It’s pretty much a given now that any episode of Made in Abyss is going to be riveting, and that it’s going to be as good or better as anything airing that week. And this ep was certainly no different – it was another cinematic mini-masterpiece. But there’s a funny sort of thing happening with this show, which is that I find myself in a state of extreme tension watching it. I’ve heard so many tales about the dark turns to come that I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. And like Habo-san, I just want to take Riko and Reg in a big bear hug and protect them from all that. If that isn’t moe in the original sense of the word, I don’t know what is.
So does that anxiety come from prior knowledge (or at least suspicion), or is it that Made in Abyss is doing a good job of subtle foreshadowing? I imagine there’s some of both, but I wouldn’t discount the latter. Despite how cute the leads are and the overall jaunty air, there is something creepy in the atmosphere here – it always feels like something scary is just outside your field of vision. No matter how beautiful the scenery, there’s a definite sense of wrong to the Abyss and everything about it – this is not a place anyone should be going, much less little children, and it wants to do everything it can to reject those who try.
In fact, I think I stumbled on something there – I didn’t realize it till I wrote that previous sentence, but the Abyss is almost like a living organism, and it views the humans who invade and pillage it as an infection. When they go too deep it sickens them, and it dispatches unspeakably horrific creatures to try and kill them. Even if that’s not literally true it makes for a nice symbolism, anyway – but just saying it is, what does that makes relics? What does it make Reg?
For now, Reg is a gallant little warrior – protecting Riko (from herself as much as anything – who wants to bet losing that netherworld-compass thing is going to prove crucial?)) at all times, analyzing what’s happening, looking for danger. When Riko falls asleep he makes a motion-sensitive cage out of his hands. When hunger strikes he dives into the water and catches fish. When giant Shelob-like “silkfangs” attack, he throws his hand at them and carries Riko to safety. And he is, every more certainly, a real boy in every way that matters – even he seems to sense that now. What is the strange memory that flashes in his mind – the sound of his own voice calling out?
In addition to the dangers of the Abyss itself, there’s the matter of Leader – who did indeed plant that envelope in Reg’s pocket. Of course he knew what Riko was planning – he knew since she was a toddler she’d do it eventually. The envelope is both a benediction and a challenge – a copy of Lyza’s letter, but also a warning that Leader and his search parties will be coming after Reg and Riko. If they can’t avoid human searchers and make it to the mere second level, what chance do they have of making it to the netherworld’s bottom?
The pursuer that catches up to the intrepid pair, however, is Habo. He’s been sent by Nat and Shiggy, who enticed him with the prospect of being able to see a “supreme treasure of the netherworld” (unfortunately for poor Reg – whose privacy is perpetually under attack – Habo does much more than that). Habo’s task is to see Riko and Reg to the second level, to the “seeker camp” – and to the “immovable” White Whistle, Ozen. But (I would argue unwisely) Riko refuses – on the grounds that it would be a betrayal of the spirit of the challenge Leader has set up for her. It’s a long way down and Riko and Reg are very, very small and can use all the help they can get. But pride is pride…
This is all utterly compelling stuff, top to bottom – when you’re as enraptured in the setting and characters as I am, that’s hardly surprising. But another word here for the staff at Kinema Citrus, who’re putting in a hell of s shift here. The Abyss (like Orth was) really is a character unto itself – the use of light and shadow, the movement of clouds across distant rock formations, even the sound design – this is all elite work, make no mistake. When you put together a staff with this many industry legends in it and give them material they can be really passionate about, the potential for magic is always there. And so far, Made in Abyss is abundantly delivering on that potential.