Made In Abyss Is A Deeply Disturbing Yet Life-Affirming Adventure Anime

(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

"Elden Ring" has been a pretty big obsession the past couple of months. The game takes the FromSoftware formula to new heights with incredible gameplay, memorable boss fights, and a massive open world. But it is really the world-building and sense of exploration that has me hooked to this game even 90-plus hours into it. The ability to just go explore an unknown part of the map for a few (dozen) hours, and encounter vastly different landscapes, creatures, treasures, and ruins, is the most fulfilling part of the game, because it is here through exploration that "Elden Ring" tells the history and lore of its massive, decaying world.

The lure of the unknown, of exploring places lost to time, no matter the danger, is at the very core of "Made in Abyss." In the world of the show, there is a giant chasm in the middle of an island, which descends deep into the Earth, containing remnants of ancient civilizations, all sorts of creatures, and untold treasures and dangers. Very little is known about the Abyss, its depths, or its secrets, which is why it attracts countless cave divers to venture out and explore its secrets. One of those divers is Riko, a young orphan girl who finds a sentient robot named Reg, and together they journey to the Abyss in order to see its bottom with their own eyes, and maybe find answers to the fate of Riko's mom, who never returned from the great chasm.

From there, the story evolves into something equal parts horrifying and life-affirming. A show about the yearning and longing, about perseverance, and one of the greatest anime shows of the past decade.

What makes it great

A story about people leaving everything behind and embarking on one-way trips to a very dangerous place needs to sell the audience that the Abyss is a place worth risking everything for. It's a bit of a cliché to say that a location is a character, but it truly feels like the Abyss is the third main character of "Made in Abyss," and the show does a spectacular job of telling its story through visuals. Like "Mad Max: Fury Road," every frame of this anime is filled with small details, each of them telling its own unique story. A small statue may appear useless, but it is later shown to have a very specific purpose within the Abyss, part of a long-gone civilization with advanced technology, and there are dozens of distinct and elaborate ecosystems shown within the first season alone.

Though not strictly a post-apocalyptic show, "Made in Abyss" feels like the anime adaptation of "Breath of the Wild" we never knew we needed, with its vast landscapes filled with ancient ruins and dangerous creatures, and a sense that the best times are behind us. It isn't clear (yet) if the advanced technology within the Abyss was ever widely spread at the surface or not, but the characters, especially Riko, constantly point out how marvelous these part civilizations are, and lament that it is all gone.

It helps that "Made in Abyss" has excellent production design, with the Abyss being shaped sort of like Dante's Hell, with multiple layers each with its own unique features, backgrounds, creatures, and dangers. Each frame could easily be your new desktop wallpaper, each new creature a deadly new foe, every plant both beautiful and horrifying.

To accompany both the horror and the life-affirming moments is one of the greatest anime scores in years. Composer Kevin Penkin delivers haunting orchestral sounds and eerie choruses that capture the mix of beauty and terror of the Abyss itself, making for a dark fairy tale like no other.

What it adds to the conversation

And speaking of horrifying, don't let the cute moe aesthetic deceive you, this is a deeply disturbing anime. The first creature the kids meet is a giant ferret-bird hybrid thing that mimics the cries of the dead, and they encounter it while eating the entrails of a fellow cave diver. This is a show that is constantly on the verge of becoming trauma porn, a show where kids bleed from their eyes, where "127 Hours" becomes an instruction manual, and the end of "Old Yeller" is the national pastime. Yet the show never loses its sense of hope and laughter.

A big theme in "Made in Abyss" is the loss of innocence, the moment you first venture out into the world and realize how deeply unprepared you are for it. Riko may seem a bit annoying to some viewers, ignoring danger in her rush for adventure, but it is deeply relatable to see a character so driven by a singular goal that they ignore all the warning signs until it is too late.

And she is not the only one, we learn that the Abyss has an actual supernatural pull that draws people to explore it, as the show gets at the very human wish to explore and find answers to the unknown, that yearning that drives us and compels us to overcome even the impossible to accomplish our goals. No matter how horrifyingly disturbing the show gets, it is always balanced by a life-affirming tone that focuses not on suffering, but on perseverance.

Why non-anime fans should check it out

If you want a dark fairy tale about the wonders and dangers of the world, with excellent world-building, memorable characters, some of the most shocking and disturbing twist and turns since the first episode of "The Promised Neverland" (though this technically came out before), then you need to give "Made in Abyss" a chance. Though it features cute moe aesthetics, the show hides a rather dark and brutal tone, one that is still balanced by a life-affirming sense of hope and optimism. Once you finish the first season, don't forget to check out the movie "Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul" before diving into season 2.

Watch This If You Life: "The Promised Neverland," "Puella Magi Madoka Magica," "Grave of the Fireflies."

"Made in Abyss" is streaming on HIDIVE.