And right on cue, shit starts to get real…
Truthfully, the shit was already pretty real with Made in Abyss. This show is a masterpiece in two respects (well, most respects – but specifically…) – playing off the contrast between light and dark, and using cinematography to create an escalating sense of tension. Most live-action horror films could learn a thing or twelve from the way Made in Abyss set up the story in the first four episodes – and set up the audience too, truth be told.
But even so, things are clearly changing at this stage of the story. The final shot of the OP for starters – Nat and the others are gone now, which I fear is an indication we’ll see little of them in the remainder of the story. And while the first four episodes ably educated us about the dangers little Reg and Riko were descending into and forcing us to expect them around around corner and behind every rock or tree, they didn’t actually face any – not really. Not anything more dangerous than hanging naked or having probes stuck in places they shouldn’t be stuck while unconscious. Now, the real perils begin.
The intermediate goal of this excursion to the bottom of the world is the Seeker Camp – which one hardly expects to be a welcoming refuge based on what we’ve heard, but hopefully at least a safe haven. But things take a dark turn almost immediately, as Reg hears a cry for help and takes off to offer aid (because the little guy is basically fearless). Something is off about this, instinctively we know it – and indeed, the terrible scene Reg (and soon Riko) stumble onto is only the tip of the iceberg. The one calling for help is not the cave raider being devoured by the giant winged creature we saw in Episode 4 – it’s the creature itself, a “Corpse Weeper” which mimics the death cries of its victims in order to lure in more food.
Well, that’s pretty dark for starters. And peril grips our heroes directly (and literally) for the first time when another of the corpse weepers grabs Riko and flies off with her. Of course Reg is going to try and save her – but again, it’s striking how human his reactions are here. He’s frantic that he’ll miss his “throw” with his hand and lose his chance to rescue Riko, and when he’s set upon by still more of the creatures he sheds tears of frustration and grief. These birds remind me a it of the velociraptors in Jurassic Park – they work together and hunt as a team. Terrifying, indeed – and surely, there are far worse to come (a word of praise here for legendary animator Yoshinari Kou, who’s in charge of “Monster Design” for this series – all of these nightmares come from his fevered imagination).
No less fascinating is the rescue – which comes by means of Reg shooting a powerful beam (Riko later dubs it “The Incinerator“) out of his left hand (which is how he saved Riko when we first met him – and as then, shooting it seems to tire him out). When Reg stares at the devastation this causes and plaintively wonders “What in the world am I?” it’s impossible not to do the same. Just what is this noble child who’s so human on an emotional level, yet clearly isn’t? Riko’s journey here is straightforward – like Gon, she seeks a legendary missing parent – but Reg’s is the more interesting. He seeks no less than to find out who and what he is, and on balance he’s a far more complicated proposition than Riko (and I’m not talking about stuff like the writing that appears on his helmet’s display – though that, too).
The aftermath of this crisis is rather more subdued, but in its quiet way just as unsettling. Riko prepares dinner from the meat of the corpse weeper Reg’s beam has killed – and it’s only Reg who seems bothered by the obvious implications. This is evidence, really, of just how brutal is the world the children of Orth live in – to them, feasting on the beasts who kill and eat their fellow humans is just a part of life (in fact a cause to celebrate, a rare chance to have meat). Being killed and eaten is just an occupational hazard, something that could be waiting for any of them tomorrow.
Finally (after a gorgeous montage of Riko and Reg descending to the strains of Kevin Penkin’s soundtrack and an encounter with a frightening pack of simians in the Inverted Forest) there’s the Seeker Camp. And at that camp, of course, awaits Ozen (Ohara Sayaka) – she already the legend Riko hopes to become, and someone whose impact on the lives of Reg and Riko is sure to be profound, even if it’s less certain whether she’s going to be a true ally or not.