DISCLAIMER: I’m honestly sorry if the content of this video is similar to that of Digi or Explanation Point’s; I try to avoid watching analysis videos of a show before it’s finished and as such have no knowledge if this is a commonly discussed topic or not. This show is just so good I couldn’t help but write about it prematurely.
Made in Abyss is a modern classic in the making, the first three episodes of which suggest that it will probably end up being my favorite anime to come out sine Madoka back in 2012. What’s not to love? It makes what would already be pretty decent characters fascinating thanks to the moral values in the story’s world being so different from ours, features a soundtrack that creates an air of beautiful yet unsettling mystery that perfectly reflects the appeal of the Abyss, has drop-dead gorgeous animation in a style that balances out the dark nature of the shows script, visual storytelling that rivals Evangelion, and even character designs by the guy who animated both god and Satan themselves. But while all of these facets of the series are great to the point of being worthy of analysis in their own right, I don’t really feel like starting another massive video project before finishing 2.22 Part 5, so all that’s going to have to wait. Instead, I’d just like to focus on what has been the show’s greatest strength thus far, the jewel in it’s crown. Made in Abyss is capable of making us empathize with characters in a world with morals completely alien to us without even trying.
There is a moment in episode two where Riko is receiving the whistle that belonged to her mother before she died, and she’s questioning weather or not it’s okay for her to take, weather or not she’s the one most worthy to receive the only memento of her legendary mother. She doesn’t get depressed that her mother is dead, she doesn’t monologue about how unfair the world is. She just asks if her mother’s legacy actually belongs to her. In our world, there is no way this would ever happen; No 12-year-old girl would just accept the death of their parent and move on, they’d be torn up about it for months. It’s only in the universe of Abyss, where orphans have been raised being forced to acknowledge and accept that they will eventually die mining the Abyss all their lives, that even to a child death would be an expected part of life that doesn’t warrant much reaction. So why did I find my reactions to every beat of the conversations perfectly mirroring Riko’s the first time I watched it? This scene should have been jarring and completely alien to me, and yet I perfectly empathized with everything that Riko was thinking and feeling. Well, to put it simply, it’s because the show is amazing at manipulating context.
Going into this conversation, the viewer isn’t exactly sure what the deal is with Riko’s mom. It’s implied that she’s dead, but the event is celebrated as if she had just triumphantly returned after ten years in the Abyss. As a result, the viewer doesn’t feel grief or sympathy for Riko, just the same uncertainty regarding her mother’s legacy that she does. When it is revealed that her mother had written a letter to Riko, neither her nor the viewer had any way of knowing that this was coming and are thus equally surprised at first before quickly becoming anxious waiting to see what the message says. This clever control of what the viewer does and doesn’t know makes the show capable of putting them into the same mindset as the characters, in spite of the unfamiliar ethics of the world.
And it’s not just that one scene, either. All throughout the first three episodes the show manages to keep this up until the viewer has a grasp on how the characters think and thus no longer need to be manipulated into empathy with them. In the scene at the start of the first episode, the show recognizes that the viewer will have no idea what the stakes are surrounding the snake monster in this part of the Abyss, so in order to make the viewer understand what kind of threat this monster is and how Riko is reacting to it, it establishes several things. First and most importantly, there is actual danger here. The monster has bloodied Nat’s head, eaten his back pack, and nearly broken Riko’s arm. It’s entirely possible that something could go horribly wrong here. Secondly, the monster’s appearance here is unusual but not a sign of disaster. Riko is surprised, but acts like she knew that this was a possibility and isn’t caught off-guard by having her life be at risk. Lastly, in doing these things, it introduces the messed up morals of the world through a scene that most would be able to suspend their disbelief over in a typical show. An actual 12-year-old would fear for their lives in this scenario and be scared out of their minds, but since situations where children act like adults are so common in fiction at large anyway most people would just write this off in any other show. Here, however, the children are raised to think that death is natural and that they should be proud of sacrificing themselves for the sake of the economy. This serves to soften the impact of the twisted ideas that present themselves later on, such as Riko’s room in the orphanage being a re-purposed execution chamber, as it makes for a great “I-should-have-seen-that-coming” moment.
And, in moments like when Riko is describing her findings regarding Reg or when she is being punished for keeping an artifact during the time-skip montage, the moments are treated as natural by the characters and never lingered on by the show, and as such they don’t have time to have any shock on the viewer, simply going by as a regular part of of the show just like how the characters see these things as a regular part of life.
I can think of several other examples of this happening throughout the first three episodes, but I’m sure you get the point by now. However, it is worth mentioning that these moments become less and less dense as the episodes go on, and that’s absolutely intentional. As the show goes on, it trusts that it’s viewer is getting more and more in tune with the Abyss’s dogmas. By the time that Riko and Reg are ready to dive into the Abyss in their campaign towards the bottom, it trusts that the viewer thoroughly understands the characters and does nothing to try and make them agree that searching for Riko’s mom is the right course of action. When the duo is ready to leave the surface world behind, so is the viewer. They take the plunge into the unknown together.
I’ve always wanted to write a story about a world in which the moral principals and rules of art in the world are completely different than those of our own, but every time I tried to actually write such a thing I quickly remembered that I’m an idiot teenager who couldn’t narrative to save his life and gave up, and I’m very glad that this show was able to at least partially scratch that itch for me. Anyway, now that I’ve got this video written I can get to watching episode four without this idea constantly trying to take shape in my brain. I’m excited for where the series is going to go from here and can’t wait to see if the show lives up to the manga’s 8.7 rating on MyAnimeList.
Thank you all for watching. I honestly never thought I would break 50 subs, so getting to 94 just off of some intentionally crappy analysis of 2.22 is a shock to me. Don’t worry, 2.22 Part 5 is still coming, but the facts that I want to make it a 100-subscriber special and that it’s getting so insanely long that I feel morally obligated to my audience to realistically be able to put something out sometime within the next few months drove me to make this video in the mean time. If you’re watching this after I have a patreon go give me all of the money over there so I don’t have to get a real job during high school and if you want to hear more of my ever-changing terrible puberty voice then go subscribe to my vlog channel. This has been the Daymaster, and until next time, try not to die.