OP:”Deep in Abyss” by Miyu Tomita & Mariya Ise
If I’m truthful,, Made in Abyss wasn’t just the best premiere of the season, it wasn’t even that close. It would be wrong to say this series caught me totally by surprise – it was my top sleeper pick of the season – but as far as being the best series, it did come from pretty far off the radar scope. It’s a long way until we say that – the other top contenders didn’t exactly stumble out of the gate, and two of them (Ballroom and Altair) have two cours to make their case. But it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say Made in Abyss is building a formidable early lead.
In that light, it should come as no surprise that I found the second episode to be every bit as transcendent as the first. Whatever “it” is, Abyss has it – that unmistakable quality that tells you a show is special. Kinema Citrus has been fairly quiet in recent seasons but the staff (starting with director Kojima-sensei) is pure class, and that shows through in every aspect of this production. The OP and ED are pitch-perfect, the backgrounds are gorgeous and the animation fluid, and the world-building is off the charts. The world of Made in Abyss is truly a magical place, and as frightening as it clearly is, I wouldn’t trade the chance to spend a half-hour in it every week for anything in anime.
Made in Abyss puts me in mind of Togashi as directed by Miyazaki – and if you find that prospect as intoxicating as I do, this series is right up your street. The juxtaposition of Gon and Killua’s innocence and cuteness (it’s purely coincidence that Ise Mariya is voicing Reg, but a nice one) against the Byzantine and often terrible worlds Togashi created are what made Hunter X Hunter so special, and there’s a great deal of that here. Great serious anime about children are rare (Dennou Coil is another one whose fingerprints are on the Abyss staff list), and the children at the heart of this story are a picture of innocence and charm. Yet they’re being exploited, unmistakably – and aspiring towards a life that’s one of the most dangerous imaginable. The knowledge of the threat that awaits them gives Made in Abyss a diamond-sharp edge.
There’s a lot of exposition in this episode, but it flows very smoothly and organically – first as Riko, Nat and Shiggy (Numakura Manami) bring Reg up to speed on his new life, and later when Leader (real name Jiruo) does the same for Riko with her past. That latter scene offers character exposition, too, because it shows us that Leader is kinder than his brash persona reveals (and that he has a connection to Riko’s mother, “Lyza the Annihilator”). The Abyss seems akin to a sea in that descending into it and then ascending causes symptoms similar to decompression sickness, and it’s hinted that ascending from the sixth level can cause a person to “lose their humanity” – perhaps turning them into nightmare beasts like we saw in the premiere.
Riko has a “deeper” connection to all this – her mother (the most legendary “White Whistle”, highest-ranking cave raiders) gave birth to her on the fourth level while trying to claim a relic called “The Unheard Bell“, which can supposedly stop time. She only got Riko to the surface using a relic that fights the sickness, but Riko’s eyes were damaged in the process. Lyza seems to be missing in action now, but her fellow raider Habo brings Riko her white whistle, along with a letter from the depths – one which reveals that she seems to have met up with Reg far down in the Abyss.
Reg, of course, is the greatest mystery of all – and perhaps the greatest relic. Shiggy’s plan is to have him pose as an orphan and join the Red Whistles, which he does – though not before Riko has performed an ungodly detailed examination of him while he was unconscious. Reg seems in most ways a real boy, and not just in his soft skin and naughty bits – he feels self-consciousness and embarrassment, and has a profound sense of self-awareness. Clearly, he and Riko are going to journey into the Abyss together to search for the mother who awaits “at the netherworld’s bottom”. And just as clearly, that journey is going to be perilous and probably tragic – but if the first two episodes are anything to go on, it’s also going to be utterly spellbinding.
ED: “Tabi no Hidarite, Saihate no Migite” by Miyu Tomita, Mariya Ise, & Shiori Izawa