I watched an anime: Made in Abyss

Made in Abyss: surreal, dark and utterly charming

Made in Abyss: surreal, dark and utterly charming

“Hmm, over stylised characters. Nice colour palette. An unusual amount of discussion about buttholes”.

Those were my initial thoughts as I dove headfirst into Made in Abyss, the new anime series based on Akihito Tsukushi’s web manga of the same name. It’s not often the phrase “An unusual amount of discussion about buttholes” is thrown around my notebook, but as I pressed on throughout the series it seemed the topic of, ahem, rusty plugholes popped its head up on more occasions than I think I can recall in all my years of watching anime.

Look, I don’t want to make this review poop-chute centric, but so far I’ve counted at least 4 times there have been references to things being inserted in the back passages of our two protagonists. Children, mind you.

Poo shooters aside, I gotta say, so far this is a pretty great series.

It has all the hallmarks of a great adventure movie, but set in what appears to be an otherworldly locale that wouldn’t be out of place in a Ghibli movie like Laputa: Castle in the sky or Katsuhiro Otomo’s Steamboy. It’s hard to explain, but it feels so genuinely authentic in the way it seems to buck the trends of traditional anime fan service and go back to basics with a good old fashioned Indiana Jones style fantasy adventure.

So what’s it about? The story revolves around an orphan girl named Riko that lives in the town of Osu, a community that has been built on the side of a cavernous rift in the Earth’s surface called The Abyss.

Osu is a thriving city that has become wealthy from the trade of artifacts found in The Abyss. The city’s social order is a caste system, where the most revered members of society are the ‘White Whistles’, the heroic men and women of The Abyss that have travelled the deepest, discovered the most and chartered more undiscovered landscapes than anyone else.

Of course there is a downside to travelling in The Abyss – The best relics are found in the furthest reaches and are protected by a mysterious curse. The further you go down, the harder it is to come back up.

Upon receiving a message from deep in The Abyss, Riko and her new robot friend Reg descend deep into the Earth’s surface to find her mother, Osu’s most famous White Whistle, knowing very well that they’ll never be able to return.

It’s wonderfully simplistic in its approach and to be honest that’s what adds to the appeal. Every episode isn’t over complicated or weighted down with unnecessary exposition. The goal for our protagonists is simple: reach the bottom of The Abyss and find Riko’s mother. Along the way we learn new things about each layer, avoid an ever evolving array of hideous monsters and meet the eccentric Abyss dwellers that have dedicated their lives to discovering the secrets of the last unexplored regions on Earth.

As the story progresses it feels like there is a strange hidden truth to origins of The Abyss and the long lost civilization that used to live there. Knowing there are 6 volumes of the manga already available to read, I get the feeling we’re not going to uncover much as we hurtle towards the episode 13 season finale. Part of me is scared that the show is starting to slip way too much in the direction of not giving us much exposition at all, like other awesome series such as Darker than Black that have built exceptional worlds but give the audience so little information.

In the end though I don’t think that’s going to ruin my appreciation for the show, because just like Darker than Black, I feel like the air of mystery that surrounds the world the show has built simply adds to its mystique.

Part of me believes that we’ll never really fully understand the Abyss, its curse or even if Riko’s mother is alive at the bottom of it.

Visually, I genuinely enjoy the colour palette of the animation and at first the chibi style characters are distracting, but that soon disappears and before you know it the art style starts to grow on you.

On the surface it could be mistaken for being a cutesy-kawaii Kodomo anime series that obsessive NEET’s would fawn themselves over, but when it comes down to it it’s really not that at all. Don’t let the art style fool you, it gets pretty dark in places and on numerous occasions I’ve had to look away from the screen because limbs were on the verge of being severed.

So what’s the final verdict? If you can get your hands on it, definitely watch it. It’s what I imagine Raiders of the Lost ark would be like if Indiana Jones didn’t get involved with Nazi plots to take over the world and spent his time instead being chased by boulders and native South American tribes for hours on end. Throw a robot with a beam weapon in there and some Ghibli style monsters and you’ve got all the elements you’ll need for this show.

Get on board. It’s well worth it.

Oh and trust me about the butthole thing. You won’t be able to miss it.

- Andrew Archer