Made in Abyss – 05

Riko and Reg’s first hours in the Forest of Temptation go easily enough—even the giant leaves point them in the right direction. But we knew the silkfang wasn’t going to be the only man-eating beast they encountered, and sure enough, rushing in the direction of what they think is a man yelling “help me” turns out to be the luring call of a corpse-weeper, who snatches up Riko with the intent to feed her to her young.

Reg’s extending arm’s aim is true, but other weepers knock it off course. In addition to being torn apart and eaten, ascending worsens the Curse and puts extra strain on Riko, who vomits in midair before passing out.

Even though I knew there was no way she’d buy it here, my heart was still in the pit of my stomach. When Reg’s arm doesn’t work and he’s swarmed by weepers, he changes tactics, firing his hand cannon at the weeper nest and obliterating all the weepers, including the one carrying Riko.

He then catches her in mid-air with his arm, gathers her into his arms, and soft-lands on an itty-bitty column of rock. Whew, that was close. but it’s also telling. Things are not going to get easier from this point on! It’s a dangerous place. Here, all humans (or robots that look like humans) are prey.

Riko is tough-as-nails, and doesn’t even mind that Reg took her top off (to check her for injuries) when she was out; because she knows full well that like any other ordinary human Red Whistle (or even above), she’d be silkfang, or weeper food, or simply a dark red spot on some rock face, without Reg’s help.

She calls his beam weapon “Incinerator” (even though he’s still weary of accidentally hitting her with it), and makes a meal of the meat from the weepers he killed. While the weepers eat the flesh of men, Riko doesn’t consider it any different than the times cave raiders brought Abyss meat to the orphanage. It’s just the Circle of Life, baby.

Another realistic detail about their quest for which I’m thankful so far is that Riko keeps losing things: first her seemingly useless (but probably not) Star Compass, and most recently her book of field notes, which she did not memorize. In both cases, they can’t risk trying to search for or retrieve such things; they can only press on.

And press on they do, to the bottom edge of the Second Layer, the Inverted Forest. I’ve been looking forward to them reaching this place ever since we got a glimpse of it in the OP (and since Sigy described it on the map). It does not disappoint, as it is not only a stranger and more fantastical landscape; it’s also darker, colder, more foreboding and treacherous. The waterfalls going up are also a nice touch.

Just as Riko is losing things, Reg’s foolproof extending arm is getting more and more flummoxed; first by the weepers, and here with the intermittent strong winds. They also run afoul of a colony of ape-like Inbyos, who are not interested in interlopers in their territory. So Reg has to get used to his arm’s more limited effectiveness while getting himself and Riko away from violent primates.

But even here, there is some small relief: the same reason it’s dark and cold is the reason most of the fauna is relatively peaceful, while the effects of the Curse are diminished (or at least more bearable) around the Seeker Camp, which they eventually arrive at.

When they don’t see a lookout and no gondola descends, Reg does what he does, using his arm to ascend to the camp. But something else unexpected happens: his arms don’t grasp any rock or wood: they are grabbed and held by the person Habo warned them of; the one who helped Lyza carry baby Riko back to the surface; who notes the “brat” is still alive.

She’s the one they call The Unmovable Sovereign: Ozen. Will she be a source of hope or despair for our adventurers?

 

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.

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.

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.

Made in Abyss – 01 (First Impressions)

Just a minute or two into Made in Abyss and I was already thinking What have I been doing these last five weeks, not watching this? I don’t know how it goes from here, but you can scarcely do a first episode better than this right here. Grandeur. Wonder. And sure, a little cutesiness. Abyss offers it all in spades, plus one of the most surprising, badass anime soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time.

Abyss goes into Tell Mode, but not until the very end, once it’s showed a whole lot. Seriously, it gets the showing down pat in no time, as the ethereal soundtrack plays over an otherwise soundless montage during which the fantastical yet cozy world is unveiled, bit by tantalizing bit. This is after the heroine saved her friend by drawing a monster to her, only to herself need prompt rescuing from a mysterious “robot boy” she takes home.

Home is the Belchero Orphanage—Riko and Nat are orphans—a grand place that has vertical classrooms with desks nailed to the wall accessable by ladder. That right there is some good fantasy, along with the familiar and yet otherworldly scenery, architecture, and clothing.

But just as gorgeous as the scenery, vistas, and lived-in interiors is what’s going on between the characters. As I said, they’re little kids—and I’m most certainly not—and yet they are never for a second annoying. They remind me more of the Goonies or the kids in Stranger Things, because they’re so easy to watch and imagine ourselves at that age having adventures, getting one over on the stodgy adults (and older kids)…and stubbing our toes while running. And the android Regu is just the kind of friend you’d want if you were a little kid: one who shoots powerful beams and has extendable arms.

Having successfully escaped responsibility and punishment for causing a blackout in the orphanage, Riko takes Regu to the best spot to watch the sun rise over her magnificent city of Orth, which surrounds the kilometer-wide-diameter aperture of the titular Abyss, the true depth of which no one knows, and the depth of previously unknown relics and treasures seems to similarly know no bounds.

Riko wants to follow in her late mother’s footsteps by going as deep as a human has ever gone in that Abyss, and bring back something new and amazing. But she may have already stumbled upon that discovery in Regu, without even descending more than 100 meters. It’s a great start for her, and for Made in Abyss. I’m fully onboard.