Anime Examination: Delve into the Darkness: Made in Abyss (2017)

Anime is one of the few mediums that has the ability to mix cute and horrifying and do it well. It's a hard balance to maintain, but when it's successful it can leave the viewer emotionally drained as well as captivate them completely. Made in Abyss (2017) is one such show, with its whimsical character designs and pastel color palette hiding a much darker core.

The story follows a young orphan girl named Riko who lives in a city that surrounds a mysterious giant hole in the earth. Everyone calls it the Abyss and it houses magical artifacts as well as terrifying creatures. Individuals called Cave Raiders are periodically sent down to explore the Abyss to bring back treasures to benefit the populous. Riko is a novice Cave Raider and on one of her trips she encounters a strangely powerful robot boy named Reg who may hold the key to unraveling the secrets of the Abyss.

Made in Abyss has some of the best world-building and lore I have ever seen in an anime series. The way the information is presented is organic and it never feels like the characters are just dumping exposition on the viewer. Many concepts are left unexplained which adds to the otherworldly atmosphere. The Abyss is divided into "layers" with each layer becoming more dangerous the further one descends. Additionally, ascending a layer causes side effects from vomiting to more severe ones like bleeding from orifices. The narrative is extremely rich and intriguing with surprises and twists around every corner. For such a short series (thirteen episodes) it really packs in a lot of story with very little filler.

Kinema Citrus, the studio that provided the animation, really outdid themselves with the look for this show. It's absolutely gorgeous and the detail in the backgrounds is amazing. The Abyss is simultaneously breathtaking and terrifying and every inch of it is lavishly animated and conceptualized. One negative I have heard concerns the animation and look for the Abyss creatures as they have a sketchier style in comparison to the rest of the polished designs. They were designed and animated by Kou Yoshinari and I personally loved the way they moved. It made them feel alien and savage just as they should.

The Abyss is a neutral force in this universe--it is indifferent and chaotic. It doles out wonderment and pain in equal doses. Despite the lighthearted tone of the first few episodes, Made in Abyss is a harrowing tale. It reminds me of Now and Then, Here and There (1999) another anime with similar themes of children experiencing brutality. This is not a show for those who are easily bothered because some of the scenes and situations are downright upsetting. I find that the journey is that much more satisfying because of this, however. 

Kevin Penkin's score for Made in Abyss is one of the best OSTs I have heard in a long time. He mixes lush symphonic music with light touches of chiptune which gives it a JRPG feel. There is always something slightly distorted going on underneath every track which mirrors how the cute aesthetic of the show hides a menacing streak. There are also a few beautiful vocal pieces rounding out the music.

Made in Abyss is an absolute gem of a show and if you can stomach some darker material you will be richly rewarded with an excellent and moving tale.

--Michelle Kisner