Review for Made In Abyss Collector's Edition
Four nights! Four nights, I have been watching The Seven Mortal Sins for review; a fan service extravaganza with no redeeming features, rapidly causing me to lose the will to live, draining my wits, reducing me to a gibbering wreck to the point that I keep asking myself why I review this crap... I finally muster up the willpower and strength to put the first disc of Made in Abyss into the player, and two minutes later I have my answer. I put up with the dregs, as it means that once in a while I get to sample an anime of this immaculate vintage. Fans have been raving about Made in Abyss; the series was so good that it got re-edited into two feature films, and they’re making a sequel feature film as well. I’ve got to have me some of this.
2000 years ago, the Abyss appeared, a bottomless pit from which came a whole host of strange creatures, and which harbours relics whose form and function are lost to modern society. Naturally such a mysterious resource drew all manner of explorers, and around the Pit, the city of Orth grew up, and a hierarchy of cave raiders developed.
Riko is a young orphan who lives at the Belchero Orphanage, and she has been trained as a cave raider along with the other orphans to retrieve the relics that support the orphanage. It’s a dangerous vocation, and she’s only just earned the Red Whistle that signifies her ability to descent to the first level. It isn’t long before she runs into trouble, but she finds an unlikely saviour, literally so. She’s saved by a boy who is a Relic in his own right, an amnesiac robot that she dubs Reg, and who she contrives to sneak into the orphanage.
When a letter arrives from the Abyss, the last missive of an elite White Whistle, it turns out to be from Riko’s long absent mother, Lyza. The letter states that Lyza waits at the bottom of the Abyss, where no one has ever ventured. She’s far from ready, but Riko decides to travel to the depths of the Abyss, and Reg chooses to help her, in the hope that he can recover his memories as well.
The thirteen episodes of Made in Abyss are presented across two Blu-rays from MVM along with extra features. Note that the final episode 13 is a double length episode running to 48½ minutes.
1. The City of the Great Pit
2. Resurrection Festival
4. The Edge of the Abyss
6. Seeker Camp
7. The Unmovable Sovereign
8. Survival Training
9. The Great Fault
10. Poison and the Curse
12. The True Nature of the Curse
13. The Challengers
Made in Abyss gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer and it is a nice HD transfer, clear and sharp, bringing the quirky and fluid animation across to delightful effect. With this release, I was once again reminded how much equipment plays a part in evaluating a series. Most abysses are dark, and this one is no exception, with a lot of the anime taking part in lower light conditions, and when there is change in light conditions in animation, there tends to be banding. Made in Abyss suffers from light banding. Now when I watched it on my Sony 32” set, that’s a TV where you can’t turn all the processing off, and there was quite a bit of banding. The episodes I watched on my main Panasonic 37” weren’t nearly as bad, and that’s a set that offers the user more control over the display settings. So your mileage may vary when it comes to the visual presentation, depending on how you watch it.
I was paying more attention to the video this time, as Made in Abyss is a magical animation, of theatrical quality throughout, rich with colour and imagination. It has a cutesy design aesthetic to its characters that you might think would appeal to a younger audience, but the story itself is quite dark and stands in contrast with the animation style. This has the effect of actually enhancing the drama and the emotion of the piece, as it reinforces the thought that it’s actually children going through these harsh trials. Made in Abyss is unlike any anime you’ll have seen before, and that is reason enough to watch it, even if it is the least reason to do so.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with English subtitles and signs locked during playback. I was happy with the Japanese audio, and really appreciated the voice cast bringing to life such engaging and emotive characters. The action comes across well, and the show’s music has a theatrical depth to it that matches the quality of the visuals. It makes you wish that the Limited Edition also had the soundtrack CD. What I sampled of the English dub seemed up to the challenge. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos, but one phrase sticks with me in its awkwardness, “ominous omen”. It just sounds internally redundant. I had one issue with the Japanese audio, at 7:44 into episode 7, where there was a loud pop on my Panasonic stand-alone player. However, I couldn’t repeat the issue on my Panasonic home cinema, so it’s probably a player specific thing.
The discs present their content with static menus and each episode is followed by a translated English credit reel.
Usually Limited Editions are stuck with fancy packaging and physical extras, as on-disc extra features with anime are hard to come by for Western distributors. This time is different, as disc 2 is practically bursting with extra features, and should make purchasers smile when it comes to the standard edition release as well.
On disc 2, you’ll find the usual textless credits, four openings and three closings, as well as the 2:01 Japanese trailer for the show, and 4:31 of Japanese promos.
You also get an interview with Kevin Penkin, composer for the show. This lasts 16:34.
The Jouei Event lasts 25:00 and is one of the stage events where the three voice actresses behind Reg, Riko and Nanachi do a little Q&A.
The Making Of – Made in Abyss 01 lasts 17:41, and this is joined by Making Of – Made in Abyss 02 which runs to 19:49, and both go behind the scenes at Studio Kinema Citrus with a couple of voice actresses and the creator of the story.
Finally you get to see some musicians and the composer at work in Music in Abyss. This lasts 6:12 and sits in on a recording session.
I was expecting something good from Made in Abyss, but not this good. Just like The Ancient Magus Bride, which I recently reviewed, Made in Abyss made a big splash in fan circles when it was initially streamed. People were talking about it, posting about it, and lauding its praises. Sometimes that can be just a flash in the pan, a flavour of the month show, but once in a while it turns out to be something really special, potentially timeless. Made in Abyss is definitely the latter. If you want a quick descriptor, think Ghibli for adults
Made in Abyss is a children’s adventure series, one where the characters are twelve-year-old children, not the audience. It has a bright, colourful, fantasy world design, and the character designs are so cutesy and adorable, you can envisage toys and plushies populating any child’s bedroom, with Made in Abyss wallpaper and duvet covers. But the story takes the audience to some dark places, literally and figuratively. This isn’t a show that you’d want anyone under twelve watching, and maybe not younger than fifteen either.
You can’t get a premise more suited to a young audience either. You have an orphan girl receiving a message from her long lost mother, and deciding to go searching for her, joined by an amnesiac boy who believes that his past lies at the same destination. It’s a long, dangerous journey, through lands populated by strange characters and dangerous beasts, and with a bizarre magic inherent to the voyage. And once again, Made in Abyss layers the story with complexity and nuance that would be lost on younger audiences, and a realism that would downright terrify them.
The Abyss is a fantastic creation, an unexplained, bottomless pit, nearly a mile across, that suddenly appeared in the world. From its depths rise strange creatures, and where can be found, relics of a long forgotten age, mysterious artefacts which when deciphered can be of great value to modern society. And so around the Abyss, a community of Cave Raiders has gathered, cities built and industries created all around the exploration of the Abyss. The depths of the Abyss receive light due to an ethereal force field, and so life exists at all layers. A hierarchy of Cave Raiders descend into the Abyss, determined by the colour of whistle they wear around their neck. Red Whistles are newly qualified and can descend to the first layer; the White Whistles are the heroes, the legends, the scarce few who can descend as far as possible, have the experience to deal with the strange life down there, and can return with the most fantastic of artefacts. The problem comes with ascending from the Abyss, causing effects in people that are worse than the bends by far. Just coming up from the first layer causes nausea and dizziness; coming up from deeper can be far more dangerous with many suffering permanent changes, if they survive at all. That’s why the White Whistles are so revered.
Riko’s mother Lyza was a White Whistle, whose call to the Abyss was so strong that she left her daughter behind in an orphanage, and was eventually believed lost in the Abyss. The orphanage survives on the relics its children can find in the first layer of the Abyss, and Riko’s newly qualified as a Red Whistle, yet pumped up with the confidence of having a White Whistle for a mother, dreaming of emulating her, when she finds the cyborg boy Reg, a ‘robot’ with extendable arms and legs, and a mysterious beam weapon embedded in his palm. The first few episodes follow Riko and her friends as they attempt to keep Reg a secret, lest he be taken away and dismantled as a strange Relic.
It’s when news comes from the Abyss, that Lyza’s Whistle has been found (officially declaring her dead), that the story takes a turn. The Whistle comes with Lyza’s last testament, including a letter to her daughter, telling her that she waits at the bottom of the Abyss. Riko decides to go and find her, and Reg, who sees a chance at discovering his past, joins her. He may have no memory of the Abyss, and all that Riko knows is what she’s read in books, learned in class. Anything below the first layer is a new adventure for her, while explorers have only reached the sixth layer and reported back with any accuracy.
The first layer may be a little familiar to Riko, but they get into a whole lot of trouble in the second layer on their way to the Seeker Camp on the third layer. The Seeker Camp is a way-station for Cave Raiders, a place where they can stop off in relatively safety. Riko’s looking for Ozen, who used to be her mother’s partner. They find her there, and they also find a tall, forbidding, ridiculously strong and openly malicious and manipulative person who they have to literally fight for information. And so begins a period of training for them to prepare them for the horrors of the deeper levels. Riko also learns of the circumstances of her birth, and some more of her mother’s life.
Towards the end of the series, they make it past the fourth layer, but come up against a challenge that seems terminal on the fifth. It’s also where they meet the adorably cute, rabbit-like Nanachi and her freakish ‘pet’ Mitty. Nanachi and Mitty’s story is perhaps the most tragic in all the series, and given what we learn of Lyza’s past, Riko’s birth, and what Riko and Reg face on layer five, that’s really saying something. This is a show that regularly has your heart in your mouth, and can move you to tears with its drama. It helps that its characterisations and writing are so good. You really get invested in Riko and Reg’s journey, and will them to succeed against all the horrible odds that they face.
Normally I’d be complaining at this point that the story ends on an open note, that the journey isn’t complete, more adventures yet to be had. But the quality of the show in these 13 episodes is such that I don’t for one second begrudge an open ending. This is a show where you live in the moment in each episode even more than anticipating what is yet to come. Normally I’d pooh-pooh the idea of compilation movies, but the storytelling, and the visuals and audio are so theatrical, that I’m actually interested in seeing what the first two Made in Abyss compilation movies look like. The story might actually be even better in feature film format, especially if it gets a surround sound audio mix. It goes without saying that the third feature film, the continuation to the story itself can’t come soon enough. If you’re going to get just one anime show this year, make it Made in Abyss.