「羅針盤は闇を指した」 (Rashinban wa Yami o sashita)
“The Compass Pointed to the Darkness”
Finally, the much-awaited season 2 of Made in Abyss! So highly anticipated that we have not one, not two, but three writers covering it in a joint effort by Guardian Enzo, FJ Freeman, and myself! Each week, you’ll get our collective impressions compiled into one post-3 for the price of 1, if you will. Without futher ado, here are our ruminations for your reading pleasure!
The writing, brilliant as always, leaves no stone unturned- answering my question of how Riko (Tomita Miyu), Reg (Ise Mariya), and Nanachi (Izawa Shiori) could trust accounts that the 6th layer existed if no-one ever returned from there. Some people did “return” or rather, migrated to the surface. Part of me wonders what made them abandon it if they’d already been living there for who knows how long. Another part of me is even more surprised that there were people native to such a brutal place. The city’s nickname is clever. “The capital of the unreturned”-home for the explorers who can never return to the surface and birthplace of the original dwellers who (until now) did not return to the 6th layer.
The “embrace your past and find the beauty in your darkness that others can’t” was profound on many levels. It describes this series to a T. There’s certainly plenty of darkness. Characteristically, not even 5 minutes in they dive into questionable taste, torturing a child. Unpleasant and definitely one of the biggest shadows on the series for me, given it’s track record with that sort of content. Yet, there is also light shining through the episode-that beautiful pep-talk scene with Belaf (Saiga Mitsuki) and Vueko (Terasaki Yuka ), the sophisticated storytelling, the gorgeous animation.
On the narrative front, you also have the juxtaposition of light and dark with the pit serving doubly as the golden city’s entrance and the “man-eating” hole where outcasts like the barren child are condemned. Even the Sages find themselves and their beauty in the pit’s strange, dark inhumanities. Speaking of strangeness-was it necessary to have that scene with Riko going to the bathroom, sound effects included? It was gross and didn’t add anything, but I guess when you’ve gotta go, you gotta go.
I am (obviously) so used to seeing the Abyss from the Cave-Raiders’ perspective, it was fascinating seeing it from another side. While the Cave-Raiders have expedition notes to work from, the Sages have only legend and Vueko’s compass to go off of. The same Abyss sickness and horrible creatures we saw Riku and company fight through now resurface as enemies for the Sages. The rumor of the man-eating pit resurfaces in Riko’s adventures as a tunnel of bones they traverse through.
It was strange and wonderful, seeing the familiar Abyss look slightly different, yet the same through the eyes of the Sages. The way the episode began with sea-faring adventurers made it seem like a different story initially. I don’t remember seeing oceans before, which points to a whole other world outside of the Cave-Raider’s world-an interesting angle to explore. Once I saw the Abyss and its resident creatures, it began to make sense of where this was all tying into the central story. The two groups will foreseeably meet in the near future. Will the Sages view Riko and crew as unwelcome intruders of their homeland or team up with them in the common goal of exploring the Golden City? I certainly am waiting for next week with bated breath.
To be honest, there aren’t that many shows this summer that really matter to me. But the ones that do matter rather a lot, at least. And among those Made in Abyss: Retsujitsu no Ougonkyou stands so far out in front of the others that it’s basically in its own category. My feelings about the first season are reflected in the fact that it was my #12 series of the 2010’s. And the third movie (which is the only essential – read, “non-recap” – one, truthfully) certainly didn’t miss a bit in continuing Tsukushi Akihito’s beautiful and terrible story. One knows what to expect from The Golden City of the Scorching Sun, and that’s greatness. And greatness is a rare commodity in anime these days.
All the names that matter are back of course, and that’s a dream team consisting of geniuses from the likes of Studio Ghibli, Bones, Production I.G., and Gainax gathered together for this remarkable production at Kinema Citrus. The most important among them for me are director Kojima Masayuki and composer Kevin Penkin. The deeper one gets (no pun intended) into Made in Abyss the more one realizes just how vital Penkin’s ethereal and haunting soundtrack is to the alchemy of this series, and that’s prominently on display in this premiere. Made in Abyss is one of the most visually stunning series in anime history, but it sounds every bit as beautiful as it looks.
As someone who’s not familiar with this part of the manga, I was a bit surprised by the course of the first episode. For well over half its length there’s no mention of any familiar characters. Rather, it’s mainly the story of a young orphan girl named Vueko (Terasaki Yuka). As if to remind us it’s still Tsukushi in charge, her introduction finds her being raped by the man who’s “taking care” of her. He’s a total scumbag – MiA is peppered with those – and generally treats Vueko like human garbage. Eventually the man, a fisherman, comes across a burning boat with only one survivor – an old man carrying the “Star Compass” he says will point straight up at the location of the Ougonlkyou – the city of gold. After giving the compass to the fisherman the old man promptly dies.
The elephant in the room with Made in Abyss is the way it depicts the brutalizing of children, and Tsukushi makes it hard to ignore most of the time. This is a thorny issue for me and always has been, and it’s far from simple. There’s certainly good and evil in this mythology, and Tsukushi never leaves any suggestion that he’s endorsing the behavior of the latter. But the way he lingers over these moments with seeming relish is almost fetishistic, and that’s always been an issue for me. Not so much that I don’t consider myself a huge admirer of the series (obviously). And in point of fact, the mangaka’s ruthlessness unquestionably heightens the emotional impact of the story. It’s not an easy thing to resolve one’s feelings about.
While it’s not immediately clear, it seems as if this prologue sequence happens some time in the past. Vueko (her guardian is dead for reasons unexplained) finds herself on an ocean voyage of outcasts in search of the legendary Ougonkyou. The leader is a mystic named Wazukyan (played by the peerless Hirata Hiroaki), who munches on live bugs for health reasons and predicts the future, and at least seems not to be a sociopath. Vueko is closest with a silver-haired youth named Belaf (Saiga Mitsuki) who speaks in somewhat mystical terms himself.
Several ships start the journey but it’s Wazukyan’s that’s the only one to arrive at the island which lies where the compass points straight up. It’s clear from the behavior if the natives that this isn’t the first group of outsiders to show up looking for the golden city. He offers to tell the group the way in exchange for the compass, to which Vueko acquiesces. He also saddles the group with a village child (Kuno Misaki) being exiled because she’s incapable of bearing children. The villagers call it the void, but we know it by another name – and their reaction when they see it suggests that these events are taking place a good while before the series’ present day.
Finally, we’re reunited with the main trio – just as Riko is passing through the same membrane into the weird eyeball thingy as Vueko, which will take them deeper into the Abyss, another indication that we’re looking at different timelines. There’s not a lot of time with Riko, Reg, and Nanachi – though it is long enough for Tsukushi to indulge another of his weird fetishes – but it’s clear that we’ve joined them just after their encounter with Bondrewd (the subject of the third film) ended. The big question hanging over the premiere, then, is how Vukeo’s story will reach across time and intersect with Riko and Reg’s.
And so we re-enter the strange, disturbing, and alluring world of Made in Abyss – a place and a state of mind quite different from anything else in anime. This episode is mostly table-setting stuff but the impact of being back in this world is quite profound. This is one of the most immersive series in anime to be sure – “world building” seems a comically inadequate way to describe what it does. It’s quite inescapable in watching an episode of MiA that it’s simply operating on another plane from most TV anime – to the point where even comparing it with all but the very elite series seems pointless. It’s mostly competing with itself, and while that’s one tough opponent, Made in Abyss – with it’s God-tier creative team – has never given the slightest indication that it’s not up to the challenge.
There’s a certain gritty-ness to Made in Abyss that is hard to describe. It’s embedded in how it treats its characters like play things, not glossing over things like sea sickness; Showing actual vomit coming out of someone’s mouth, or how people, including animals, have to go potty due to biological needs. I’ve always held proper that sort of thing to just Tsukushi-san having a field day whichever which way he can. Indulging would be a much better word. But it’s not just about that, it’s the reality, dubbed hyper-reality for the sake of this post. Tsukushi uses this “hyper-reality” to give a sense of grounded storytelling. Kids are not idolized, they just are, they’re cute, they’re fun, but also they’re at that age that is coming to terms with their own sexuality. This hyper-reality makes the story go places others don’t even dare to touch. Wouldn’t it be normal to go potty next to your friends if you found yourself suddenly descending down to the sixth layer of a place that can literally kill you just by breathing wrong? At least that’s how it feels like.
At the same time, they are thrown into extraordinary situations that pitch them against the grain. They still hold that glimmer in their eye, that naivete and wonder that all young teens have, and when things go south, that same glimmer of unrelenting hope is broken, taken away and we as viewers get to see exactly how, when, and why. This is what makes those hard-hitting moments all the more shocking. Yet, it comes back, we can see it in their eyes when exploring the abyss as it becomes something new and exciting every time they hit a deeper level.
There are many examples of this happening throughout the series, heck there’s even a whole movie about it. I think this is why the story just hits different. Yes, there, I said it. The narrative itself is well crafted, and even if quite simple, the lore is never forgotten, and when it feels like it does, it explains why. i.e. Nanachi finding the mantle that would inflict less of the curse. But other than that, the curse of the abyss is pretty much respected all of the time. This is a one-way journey, and at this point, Riko, Nanachi, and Reg all but accept their fate.
It goes without saying, the deeper you dive, the harder it will become for you to ascend. I’m sure all three of us will mention that at least once during our review. However, that’s the cool thing about Made in Abyss, the stakes are high, yet still, Riko decided to take that first step into the man-eating hole at the center of the earth.
So are we all caught up?
Huh, already been a couple of paragraphs and I’ve still yet to talk about any of what happened during this week’s first episode?! An avid reader of the manga here, but worry not, there will be no spoilers! And let’s try and keep them out of the comments as well, please!
What I can say is – I’m quite happy this new season started the first episode with some new characters, which serves to not only renew interest in the mystery of the Abyss, for those that have been away for some time. But also serves story-wise to foreshadow future events to come. Pampering us with its mythology and rounding out the story. Let’s not forget, only one more layer to descend before reaching the unexplored depths, where only word of mouth and rumors are known about. Fear not though, these prologue characters will become important in the Reg and Riko story! Vueko (Terasaki, Yuka), Belaf (Saiga, Mitsuki), and Wazukyan (Hirata, Hiroaki) all head to an island after, Juroimoh, Vueko’s keeper, (yes she was being assaulted by this man) discover a gentleman on a deserted ship who has clearly gone insane, after witnessing mutilated corpses and a scorching body, the man utters some words and gives the crew the oh-so-important compass, (the one Riko lost all the way back) so they head towards the Abyss.
This is a prequel that I’ve named “The First People”, not quite though, “The First Explorers” is more fitting. As they reach the island, a tribe of people has already settled there. Not much time passes before they reach the gate to the lower floors, the one Bondrewd was trying to hide from Riko and Reg. They do come across some danger but apparently are able to get through it just fine. Before more story could be explored Riko jumps through the portal and we are finally head down to the sixth lower level, it only took what, two years?
Not much story for those that were expecting a grand return, however, all this setup is extremely important, just mark my words.
But hey! Before you start getting comfy in your chair there, the episode ends as they finally reach The Capital of the Unreturned. Not much else I can say without reaching spoiler territory, so I’ll stop there.
It’s going to be a wild ride being able to talk about this upcoming arc, and you get to read three different perspectives to boot! As I’ve said, I’m actually quite happy they’re treating this adaptation and putting the characters on the boat first, making them feel human foremost, making us care about them, and introducing us to their struggles. I think it’s rather important. Nonetheless, I’m quite excited about the return of Made in Abyss.