Since Made in Abyss’ new movie is shelved, I take a look at the 2017 animated series.
Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul appears to be another casualty of Covid-19 shuttering theaters. While technically the third movie in the franchise, it is the first movie that’s not just a rehash of the series, instead acting as a continuation of the story. Despite getting a popularity boost by being picked up by Amazon Prime, Made in Abyss’ second season has languished in production limbo, now rumored to be pushed back to late 2020 or even 2021.
Since the delayed movie picks up from where the first season ended, I decided to fire up Prime and check it out. There’s definitely some steak underneath all of the sizzle, but you have to eat quite a few vegetables before you can chow down.
Made in Abyss (2017)
A yawning chasm lies at the heart of the sprawling city of Orth. Over generations, cave divers have attempted to sound its depth…and to dig up the priceless artifacts scattered throughout it. Each layer of the Abyss is increasingly dangerous, containing predatory creatures, challenging terrain, and “the curse of the Abyss” – a mysterious ailment that makes returning to the surface harder as you go deeper.
Each tier of the Abyss is scouted by explorers with color coded whistles. Riko is a young girl in the lowest order of red whistles. Her mother, missing for ten years, was a white whistle, the apex of the order. Hoping to ascend through the ranks, Riko pushes herself ever deeper till one day she discovers Reg, a robot with no memory but astounding abilities. Riko hopes Reg is the key to traversing the Abyss and finding her mother.
Episode 1: The City of the Great Pit.
Riko explores deep into the first tier of the Abyss, hoping to earn a promotion with a big find. Her friend Nat lags behind and draws the attention of a hungry predator. Using her whistle, Riko lures the beast away, but is soon cornered herself. A sudden blast scares the creature away, and Riko follows back to its source: an unconscious robot boy she names Reg.
The animation for Made in Abyss absolutely bursts with color and life. Kinema Citrus studio, an animation company packed with talent from some of the biggest studios in Japan, delivers vibrant and cheerful character models and tremendous background work. Osamu Masuyama, famous for working on numerous Studio Ghibli features and the stunning Your Name, composes incredibly intricate scenes, both in the rustic town of Orth and the otherworldly settings of the Abyss.
Episode 1 is solid: the characters are engaging, the pace is just a bit on the slow side, but the world created by author Akahito Tsukushi and evoked by the artists at Kinema Citrus just makes you eager to dive into the Abyss with Riko and Reg.
Episode 2: Resurrection Festival.
Riko, unable to jog Reg’s memories, comes up with a scheme to enroll him in the red whistle group. As Reg comes to learn about Orth and its relation to the Abyss, a clamor goes up for a returning group of black whistles, the second highest order of explorers. One of the black whistles, Habo, brings back two items for Riko: a mysterious journal, and her mother’s white whistle.
Episode 2 suffers quite a bit for being the “set-up” episode. I just wanted to plunge into the weird world of the Abyss, but instead we get way too much clowning around with Riko being a screw-up. While the plot points are important, and the lore building was nice, I wished that this episode had been shrunk down and added to episode 3.
Episode 3: Departure.
Convinced that her mother is still alive at the bottom of the Abyss, Riko makes plans to slip out and head into the Abyss. Reg volunteers to follow, as an entry in the journal holds out slim chance that Riko’s mother may know who or what Reg really is.
Same as before, episode 3 just made me want to pull my hair out. It could easily have been paired down and combined with the last episode. It felt like if Peter Jackson had made the whole first Lord of the Rings movie just about Frodo and Sam getting ready to leave the Shire. (Not like old Pete’s shy about carving up content…) Hurry it up and get into the pit already!
Binge or Purge?: Made in Abyss.
This is a tough one. I’m not coming at this review unbiased: based on what I know of the manga and the surface similarities to other series that I love like Girl’s Last Tour, I’m really invested in sticking it out with this series. I have to give those caveats, because I feel that if I didn’t come to this show with high hopes, I would probably just say Purge and go on to something else.
There’s so much potential to Made in Abyss. The characters are cute and potentially endearing. The artwork is just jaw dropping. The surreal nature of the Abyss, with all of the astute world-building, really got its hooks into me. I just can’t stand all of the dawdling. The episodes are 25 minutes long but feel like an hour. Hopefully once Riko and Reg actually get into the Abyss, the pace picks up. God, I hope so.
Binge or Purge: Both?