Rolling Review – Made in Abyss (13)

Oh…

Oh God, folks.

If you caught the end of last episode then you’ve probably already gathered that this season isn’t ending without some serious heart-wrenching. And gut-wrenching. Without further ado, then – spoilers ahoy:

Episode Synopsis:

Nanachi explains to Reg via extended flashback how she and Mitty came to be where they are. The White Whistle Bondrewd recruited them from poverty on the surface for an experimental foray into The Abyss, and the “experimental” aspect ended up being using them (and a large number of other orphans) as guinea pigs to test devices that could theoretically manipulate The Curse of The Abyss. Turns out: they kinda can. Subjected to a process designed to force the effects of The Curse from her to Mitty, Nanachi was transformed into a furry but retained her faculties, while Mitty’s fate included the apparently common symptom of being turned into a mindless blob of flesh with the added bonus(?) of becoming functionally immortal. Having observed what remains of her friend being permanently injured only by a weapon similar to Reg’s incinerator, Nanachi convinces him to fulfill Mitty’s last intelligible request and free her spirit from its wretched prison.

And he does.

Riko regains consciousness soon afterwards, and recounts the dream she had while comatose wherein she could sense the presence of someone whose description fits Mitty. While recuperating, she asks Nanachi to join her and Reg on their descent, and Nanachi accepts. After a montage of preparing for their journey, the trio head once more unto the breach.

Review:

We were warned – at least, I was warned. At the very least, I had picked up whispers on pre-season comment threads that the source material for Made in Abyss went dark, dark places (I’d like to thank anyone who contributed to such threads for keeping them spoiler-free). When I became the primary voice in favor of considering the show for our rolling review, I communicated what caveats I had found, but the overall quality of its first episode was simply unmatched by any of its competitors, and so we started our descent.

I feel like I have a relatively high threshold for this sort of thing (notably, I own all of the books and the DVDs for both Alien 9 and Bokurano), so I feel a little guilty for taking the rest of the Con Artist crew and our readers down what has indeed become a pretty disturbing path. For my role in this, I apologize, but it still seems like a very well-put together show, and, hey – variety is the spice of life, right?

::weak laughter::

Anyway, let’s start with offhand questions and comments:

Did we not recover Blaze Reap after diminishing the orbed piercer?

I gather that Bondrewd’s name is Anglicized the way that it is because the kana for it are kind of ambiguous, reading something like bondorudo, but it sounds to me like the emphasis is on the first “do” rather than the “ru”, which would look more like Bondord. I suspect that cases like this are rare enough that trying to get emphasis readings of weird names from the creators for localization purposes is something of an afterthought (although I guess I don’t know if anyone involved in the actual anime production said the name in the author’s presence or if everybody’s just winging it). Plus it’s a total crap-shoot as to whether you end up with Japanese people who only think they know enough about English to decide for themselves.

Also on the subject of obtuse linguistic pedantry: after a few episodes of listening to Nanachi speak, I decided to look into the pronoun she uses for herself. As far as I can tell, it’s “oira”, which is a colloquial pluralization of “ore”. She’s always used it – it’s in the very first line of her extended flashback – and if any of our readers have a good idea of what connotations it’s supposed to have, please drop us an email or a comment or something.

Also: if you think we’re making more than one detailed drawing of this hell-hole, you’ve got another think coming.

The fact that Nanachi now joins the other leads in singing the ED makes me happy (the fact that
Tama-chan/Orby has been there the entire time, less so). Tangentially, the music – and the art, for that matter – in this show continue to be top-notch.

I find it odd that The Curse is deformed by Reg’s consciousness but has no effect on his body. I suppose the whole thing really is artificial (which isn’t terribly surprising, given its resilience to other forms of damage), which raises a handful of questions – including: Is Reg still susceptible to the degradation of sanity that Ozen mentions to young Lyza in episode seven? (not that I expect the story to last long enough for those effects to manifest) How – and why – was Reg’s body made to carry his spirit? And why does it have such a high level of, uh, verisimilitude?

Speaking of which…

I feel, uh, similarly
Off-screen: Riko and Reg in waist-deep water without clothes on

Are we really doing this dance? In fairness to Riko’s perplexity over Reg’s anatomy, sex ed is probably not a priority topic in the orphanage’s curriculum for children her age, but, come on, show – dial it back (here, and regarding her interaction with Nanachi’s personal space issue).

That having been said, a couple of weeks really made me forget the kind of positive energy that Riko brings to the show. There’s something about her irrepressible optimism that’s, you know, subtly disturbing, but refreshing. Nothing keeps her down –

You are too cute for this world

– and the rest of us got pretty low before she woke up.

There’s a little more contrivance in this episode than usual, but Nanachi and Mitty’s story still hits like a truck, and letting it breathe by giving the finale an hour-spot is a big help. Bondrewd is one of the best kinds of antagonist: one who truly believes that he’s acting in the interests of the greater good – and who almost is, save for his complete and total disregard for the lives of his test subjects. Between him and the horrific nature of The Curse below the Sea of Corpses, the two girls are trapped in a world of suffering. Even after Nanachi carries Mitty out of the facility (and I actually like the idea that none of the staff bother to lock any of the doors – she’s the only other person there, and what is she gonna do? Just walk out into the most hostile environment ever drawn on a map?), she is only further convinced that she is powerless to alter the unspeakable fate of the first person to ever approach her as a human being.

The goodbye scene is a tear-jerker and no mistake, but I think it might be the scene immediately prior that I was struck the hardest by. In between Reg’s conversations with Nanachi about why he should accept her request, we’ve seen him observing her. Nanachi has spent no small amount of time devoted entirely to Mitty, and, judging by her halfhearted initial response, his condition that she promise not to commit suicide afterwards was probably not completely unnecessary. “How cruel…” she says, after Reg demands, with tears in his eyes, that she go on living after there is finally nothing left of her only friend, her treasure.

How cruel.

I seriously thought that we were going to revisit this issue when she left the room after Riko recalled her coma visions, leaving Reg with the words “This time, make sure you really protect her.” Honestly, though, it’s the visions that tie this whole affair together. Riko comforting Mitty while she also hangs between life and death, and, more to the point, witnessing Mitty’s spirit transmigrate, really adds a level of power and/or beauty to the story that would otherwise have been very difficult to achieve.

Striking out from the hideout after the prep montage is also a fine place to end a season – a show like this really does need to go out on a hopeful note (but not… too hopeful – watch to the end), and setting up the fresh start of the ::crosses fingers:: next season instead of ending on some twisted cliffhanger (and this is a show that could pull off a pretty good literal cliffhanger) is a choice I want to see made more often.

Summary:

I’m pretty pleased with how this one turned out. The kids are sexualized a little too much (read: they are sexualized A Little, which, by virtue of being a greater quantity than Not Really At All, is too much), and the pacing got a little wonky in the Seeker Camp, but pretty much every other aspect of the show is rock solid and right up my alley (well, one of my alleys – people can like different kinds of things). It’s dark, but not totally grimdark; it’s a good mix of wondrous and heartfelt and ominous and brutal. Might make for good Halloween watching if you’re looking for an excuse to introduce someone to it. I’m definitely gonna be keeping an eye out for a physical release, and for another season – I wanna see if this elevator goes all the way to Scarytown.

Did we…
Did we go out on a visual comparison between the hut façade and Mitty’s disfigured face?
I didn’t see that one coming.

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