stick to the source in order to get the manga readers interested. Only a small percentage of them admittedly, but still…
Also, no amount of emotional appeal is going to make me overlook that when it came to ending its first season, Made in Abyss stopped just when it was about to get really good. I said before that it felt like I just watched the first thirteen episodes of either of the Fullmetal Alchemist adaptations and then they made us wait a year to see the rest. Now I’m going to have to take back that statement a bit because Made in Abyss’s first season is of much better quality than those messily executed beginnings, but are you seriously ending the show’s run after introducing the last main character and teasing us with Bondrewd, also known as the main villain who’s supposed to rival Heath Ledger’s Joker in terms of well-written villains? Yeah he’s only mentioned a few times and if I didn’t know who he was by reputation, I’d have no idea why I should be excited for the guy. And as emotional as Nanachi’s story was, what exactly got wrapped up at the end?
For the record, I’m not referring to how Riko has gone through like three or four layers of the Abyss by the show’s end. That’s the kind of praise we reserve for video games, not anime. Let’s pretend that every two episodes up to the finale are actually hour-long episodes for simplicity’s sake and go through them.
The first episode is focused on establishing the setting and getting to know the characters before ending on the main plot hook that is Riko’s desire to search for her mother. The second episode is focused on our duo jumping into the Abyss and realizing that they need to depend on each other to survive. The third episode is centered on experiencing the dangers of the Abyss firsthand before meeting this mysterious woman and old friend of Riko’s mother named Ozen. The fourth episode has Ozen training the kids to survive harsher dangers than her whilst exploring her as a character in order to provide substance that’s more than just going from Point A to Point B. Fifth episode has Riko and Reg continuing to brave dangers before eventually running into a situation that nearly kills the former and ending with Nanachi’s introduction. Sixth episode is basically getting to know Nanachi while Riko recovers. And the seventh episode is the one that’s actually an hour long and basically the resolution to Nanachi’s introductory arc before she becomes a lead.
You’ll notice that I didn’t mention any personal arcs for Reg and Riko in there amongst all the exploring and interesting characters that are introduced. That’s because they don’t have any – or to be more accurate, their arcs are still ongoing and they haven’t reached any milestones in their development aside from Reg getting more embarrassed at underage tits. And that’s a pretty big deal considering they’re the main characters. Even if there’s more to be had, you need to accomplish something by the end of a first installment, and the only accomplishment I can see is everything involving Nanachi…which only makes up the last third of the series. Even after all the suffering they’ve gone through, Riko and Reg have not actually gone through any personal changes of their own by the time the credits have rolled.
Obviously I’m not expecting the main duo to discover something grand within themselves because the series would peak too early in that case, but they should have gone through some significant growth that the sequel can build on further. Don’t just wait for the sequel for said growth to occur. For example, most of us agree that The Dark Knight was a great movie all-around in addition to being one of the best sequels ever. But as flawed as its predecessor, Batman Begins, was, it was still a decent self-contained story revolving around Bruce’s growth into the hero that Gotham needed – a growth that The Dark Knight would later deconstruct to great effect. Plus, Batman Begins had Scarecrow, who I’ve also got to admit is a character I’m daring Bondrewd to live up to. Can you imagine if he just showed up in this anime and threw his fear gas at the characters? There’d be questions regarding why he’s in the show to begin with, but I think the resulting characterization as Riko hallucinates every one of her friends dying would be fucking awesome.
But I guess the main draw of the show at the end of the day is how it satisfies most viewers’ dark fantasy itch. An itch that I don’t personally have, but let’s play it your way for a bit. As a dark fantasy, you guys are pretty damn lucky for Made in Abyss to even exist. If there was any CG amongst the visuals, I didn’t see it. And the monster designs are some of the most creative things this side of Monster Hunter, a critically acclaimed Japanese video game series that’s loved less for the plot and more about soaking in the dangerous yet beautiful sights. A lot has already been said about the fantastic score, although the actual opening and ending songs are as forgettable as anything sung by Maroon 5. As far as visual presentation goes, it’s pretty damn strong.
I swear, watching scenes like this really makes me feel relaxed in a non-coma inducing way.
…only for scenes like this to make me realize that the grass I’m imagining laying on could eat me.
…and for scenes like this to make me go “whhhhhhhhyyyyyyy?”
…before we get a scene like this that makes me go…
…which is incidentally a perfect summation of my feelings for ironic moe in general. Yeah, I know this show also spawned a bunch of memes regarding how being Riko is suffering, but I’m not going to bother acknowledging them, because those are not fun memes, and they’re a poor indication of Made in Abyss’s overall quality in general.
I dunno guys. I did try to raise the show’s ranking on my top 2017 list after the rewatch was complete, but as much as I wanted it go over My Hero Academia Season 2, I just couldn’t summon up the urge to bump it up more than one place (edit: it got bumped up to second place about a month after this review, so yeah this paragraph is a little dated). When all is said and done, I’m still struggling to see why I would ever watch Made in Abyss again if I had some free time. The visual storytelling is great and yeah it’s better executed than some of my favorites on a technical level. But it’s not pushing hard enough to compare to my favorite stories that deal with the same subject matter and the overall execution has some major issues that no amount of feels can make me overlook.
We’ll see if my opinion changes once the second season hits and Bondrewd actually does something, but right now Made in Abyss is something I respect more than I like. It’s nice to see an anime that gets loved just because it looks great, sounds great, is bursting with charm, and isn’t My Hero Academia Another One. But when you get down to it, the show is just not finished, and the first season is about as self-contained as one of those six-episode pilot seasons that a lot of broadcast live-action TV do in order to test the waters. So hopefully you Made in Abyss fans aren’t too mad at me that I can’t see this show as a masterpiece yet. I’m definitely hoping the second season comes out this year, although I’ll probably have to wait it out like I did this first season unless they announce we’re getting proper hour-long episodes for the entire run. Seriously, a lot of anime could benefit from going to that format because it’ll allow them to spread out the characterization and world-building better.
- Made in Abyss can be watched on Amazon.com at this link.
- For the record, I’d like to propose a toast that Blood Blockade Battlefront didn’t win anything and Re: Creators is all but forgotten by the community these days.
- I’ve gotten some suggestions to tone down the referencing a bit. I tried, but the problem is that a large portion of my opinions are due to how I’ve seen other stuff.