Made in Abyss blew the Summer 2017 season out of the water, giving us an incredible combination of fantasy and adventure, with a dark twist. Rewatching the show recently, i’ve seen some interesting storytelling elements that I didn’t notice before, things that make the story have so much more depth that I originally believed. So, without any further ado, let’s dive in.
“The Abyss—a gaping chasm stretching down into the depths of the earth, filled with mysterious creatures and relics from a time long past. How did it come to be? What lies at the bottom? Countless brave individuals, known as Divers, have sought to solve these mysteries of the Abyss, fearlessly descending into its darkest realms. The best and bravest of the Divers, the White Whistles, are hailed as legends by those who remain on the surface.
Riko, daughter of the missing White Whistle Lyza the Annihilator, aspires to become like her mother and explore the furthest reaches of the Abyss. However, just a novice Red Whistle herself, she is only permitted to roam its most upper layer. Even so, Riko has a chance encounter with a mysterious robot with the appearance of an ordinary young boy. She comes to name him Reg, and he has no recollection of the events preceding his discovery. Certain that the technology to create Reg must come from deep within the Abyss, the two decide to venture forth into the chasm to recover his memories and see the bottom of the great pit with their own eyes. However, they know not of the harsh reality that is the true existence of the Abyss.”
Rise and Fall.
Made in Abyss is a true fantasy show, avoiding the overdone Isekai trope and giving us a true, intricate, well-made fantasy world. However, what makes Made in Abyss truly unique is the constant theme of “descending” that is seen throughout the show. Descending into the Abyss where, we are told, the deeper you go, the more dangerous the creatures, and the more brutal the consequences of trying to return.
We first get a glimpse of the dangers of the Abyss in episode one, as Riko and Nat are confronted by a Crimson Splitjaw, a powerful monster that Riko says is really far up; usually it stays down much lower in the Abyss. After being saved by Reg, she immediately reasons that he had come from the BOTTOM of the Abyss, hinting at how dangerous and powerful Reg truly is.
Riko herself is inexplicably drawn towards the bottom of the Abyss, and the first episode gives us a plethora of hints, from camera angles making it seem like she’s moving downwards, to shots of her falling. Only after she finds Reg and they are heading back to Orth do we finally get a shot of Riko actually moving upwards. The problem is, however, that the Abyss encourages adventurers to move down, discouraging them from moving upwards.
Light & Darkness.
The Abyss is a strange creature; it has a strange, inexplicable force that helps maintain it, and this force helps to bring sunlight from the surface to the lower levels of the Abyss. Normally, one would assume that the deeper you go, the darker it would get, but in the Abyss this is not the case. Instead, the “darkness” is represented in a less literal way, the creatures growing more dangerous, the trials more harsh and brutal, the further one descends.
Light, on the other hand, is used to represent danger. In Episode one, Riko is constantly shown in shadow, whereas the Splitjaw is displayed in the light. This may be an indication that the Abyss is the territory of the Splitjaw, not Riko, or it may, and I believe, indicate that light itself is, strangely, synonymous with danger. After all, the further away from the center of the Abyss one travels, the dimmer the sunlight gets as the force grows thinner. However, the lack of the light makes the monsters weaker and more docile, and the effects of the Curse of the Abyss are significantly reduced.
With Light meaning danger, and darkness meaning (relative) safety, the show does a fantastic job of confusing the conceptions of the viewer, bringing an incredible sense of drama and foreboding to the table, without giving away many of its cards before their time. After all, by consistently going against our natural perceptional bias, it is able to draw the most out of each and every scene.
Strength and Weakness.
One of the main, recurring themes in Made in Abyss is the enormous differences between Riko and Reg. While they both look like children, they have very different personalities, not to mention strengths and weaknesses. While together they make a good team, one without the other could probably never survive in the Abyss for long.
Reg is a robot. With that comes a sturdy body, not to mention a variety of weaponry and gadgetry he can use to accomplish his goals. However, contrary to the expectations of a robot, Reg is extremely emotionally unstable and vulnerable, prone to completely breaking down in dangerous and stressful situations.
Riko, on the other hand, acts quite childish, but is far more emotionally stable and mature than Reg. Though her body is weak, she is an accomplished cave raider in her own right, relying on her resourcefulness, ingenuity, and talent to get around obstacles and solve problems. Able to remain calm even when faced with impossible odds, Riko more than makes up for Reg’s faults.
I absolutely love these contrasting details, these well-thought-out elements that make Made in Abyss so unique and interesting. There is so much food for thought, and so much opportunity to learn, to see more if you rewatch the show. While it currently has very limited distribution channels, Made in Abyss is a show that everyone needs to watch at some point, and I highly encourage everyone to do so.