Episode 9 is about the point with really, really good shows where the danger of repeating yourself becomes acute. You can only say a series is great so many ways, but when one almost never puts a foot wrong it’s hard not to harp on everything it does right. The good thing with Made in Abyss is that it does give you an embarrassment of riches to compliment, given that it does so many things brilliantly – and this week what stood out for me was (again) the music and the art design. The Keven Penkin music speaks for itself – from the soaring vocals of Marulk’s farewell scene to the diamond-sharp strings that accompany Riko and Reg’s discovery of the Great Fault, it’s easily the best soundtrack of the season.
On the visual side, there’s a glorious murderer’s row of talent in this staff, but two that very definitely stand out are Masuyama Osamu and Yoshinari Kou. Masuyama-san is the Ghibli veteran who’s in charge of the glorious backgrounds of Made in Abyss, and believe me – as beautiful as the manga is, Masuyama has surpassed it. The world he creates is simultaneously beautiful and terrifying in exactly the way this story needs. As for Yoshinari-san, well – he’s one of the few you’ll see credited for “Monster Design” on an anime (I can’t recall a single other, as it happens), and his nightmarish visions are integral to telling the story Made in Abyss is trying to tell. The Abyss isn’t simply the place Masuyama creates – it’s every bit as much the creatures Yoshinari populates it with.
As it turns out, some of this episode was anime-original – perhaps an indication that the staff are shifting things around a bit jostling for a logical stopping point (update: the final episode will be an hour). It didn’t skip a beat, with a focus on what life would be like for Riko on this journey if Reg were not with her (hint: short). I do like the fact that the anime played this element up a bit, because Riko has been somewhat one-note through a good portion of the story. it must be said, though, that there wasn’t a whole lot here to make one think Riko would have any chance of survival sans Reg. She seemed to spend most of the time he was unconscious trying to get herself eaten.
Yes, Reg was out light a light for much of this episode – thanks to his own very powerful light. The first creature we run into seems harmless enough – the Neritantan, which looks like a mouse that’s been put through a printing press with no ink in it. These poor little furballs provide food for Reg and Riko (and everything else down on the Third Level, seemingly), and also a sacrificial decoy when another beastie shows up, the “Madokajack” (sounds like an angsty pancake). Reg and Riko stumble into one’s den as they pick their way down the sheer walls of the Great Fault, from hole to hole.
Reg’s decision to use Incinerator to take out the Madokajack seems like the right one, because in the moment he didn’t really have any choice. He took Ozen’s advice, making sure there would be no second encounter with the beast – but hot on its tail comes the crimson splitjaw that Reg wounded in the first episode. He manages to retain consciousness long enough for he and Riko to tumble down a shaft too small for the splitjaw and into relative safety, but Riko brazenly disregards Reg’s instructions to stay put until he wakes up.
Riko… I know she’s courageous in her way and stubborn as hell, but her recklessness just never seems to improve. In truth this episode did nothing to dissuade me of the notion that she’s totally dependent on Reg (which is fine by him, of course). Because she’s hungry she almost immediately leaves the hidey-hole the children have fallen into, following her nose towards the scent of the Baracocha fruit the neritantan love – apparently never considering the notion that it could be a scent trap. What follows is a very gross scene where Riko does, in fact, manage to get herself and Reg eaten – by a beastie called an Amakagame. She does have the wherewithal to cut her way out, at least, but the lingering scent of barachocha turns even the neritantan into potentially deadly creatures.
What really strikes you watching this episode is that anyone, much less a small child, would have to be nuts to go into this place of their own accord. Despite its vastness the Abyss feels claustrophobic with the knowledge that new horrors lurk around every corner and in every shadow. Riko does live to stumble through another day – because Reg wakes just as the crimson splitjaw catches them up and because of the weapon Ozen gave them – but at the rate this is going, it’s only a matter of time until their luck runs out. Reg is a powerful little fellow, but he has his limitations – and with someone like Riko to look after, this is a place where he can ill-afford them.