Made in Abyss – 04

Remember Snape going on about ‘bottling fame’ or ‘brewing’ glory? I kept coming back to how Made in Abyss seems able to effortlessly bottle…AWE. It’s masterful in unveiling Riko and Reg’s new surroundings. 

First we get a tight shot of Riko waking up…in a mad web of protective Reg arm cable! Then we pull waaaay back to a superwide shot of the First Layer: The Edge of the Abyss. It’s like pure, uncut, Bottled Awe.

After Riko’s terrible-looking but delicious fish stew (good to see them not relying on packed food), they face their first foe: a giant silkfang from whose nest they narrowly escape from, thanks to Reg’s ridiculously handy arms, which are also making their climb much easier. Let’s call it a Level 1 fiend…and they didn’t defeat it, they just got away.

They’re also trying to keep from getting caught by Leader or any search parties who may be pursuing them. After receiving hand-drawn copies of Lyza’s Abyss notes, with a red note indicating he’s coming for them at dawn, Riko concludes escaping Leader is the “final lesson” they must overcome to prove they have what it takes.

The next massive swig of primo Bottled Awe comes in the form of a Castle in the Sky-style reveal of the abandoned ancient windmills and endless greenery of Layer Two: The Forest of Temptation. It’s like watching an awesome game where the deeper you descend, the crazier things start to look and feel.

But eventually one of their “pursuers” catches up, only to not be trying to catch them at all. The Black Whistle Habo came when Sigy and Nat told him to help Riko get to the Seeker Camp and Second Layer, and in exchange he could see Reg, a genuine treasure of the Netherworld, in the rubbery flesh.

When Riko politely declines his offer, citing Leader’s final lesson, he takes her and Reg into his arms, perhaps to embrace the girl he’s known her whole life, and watched, and known that the day would come when she’d run off after, and like, her mother. He also warns her about the White Whistle “Ozen the Immovable” at the Seeker Camp.

After some more descending, we can take one more swig of dramatically unveiling vistas as they arrive at the Abyss’ Second Layer – The Forest of Temptation (not to be confused with the Forest of Illusion, though the vibe is similar).

Gazing at the environs sprawling out before him, Reg can’t help but wonder if he and Riko actually “escaped” their pursuers, or if they’ve come to a place where other things will pursue them. For this is no longer the territory of man, it’s The Abyss proper, from which all things sprang, and where all things eventually return. I’m drunk on awe now.

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Made in Abyss – 03

I’ll just come out and say it: three episodes in, and of all the anime we’ve watched this Summer at RABUJOI, Made in Abyss is the best. It effortlessly grounds a fantastical world (primed to become more wondrous still) with deeply human characterization, in particular the bottomless (no pun intended) curiosity and stubbornness of kids.

Riko’s friend of many years Nat is against her going down the Abyss. He stays against it for the entire episode, right up to the moment she actually descends. He doesn’t change his mind. He’s worried she won’t come back. He’s angry she won’t listen to him when he’s trying to keep her safe. And he’s scared of being alone after she leaves.

Nat’s objections aside, Riko still plans to go first thing tomorrow. And after his very first cave-raiding, Reg decides he’ll accompany her, now that he knows the curse doesn’t affect him (at least not as bad as humans). Riko needs to find her mom. Reg wants to find out what he is and why he was made, and what he was meant for.

Against these lures, Nat doesn’t have a chance, even after Siggy unfurls a gorgeous map of the Abyss and describes all of the exotic hazards and trials that await Riko and Reg (while the Abyss’ equally gorgeous xylophone leitmotif plays). Even though Sigy is merely describing the levels while pointing to illustrations on the map, the limitless grandeur and wonder of the Abyss comes through crystal clear.

Nat finally goes to far trying to dissuade Riko by telling her the most likely possibility is that her mother died long ago, and there’s nothing for her down there. It’s a horribly mean thing to say, and Riko runs off, but Nat immediately regrets hurting his friend.

Sigy and Reg get it, and neither of them want Riko and Nat to part ways without making up. So when dawn breaks, Sigy enlists the help of none other than Nat to lead them to the rarely-used entrance to the netherworld in the slums where he grew up collecting rags before he was admitted to the orphanage. He says he’s sorry and Riko immediately forgives him.

The slums become denser, darker, and dingier, until they finally reach a rickety wooden platform extending over the Abyss. Below them is only inky blackness. It might as well be the end of the world. It is, quite simply, terrifying.

But it’s also tremendously exciting, with a momentous, THIS IS IT kind of vibe. After a thoroughly tearful farewell to Nat and Sigy, the 12-year-old Riko, possibly braver than I could ever be, grabs hold of Reg; he lowers them into the void, and they’re gone, just like that.

How long will that darker-than-darkness last? How accurate is that map? What wonders—or horrors—will await them down there? I won’t speculate—I’ll just keep watching.

Classroom of the Elite – 04

Oh man, that elevator trip…so awkward…so much going on beneath the surface! To her credit, Kushida doesn’t break from her usual character once, not just there, but for the entire episode. It’s simply a given that she and Ayanokouji have this dark secret, and they have a deal, and he’ll honor it or else. We also never learn where Horitika stabbed him.

Everyone seems to be hiding the truth, both from others and from themselves. The truth seems like such a distant, unattainable thing now. And yet they must press on, and put one foot in front of the other. That pressing-on includes Ayanokouji moonlighting as reluctant romantic adviser to Class B’s idol, Ichinose Honami.

Still, the kid knows what he’s talking about, and talks to Ichinose about how someone in love suffers with trying to get the words out. Is he speaking from experience? In any case, he rejects her plan to make him her fake boyfriend (rightly so considering what an old cliche that is) and tells her The Truth is best. The girl who likes her is able to come out and confess, and Ichinose is able to gently reject her so that girl can move on.

That’s the end of act one, and while it may feel like a self-contained “mission” for Ayanokouji, in addition to the themes about hidden truths resonating in act two, Ichinose also incurs a debt to Ayanokouji that she intends to pay back. That will come in handy in act two, in which Sudou fucks up again, exposing the class to forfeiture of points.

The latest incident is another hidden truth: we don’t know what happened, just that Sudou was confronted by three Class C basketball players, and a fight ensued. He claims self-defense. Meanwhile, the incident has piqued Horikita’s brother’s interest, while at the club, one of Sudou’s accusers, Ryuen Kakeru, has an underling beaten up to help their case.

(I hasten to point out here that if Kushida was prepared to rely on fingerprint evidence to accuse Ayanokouji of raping her, I was left wondering later if a similar method could prove that Sudou didn’t beat up Ryuen’s co-conspirator).

Hirata, essentially Class 1-D’s male Kushida (only not secretly evil), decides to believe Sudou’s self-defense claim and an investigation ensues, with the class banding together to find witnesses and evidence. In this venture, Kushida teams up with Ayanokouji without any reservations, while Horikita is reluctant to participate.

They aren’t making much progress until Ichinose Honami hears about the investigation and offers to help out, citing that she owes Ayanokouji one. She even arranges an online venue where people can post information in exchange for rewards.

When someone posts anonymously, she isn’t sure how to transfer her points to the guy, so enlists Ayanokouji’s technical know-how…in the process, showing him her personal points balance to be in excess of 2.6 million yen ($23,000) immediately setting off alarms in both his head and mine.

Ayanokouji’s dorm room has apparently become the meeting spot for the three misfits, including Sudou, as well as Kushida. When Horikita stops by with info on a witness—one Sakura Airi, based on her body language in class—she’s quick to retreat once she sees Kushida there. (Now, of course, I totally understand why she’d rather interact with Kushida as little as possible!)

The case wears on Kushida, who visits Ayanokouji in the evening. They go on a walk and discuss it, leaving their own personal issues totally aside. Ayanokouji thinks he knows why Horikita is reluctant to help Sudou: because he never learns his frikkin’ lesson and keeps getting into trouble immediately after being bailed out of it. In a case with so little to go on, Sudou’s character makeup is a huge liability, and he can’t go on like this.

That leaves the very skittish Miss Pink Hair, Pink Camera, Sakura Airi. Kushida tries to gently ask to speak with her about what she might’ve seen, but Sakura panics and tries to run off, dropping and breaking her camera. While I’m sure the data chip containing potentially conclusive photographic evidence wasn’t lost, I still know far too little about her to know what she intends to do with it, if anything.

Was Sakura, for instance, the girl who cried out at the club before that guy got beat up for suggesting there was a witness? Horikita’s bro is clearly trying to sabotage Class D (and by extension his sister); will Ayanokouji’s suspicions about the cash-flush Ichinose prove to be justified?

A lot of truth has yet to be found, and many not only like it that way but are actively trying to distort it. And now I’m out of new episodes to watch…drat.

Classroom of the Elite – 03

“Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this – no dog exchanges bones with another.” So said Adam Smith, famed Scottish economist and philosopher. It’s a lengthy, inefficient quote, as befits the times he lived in, but I like how he extends the concept out for added emphasis.

Class D may be “defective garbage” but they’re still human, and so this episode is full of those deals only humans can make. The first deals Ayanokouji makes this week involve securing test questions from a destitute upperclassman, then using the universally trusted and liked Kushida to distribute them.

As Ayanokouji tells Horitika when the class gets all high scores, Kushida is “well-suited to the role” of class hero, unlike the two of them. The flashback that covers three days before the test were, like Smith’s quote, lengthier than it had to be, but still provided more welcome texture, like Horitika’s one-on-one talk with Sudo trying to appeal to his love of basketball to get him to shape up—or Kushida telling Ayanokouji he’s sharper than she thought.

Alas, only two of the three misfits pass the exams – Sudo fails one, by less than one point against the average score (which was heightened due to so many 100s and high 90s). Ayanokouji’s gambit would seem to have failed, but he doesn’t let things stand there: he follows Chabashira-sensei to the roof to make another one of those human deals.

Chabashira’s inflexibility on Sudo’s expulsion is out of a regard for the rules. Ayanokouji appeals to what both he and his teacher know to be the truth: society is not truly equal, but rules require “at least the appearance of equal application.” To that end, he recites another rule from the first day of school: points can be used to buy anything. Anything…including one test point so Sudo passes.

Chabashira, impressed he’s been paying such close attention and that he’d bring such a bargain to hers, agrees, but for a price of 10,000, to an Ayanokouji who already spent 15,000 on the test answers. To his surprise, Horitika appears on he rooftop to pay Chabashira, citing the threat of unknown consequences to the class if Sudo or anyone else were to get kicked out.

While Chabashira is impressed, she warns these two Adam Smiths that no Class D has ever advanced to a higher tier. Now we know Horitika’s goal of Class A isn’t just a long shot—it’s unprecedented.

Nevertheless, Horitika won’t give up. Thanks to her, Sudo stays and Class D earns 87 points without Ayanokouji dipping into his dwindling point reserves. He tries to thank her, but she says everything she’s done is for her sake—even artificially lowering her score to drop the class average to something Sudo could more realistically manage. When he points this out, Horitika stabs him with a compass.

She’s signaling to him in about as visceral a way as possible that she’s no altruist, and she may have a case, as intent matters. But it cannot be denied that she has done and said things that weren’t to her immediate personal benefit in order to benefit the greater good, and made specific choices that she didn’t have to make to get the same result. In a vacuum, she was being nice to Sudo.

At a party in Ayanokouji’s dorm room, he spins a story to the others that Sudo’s expulsion was canceled by a passionate appeal to the teachers by Horitika. Is Ayanokouji just getting her back for stabbing him, or is he trying, in spite of her efforts to the contrary, to rehabilitate and burnish her reputation as someone the other students can trust and respect?

 

Whatever anyone’s intentions, the effect is the same: Kushida is pissed. So pissed, she forgets her phone, and Ayanokouji follows her to the waterfront, he’s introduced to Kushida’s other side, a bitter, fuming ball of rage. When she gets a text, Ayanokouji’s cover is blown, and he finds himself face to face with this new and frightening side.

She doesn’t mince any words. Instead, she makes a deal: he’ll tell no one what he saw there, and she won’t falsely accuse him of raping her, thrusting his hand on her chest so his fingerprints can be used as evidence. To think Kushida would stoop to such horrible tactics is a testament to her devotion to achieving her goals, which is just as intense as Horitika’s.

I’m impressed by how invested I’ve become in these three characters in just three episodes. Each week a new layer and wrinkle is added that completely flips the script. At this point, I’m not even sure Kushida didn’t plant the phone so Ayanokouji would follow her, discover her, and be forced to share another secret with her.

The question may be who is the real Kushida, but the answer could be all of them. Which brings us to the ultimate deal in Classroom of the Elite: if we the audience watch it, and keep watching, the show will keep us in rapt attention with solid stories and characterization.

Made in Abyss – 02

Wherever he came from—Riko believes he’s from the furthest depths of the Abyss…in a nice way!—she along with her friends Sigy and Nat, know that the arrival Reg is huge. Bigger than the discovery of any other relic in the Abyss to date. He’s like ten relics in one, and more importantly, he walks, talks, and even blushes when Riko gets too close.

Her hilariously embarrassing report on the results of her very thorough examination of Reg’s every nook and cranny notwithstanding, they determine the safest place for him to hide is in plain sight, so they give him a whole backstory and Leader accepts him to the Orphanage, and eventually a job cave-raiding.

The ruse goes swimmingly, with Reg fitting in nicely at the orphanage, and growing close to Riko, who sees him not as some relic, but a friend and member of their big family. Then news comes that some elite cave raiders—among them Black Whistles—have completed their descent from the place where Lyza the Annihilator fell.

Who is Lyza, you ask? Only one of the most famous and distinguished explorers of her age…and yeah, Riko’s MOM. Leader was old enough to remember what a drunken, short-tempered mess Lyza was…but also reveals to Riko that she was born on that expedition, deep in the Abyss, protected by a relic that minimized the effects of the Abyss’ “Curse.”

Lyza also abandoned the expedition to recover a prime relic—The Unheard Bell—to ensure baby Riko got back to the surface and survived. So she has, albeit with an eye condition that requires crystal lenses to avoid headaches. Oh, and some rather large shoes to fill!

Riko being presented with Lyza’s ornate White Whistle caused all the reminiscing, and gaining new insight into her mom (and her own beginnings) from Leader only increased her desire to become a White Whistle of her own. It feels like destiny.

That feeling likely isn’t diminished when Riko is brought before unsealed documents that were with Lyza’s White Whistle. Among them is a sketch of a robot boy just like Reg, as well as a note saying “At the netherworld’s bottom, I’ll be waiting.” That there’s no mention of Lyza’s body ever being recovered only increases the likelihood she may still be alive somewhere down there.

Maybe Lyza sent Reg up to the surface to protect Riko and help her reach the depths of the Abyss where she was, in a way, made (i.e. born). Is she ready to descend that deep? The grown-ups think not. We’ll see.

Classroom of the Elite – 02

I’m liking the uneasy rapport that has developed between Ayanokouji and Horitika; coincidence after coincidence brought them “together” in the opener, but they’ve consciously chosen to stay together, despite his surface apathy and her surface hostility—providing a nice contrast to Kushida’s saccharine affability.

Horitika isn’t interested in jumping up a level to Class C. She wants to be in Class A as soon as possible. If that means gathering a study group of the three most egregious misfits, so be it. She assigns Ayanokouji to the thankless task of gathering said misfits…and he immediately fails.

So he calls Kushida, who is all too happy to convince the three guys to attend the study group…if she can be in it as well. That caveat proves too repugnant to Horitika, who is awesomely resplendent in her text-and-voice-based petulance upon reacting to Ayanokouji’s method of completing the task she gave him.

Nevertheless, the group is assembled, with Kushida…and Horikita blows it up almost as quickly as Ayanokouji failed to assemble them in the first place. Unable to temper her aloof manner with people, and so focused on her goal of Class A, she doesn’t bother adapting to the various personalities she has to deal with, and so they all bail. She then accuses Kushida of “sabotage”, and Kushida runs off on the verge of tears.

And so, Ayanokouji finds himself with the contact info of not one but two comely lasses, and hasn’t the words, written or spoken, for either of them. So he goes out to the vending machines…and sees something he shouldn’t.

That something is the Student Council President verbally abusing his little sister…Horikita. Ayanokouji hears a tone of voice from his classmate he never had before, as she pleads for her brother to give her a chance…but all she is to the guy is a manifestation of shame; a black mark; a Class D sister.

Then he puts his hands on her and Ayanokouji has seen an heard enough, finally taking action by making use the strength Horikita noticed in his physique at poolside. He claims he acquired it and his fighting skills through “piano, calligraphy, tea ceremony”. It would be most impressive if that were true, but it’s clear he’s hiding something (We also learn he scored exactly 50 in all subjects on his entrance exam).

Like the first, this episode explored the theme announced in the episode title, a quote from some old dead guy, in this case, how “it takes a great talent and skill to conceal one’s talent and skill.” That certainly seems refer to our boy Ayanokouji as well as Kushida, who also comes off as someone holding their cards close.

As for Horikita, her natural tendency to keep people away, assuming they’ll hold her back, seems doomed to backfire on her every time. Just as the class had to come together to attain high enough scores to stave off expulsions for another week and possibly gain points back, Horikita will find more success on her path to Class A by learning to work with others, utilizing their hidden skills talents, and possibly discovering a few of her own in the process.