I’m opening this year’s 12 Days of Anime with a series that will no doubt top the lists of many people: Made in Abyss, a show that aired in the summer and immediately swept through the community like a Chinook wind. While there were several great works released over the past months, Made in Abyss easily outpaced my expectations and became one of my favorites, if not the favorite, of the year. Everything from its setting, story, characters, and even music felt wonderfully new. It is a fantasy, yes, but one that distinguishes itself from others of its genre.
Usually, I find myself comparing fantasy works to one another, picking out influences from known series and ultimately deciding whether or not the newer anime improves or fails within certain parameters. I almost never found myself doing that with Made in Abyss. For once, I was immersed in the story and too absorbed to think of anything else. There was no other series I looked forward to as much each week, and there’s no question in my mind that I’ll be purchasing the U.S. releases of the soundtrack and Blu-rays when available.
In addition to the sense of adventure permeating every scene, there was also an array of creatures populating the Abyss that defied sensibility—the corpse-weeper, orb-piercer, and crimson splitjaw, to name a few. Like the best monsters of horror films and written works, these inhabitants seem more than just wild; they are predatory in calculating ways almost human in design. It’s almost like the creator reached straight into our the darkest reaches of our minds and pulled out our most repressed fears. We are the prey and they the superior species. The creatures are also aided by the natural side effects of attempting to climb back home. Together, they are the gatekeepers of this last frontier (sorry, Alaska).
There are also the humans who continue time and time again to descend into the depths. These legendary cave raiders, “White Whistles,” seem to sacrifice much of their own humanity to survive both the wild and the burden of ascent. If you thought you knew nightmares, then you clearly haven’t met “Bondrewd the Novel.” His obsession with the Abyss and its side effects knows no bounds, and he presents the next logical path of the story whether that be another full series, specials, or films. He is more terrifying than the corpse-weeper because he should be just as human as the children he deceives.
As horrifying as many scenes are in Made in Abyss, equally wonderful are plenty of other moments spent with Reg and Riko. I cannot think of the show without hearing the insert song from the very first episode, “Underground River.” I listened to this song on repeat. As we trek upward from the first layer back to the orphanage with Riko, Reg, and Nat to the lyrics of the song, I wonder at the scenery and mystery. The desire to explore is impossible to ignore.
Another moment much less enjoyable but equally powerful comes at the very end of the series between Reg, Nanachi, and Mitty. At that point, we’ve learned about Nanachi and Mitty’s history, as well as the twisted experiments enacted by Bondrewd. All that wonder and excitement from the first episode now tastes sour in the face of Mitty’s constant pain. If ever there was a time where I thought Reg just as human as everyone else, it’s here. His aversion to death and suffering fits my idea of a healthy human being; Riko’s desensitized reaction to both in turn makes her less relatable. Everyone who should have been present during Mitty’s final moments was there: her first and only friend, and the robot boy who cried for them.
Those of us who descended into the depths with our young adventurers experienced something truly special, a story I hope will continue sooner rather than later. Made in Abyss may be a work of fantasy, but it captures all too well the human condition. We learned of our fragility and strength, and of our adaptability in even the harshest of environments. The chasm challenges our very sense of being while simultaneously drawing us inside of it with little hope of escape. If you haven’t seen this show, then I dare you to jump in with the rest of us.
Watch Made in Abyss on Anime Strike or HIDIVE.