I’ll go ahead and apologize in advance for the length of this post, since I had a hard time reigning in my enthusiasm for the first entry, Made in Abyss. While all of these particular series surprised and delighted me throughout the summer, Abyss will probably be one of the first up for a re-watch. Princess Principal is another show begging my return due to its unique format. Let me know what you thought about any or all three of them!
- 0 dango – average and forgettable.
- 1 dango – very good in its category.
- 2 dango – excellent show that is worth a try.
- 3 dango – exceptional show one must watch.
Made in Abyss
Made in Abyss is the kind of story that awakens the inner child eager and looking for adventure, while simultaneously frightening us straight into the arms of a protective loved one. Through art, casting, tone, and pacing, we are flown from the confines of our homes to a world full of danger and beauty. No detail is left untouched, no emotion forgotten. The Abyss takes our love and fear and maximizes them to their limits. If there is one show you should have been watching this summer, daresay this year, it’s Made in Abyss.
I still find it amazing how the opening scenes and music of the very first episode so easily capture the imagination. Showing us the Abyss, those who venture into it, and the creatures and artifacts that populate it sound like too much to cram in within the first ten minutes, but it works here as naturally as breathing. The scope of our vision is wide and appropriately accompanied by Kevin Penkin’s music, which is sometimes grandiose and at other times meditative. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be purchasing this soundtrack as soon as possible.
Of the many things this anime does well, I’m most impressed by the juxtaposition present in almost every scene. One of the most immediate examples are the character designs and setting. We are shown this hauntingly beautiful wilderness, as well as a city straight out of the fantastical imaginings of medieval Europe, then are made to follow a couple of bobble-headed kids. They look too simple for the carefully drawn buildings and landscapes. As we get to know them, the feeling of oddness fades, and you start to see how their wide eyes and fragile bodies better reflect their feelings about the Abyss and each other.
It doesn’t take long for viewers to find out that despite the show’s magical appearance and lovable characters, darkness and pain wait for the least expected moment to pounce. Perhaps it’s because of the setting and character designs that any moment of fear or agony stands out sharper than if this story were to take place in grungy side streets with mature adults. No human orifice is left unstained by blood. Urine soils countless trousers. We see flesh torn apart, and bones broken with a sickening crack.
The attention paid to details like a spreading stain on someone’s leg, or a request to chop an arm below the elbow so the limb can still be used later elevate each scene from not only showing instead of telling us, but also bringing them to life as if we’re actually there. The medicines on Nanachi’s wall aren’t there for decoration or to fill space; they represent her time spent on research and experimentation. We also get a greater sense of our characters’ emotions, like when we see into Riko’s mind as she recovers from the Orbed piercer’s attack.
My only misgiving about this adaptation is the manner in which children are handled, specifically their bodies. There’s a wonderful piece written by Vrai Kaiser over at Anime Feminist that tackles the topic. Almost every episode has a scene that strips one of the kids of their clothing, whether that be among the children themselves, or in the presence of an adult. The times where the nudity happens naturally, like when showering or swimming, don’t bother me. It’s when a particular appendage, like Reg’s penis, is repeatedly discussed and looked upon by others that gets to me. What is the purpose of repeatedly including it in the story? If it’s to emphasize Reg’s humanity, we get plenty of that with his reactions in different crises. If it’s to underline their weakness and youth in the face of the Abyss and adults like Habo and Jirou, it just feels superfluous. It’s like the person behind the camera can’t help but pay attention to these physical details, like they need to be present to fulfill a hidden desire. I don’t notice the angle often while watching the show, but it does jump out at me from time to time, and I wonder at how the story would differ if these scenes were re-written.
It’s important to note for those of you who haven’t seen this anime and are interested in trying it out that the story is unfinished. There’s more to see and explore, and hopefully we’ll have the chance to do so within the next couple of years. Regardless, these thirteen episodes are masterful on their own, and end in an appropriate place. Just like Riko, Reg, and Nanachi, we’ve come far and experienced some amazing things, but there’s far more to go and more stories worth telling.
Rating: 3 dango
Never in my life do I plan to gamble. Sure, humans gamble everyday with every decision we make. We gamble driving to work, flying on a plane, standing up or turning a corner, eating food that might choke or poison us, and pledging ourselves to another who might betray us. These gambles are unavoidable and part of life. Then there are the gambles taken willingly where the odds are not in our favor and the stakes soar incredibly high. Kakegurui surrounds characters who thrive off of such a lifestyle, people who are addicted beyond all reason or saving.
The structure of Kakegurui is a simple one. Each episode follows transfer student Jabami Yumeko as she challenges student after student in all kinds of different games, including cards; paper, rock, and scissors; and Russian roulette, among others. While it isn’t always guaranteed that she’ll win, we can be secure in the knowledge that we will witness a display of glorious greed and plenty of girl-on-girl lust.
I definitely do not think this anime is one just anyone can enjoy, and I certainly would not recommend it to others without having a strong grasp of their preferences. As repulsive as I find gambling and those who waste their lives away at it, I can’t deny the allure of this show and Jabami’s character. She’s a magnetic force I can’t help but follow and cheer on. Seeing her turn the tables on greedy girls like Sumeragi, or domineering boys like Jun deeply satisfies my more sensible self. I can also understand too well the masturbatory displays put on by Midari. The rules by which people like Yumeko and student council president Kirari play allow them to feel alive—what better way is there to feel the essence of life than to threaten its well being?
Rating: 1 dango
I’m going to go ahead and say it: no matter its ending, Princess Principal excels in a style most others can’t even begin to mimic. From the moment the opening of the first episode plays with its green-lit machinery and tosses its girls from a beautifully crafted steam-powered car, lovers of steampunk and Victorian-era mysteries can rejoice. And when we see Ange in her top hat purposefully fall from a spire far above the city and use her C-ball to defy gravity, we know that this might as well be a London from an entirely different planet…say, the Black Lizard Planet?
As an espionage series, Princess Principal has plenty of fun tropes to work with, like double agents, fancy gadgets, and the femme fatale spy. It’s all there, and played up with fantastic music and a knowing smirk. Every one of the girls has her own history and reason to betray the others, so it’s difficult to fully trust any of them. Even when they all get along, you can never forget their individual stories shown in other episodes.
Another of the interesting details of this show is that it isn’t aired in chronological order. Those familiar with shows like The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi won’t find the format too odd, those some viewers might have scratched their heads for a bit. The order even prompts us to re-watch everything by number of the case file, or perhaps in some other rearrangement, perhaps by character arc. If we could erase our memories from the first watch through and experience everything again in a different order, would our feelings change?
As tongue in cheek as the humor and spy plots are, I still expected the major conflict pitting faction against faction to resolve itself by the end of the series. Kingdom versus Commonwealth, Duke versus Princess, somewhere I needed an answer to all of the fighting and sneaking around. Princess Principal drops the ball after everything we’ve been through with an ending that feels more like a mid-way break than a stopping point. All of our cast pulls together for a heart-pumping finale, but the outcome doesn’t satisfy the desire for the wall to fall, no matter the episode title. There’s hope, yes, but not enough to curb my dismay at getting cut off from the Principal Team.
Rating: 2 dango