I won’t lie, it’s been quite some time since an anime episode knocked me on my ass like that one. I knew the story was headed in this kind of direction, but even so it shakes you up a little to see events like we saw in this episode play out on screen. I needed to drift away when it was over and think about other things before I could come back to this post – I won’t exactly say I can write about it in a clear-headed fashion now, but at least I can make my fingers work.
If I might stream-of-consciousness a bit here, a couple of things ran through my mind in succession as I was watching this episode. First, that there’s just so much “differentness” about Made in Abyss. It’s not so much that it’s the best new series of the summer (though it is, clearly) but that it’s so unique. Who else is giving us backgrounds this beautiful and richly detailed, rendered with endless imagination? Who else is putting so much care into every nook and cranny of the production, making sure it’s never less than exceptional? In an age when anime is increasingly churning out shows trying to be familiar and safe, I’m that much more grateful toward ones that are bound and determined to be different.
The second thing – which I’ve mentioned before – was that Reg and Riko do not belong in this place. No one does, really – though mankind’s compulsion to understand the unknown (and to chase riches) will always win the day in cases like this. But Reg and Riko are so small, so helpless, so vulnerable – and as powerful as Reg is this episode reminds us of how emotionally vulnerable he is. That thought sometimes ran through my mind with Hunter X Hunter, too – that Gon and Killua (though it was almost always Gon that was the driver with Killua helplessly dragged in his wake) brought so much heartache on themselves with their restlessness and urgent forward momentum. The Abyss is a terrible place that does terrible things to people, and the terrible things we saw in this episode didn’t need to happen. But they did, because people make bad choices sometimes.
As with so much of Made in Abyss, the Fourth Level is both hauntingly beautiful and terrible. The Goblets of Giants are the centerpiece of a a misty, dank, and green dreamscape that we know is sure to hold unspeakable terrors. The one we meet first is the “Orbed Piercer” – which like most of Yoshinari-sensei’s beasties is scary enough, but is truly terrifying because it seems to be able to read Reg’s mind and know what he intends to do before he does it (Riko tells us this is a common trait of creatures this deep – oh, joy). It waylays the children in the swamps beneath the goblets, and its initial attack separates them from Ozen’s Blaze Reap (first incidentally, then on purpose).
The real kicker here is that the orbed piercer attacks with poisonous spines, which Riko’s umbrella does little to protect against (they can pierce steel, supposedly). One of them impales Riko’s hand, and the poison begins to work immediately. Reg’s panic at this moment is so tangible, and Ise Mariya does such a magnificent job of communicating it. Once more I’m struck by how human Reg is, everything in the way he reacts so believable for of a 12 year-old – no less so than Riko’s. With the blaze reap submerged and Incinerator not an option for obvious reasons, the only direction to go is up – even with the terrible price for Riko that’s implicit in that.
As to what happens next, there’s no need to be graphic here – you saw it. So did I, though I don’t mind admitting that there were moments when I couldn’t bear to watch – I felt as terrible for Reg to have to do what he was doing as I did for Riko, who was suffering through it. No kid should ever have to experience something like this – it’s just brutal in every sense of the word. The irony here is that in her semi-delirious state, Riko is at her most indispensable during this sequence – her knowledge of what’s happened and what must be done the only thing that gives her a chance to survive.
This is a very visceral sequence of events – Reg’s scream at the orbed piercer, Riko’s screams of agony, the grotesque angle of her broken arm… There’s no mercy in the storytelling – it’s a full-on, frontal assault on the audience. And when Riko seemingly stops breathing, Reg’s abject despair is utterly heartbreaking. It’s at this existential low ebb that the elephant in the room finally reveals itself, and the creature whose presence is all over the OP and ED finally appears. Her appearance seems to offer a sense of respite, but then the defense mechanisms kick in for both Reg and the audience – who or what can possibly be trusted in this strange and terrible place?
Nanachi (Izawa Shiori) does indeed help Reg save Riko’s life – she teaches him how to do mouth-to-mouth (refreshingly free of the lame jokes that so many anime would insert inappropriately in this moment), even tells Reg she’s there to “offer comfort” to he and Riko. Who – and what – is Nanachi, anyway? She refers to herself as a “Hollow” and if anything, looks like a bunny girl. She takes the kids back to her hideout (which is, by the way, another gorgeous setting), and what struck me about that place is the whistles hanging on her wall – that seemed to me an ominous image to say the least. We’ll surely find out more about Nanachi in next week’s episode, which I can only hope for the sake of my emotional well-being isn’t quite as intense as this week was.