Rolling Review – Made In Abyss (06)

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Episode Synopsis:

Riko and Reg have reached the Seeker Camp; a haven for cave raiders nestled at the bottom of the Abyss’s second layer. Here they meet Ozen, a White Whistle and former companion of Riko’s mother, as well as her apprentice, Marulk. Ozen allows them to stay the night, but it appears that not everything is well in the isolated refuge. In the morning, their host offers to explain the situation, but also delivers grim tidings of Lyza’s fate.

Review:

After the sobering jaunt through the Forest of Temptation, episode 6 gives Riko and Reg some time to get their bearings and enjoy the relative safety of the Seeker Camp. The structure looks like something straight out of a classic JRPG, built into a massive upside-down tree and sporting an enormous telescope with which to observe the approaches from the rest of the Abyss. Though more claustrophobic than the vistas we’ve been treated to so far, it’s still another beautiful environment in a show that’s already sported a lot of them.

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Most of these locales wouldn’t look out of place in good old FFIX

Unfortunately for our young adventurers, the warden of the camp is much less inviting. Ozen the Immovable is as impressive as she is unsettling. Her character design is fantastically striking, and the show goes to great lengths to make it clear just how strong she is without contriving reasons for her to show it off.

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Nice people don’t get narration like that… just sayin’

If Ozen is impressed that Riko and Reg have made it so far into the Abyss, she hides it well. Her open contempt for these children is strong, but considering that she went just as deep as Lyza, she’s not speaking from a position of arrogance, but one of hard-earned experience. She and Lyza were the ones who carried the infant Riko out of the Abyss all those years ago, and Ozen makes it clear that she thought more than once about abandoning the child. However, there’s a certain way in which she talks about Lyza that shows how much she cared for her, which hints at a much more nuanced character that I hope we continue to learn more about.

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There’s also more going on with Marulk, but I think you should learn about that for yourselves

In the camp, we also get to spend time learning more about the details of cave raiding with Ozen’s apprentice, Marulk. Though she’s only about Riko’s age, she too made it far into the Abyss, and apparently impressed Ozen enough for her to take the girl in (another hint that Ozen may have hidden layers we haven’t seen yet). Through Marulk, we hear more about some of the mysterious relics found in the middle layers, and the role the Seeker Camp plays in exploration and salvaging. It’s more solid worldbuilding through the eyes of children, which is something the show continues to do very well.

Of course, the other thing Made In Abyss does well is feed a sense of subtle yet ever-present dread by reminding us that the Abyss is as terrifying as it is magnificent. When Riko wakes up in the middle of the night, she encounters a nightmarish creature that looks like a rack of ribs grew terrible arms. Though hardly the goriest thing I’ve seen in anime, I found it deeply unsettling. I’m sure that’s partly because it reminded me of the moment Dark Souls made it absolutely clear that it was not messing around.

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After Riko’s late-night scare, Ozen offers to explain what she’s just seen. The implication is that Riko will finally be confronted by some of the true horrors of the Abyss and consider turning back. I’m a little dubious as to how that’s going to play out, since she’s already stumbled upon people being devoured and their voices turned into lures for fresh victims (crap on toast, Made In Abyss, that was gruesome), without showing much terror. Still, Ozen also tells Riko more about how she recovered her mother’s whistle, which may put her quest into question in a more personal way.

Summary:

The show continues to be rock-solid in terms of story, world- and character-building, and presentation. We get to interact with some new and compelling characters who I’m definitely interested in learning more about. Frankly, the only complaint I have is that while Ozen’s appearance, dialogue and movements all play into making her seem aloof and dangerous, her voice actress leans a little too hard on the creepy voice. When every line sounds like it’s being delivered by someone trying to spook you at a haunted house, it loses some of the impact when she says something that’s supposed to be truly concerning.

Still, that’s a minor complaint at worst, and I’m nervously excited to follow Riko and Reg as they learn more of Lyza’s fate and the nature of the Abyss itself.


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Rolling Review – Made in Abyss (02)

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Episode Synopsis:

Riko and her friends manage to get Reg accepted into their orphanage, and for a time, life continues as normal. After three months, a cave-diving expedition returns to Orth with much fanfare, bearing a white whistle; the mark of the bravest and most accomplished adventurers. The whistle belonged to Riko’s mother, Lyza, and its sudden return causes mixed feelings in the young girl. It also appears that the whistle was not the only thing Lyza brought back from the Abyss…

Review:

To shamelessly piggyback off of Brendan; boy howdy, folks! Made in Abyss is flat-out, full-stop gorgeous. It’s visual design is immaculate, and its worldbuilding is phenomenal so far. This episode is largely dedicated to stepping back from adventuring and letting the audience take in the everyday life of Riko, Reg and their friends in Orth, as well as explaining many of the concepts that were introduced in episode 1. It’s heavily loaded with exposition, but it’s all handled so well that I don’t mind the show being front-loaded like this.

Part of what helps is that the majority of the cast are children, so we learn much of how the Abyss works from their perspective. Whether it’s the adorable pictures detailing the increasingly worrisome effects of the Abyss…

Or a children’s pantomime about the ranks of cave-divers…

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We learn essentially everything we need to know about how Orth’s adventuring hierarchy works and why the Abyss is so tantalizing and dangerous. The city treats it not as a terrifying chasm of death (though they certainly don’t ignore its dangers), but as a place of opportunity. Those who plumb its depths are lionized – the return of Lyza’s whistle is a cause for celebration, rather than mourning.

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This brings out a lot of uncertainty in Riko, who has long idolized her mother, but never knew her. Leader’s (real name still unknown) description of her is both admiring and admonishing, painting the picture of a fascinating person. It’s nice to see a deceased family member described with depth and complexity, rather than just a trigger to move the plot forward.

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That’s not to say Lyza doesn’t accomplish that as well in absentia. Her findings look like they’re going to be driving much of the story in the near future, so I appreciate that the show took the time to get us settled in before tossing us in the deep end. Heck, a full three months passed since Reg was admitted to the orphanage, so it’s clear that Made in Abyss is willing to keep things paced out. It makes the world feel more believable without depriving us of its delicious story-meats.

If there is one thing that bugs me a little about the show, it’s some of the humor derived from examining Reg. We’ve already established that Riko’s tests on his body were pretty extreme, but from what she says in the first part of this episode, they also got… invasive. You can probably chalk it up to compulsive childish curiosity and cultural distance, but it made me a bit uncomfortable. So far, however, it’s nothing that’s going to drag down an otherwise brilliant show.

Summary:

There is so much more I’d love to say about this show, but I feel it really needs to speak for itself. It’s a visual delight to watch, its characters are fun, clever and engaging, and its world continues to fascinate me. It captures the feel of an old-school adventure RPG without blatantly copying the terminology like many game-inspired anime seem to these days, and that’s something I’m quickly growing fond of. I’m beyond excited to see where Made In Abyss takes us next as we dive deeper into its mysteries.


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Rolling Review – Little Witch Academia (24)

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Episode Synopsis:

Despite her weakened magic, Chariot confronts Croix in the hope of stopping her plan to forcibly reach the Grand Triskelion. However, Croix’s manipulation of Luna Nova’s magic goes far deeper than anyone else suspects, and she heads to Arcturus Forest atop her magi-tech siege engine to break the seal of The Nine Olde Witches and restore the world of magic on her terms. The disruption of magic also dumps Akko and co. into the forest, where they see that Croix’s plan has not gone as intended. Will Akko succeed where her idol and mentor failed, and reinvigorate magic throughout the land?

Review:

Episode 24 is a solid penultimate episode, but one that leaves me a little perplexed. It’s got bursts of high-octane Trigger action, some emotional moments between great characters, and a heartwarming ending that then seems to punt the conclusion into episode 25. It feels like the writers are having a tough time sticking the landing on the finale, but they’re still making a good show of it nonetheless.

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Things kick into high gear almost immediately as a partly de-powered Chariot faces off against Croix and her techno-magic. Even after the intervention of some of the faculty, Croix is several steps ahead, having long ago put Luna Nova’s magical energies under her control.

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Yeah, I’ve been planning this for maybe… 13 episodes now, so bite me

With the literal push of a button, she’s able to take out the last few people standing in her way before her titanic obsidian golem/magic rod takes to the skies and plows ominously towards Arcturus Forest. It’s a hell of a scene, on par with any of the action set pieces we’ve seen so far, and accompanied by some classy foreboding organ music (something that always earns at least a golf clap from me).

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Man, the villains always get the coolest scenes

Once Croix reaches the seal, she subdues Chariot and has her robot laser straight through the ward. Her long-running scheme works perfectly, until she sees that the Grand Triskelion is not the world-changing magic she believed, but a mere parlor trick by magic standards. Her rage and frustration at this discovery is wonderfully realized, and it’s hard not to sympathize with her. After all, though her methods are obviously immoral, her goal is ostensibly noble; to prevent magic from vanishing from the world and restoring it to a place of wonder and respect. The problem is that her quest is tainted by her own bitterness and inability to see the simple joys that make the art worthwhile.

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This oversight bites Croix in the backside almost immediately, as her robotic seal-breaker goes into overdrive. The anger Croix spread has become too strong, and her machine is now beyond her control. Not the most subtle moral lesson, perhaps, but a worthwhile one. It’s only the actions of Chariot and Akko (whose party arrives in the nick of time after Croix’s magical chicanery dumped them into the forest on their way home) that stop the device.

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Okay, sometimes there heroes get cool ones, too

Akko has a lovely little reunion with Chariot, acknowledging her as both her inspiration and the person who guided her, and vows to continue her hard work at becoming a magnificent witch. This idealistic energy unlocks the Shiny Rod’s full potential and reveals the final Word, restoring life and color to the bleak forest. In any other show, I’d be gagging a little at the feel-goodiness of it all, but LWA has played it so straight that I still found myself invested.

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And then things go a little bananas. With less than a minute to go, Croix’s magical app starts blaring alerts as a black magi-tech rocket is seen blasting into the stratosphere.

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Wait…  a WHAT?!

What the HELL, show?! I thought your ending felt a little truncated and you were probably going to use the last episode for denouement and lighthearted shenanigans after two pretty heavy ones. Instead, it looks like you’re pulling out some sort of final boss that had absolutely no lead-in or explanation? Was this Croix’s backup plan in case her robot failed? A magical ICBM?!

Summary:

I really don’t know how to feel about this episode after that last bit. The rest of it was quite good, even if the final moments felt a bit rushed and the B story with Andrew and his father trying to deal with the riots in the country beyond Luna Nova didn’t amount to much. All of the elements for a great ending were (and are) still there, but I fear that the writers may not have felt it was enough. LWA has been a pretty spectacular ride so far, and I’d hate to see it tarnished by a final episode that feels pulled out of someone’s butt. You haven’t steered me wrong yet, Trigger, don’t you start now!


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Rolling Review – Little Witch Academia (20)

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Episode Synopsis:

Despite Akko’s protesting, Dianna has firmly decided to leave Luna Nova and become the head of the Cavendish household to save it from the neglect of her devious aunt. When said aunt prevents Diana from completing the ritual that will seal her position, it’s up to Akko to save the day. In doing so, she learns a great deal about the history of the Cavendish family and Diana in particular. With newfound admiration for her “rival”, Akko resolves to help Diana accomplish her task, and the two discover more than just a family legacy in the Cavendish shrine.

Episode Review:

Dang, this is a solid episode. We get to learn a ton about Diana, her family, and some of the history of magic beyond Luna Nova. Better yet, we get to see Akko and Diana’s long-awaited team-up, and some gorgeous environments and animation all at the same time. Looking back, it’s probably my favorite episode (so far) in a show full of great ones.

We open with Diana continuing to ignore Akko’s pleas to return to Luna Nova, and quickly running into trouble on her way to her family’s shrine. Ignorant of this, Akko vents her frustrations to Andrew, who patiently explains that despite appearances, Diana has had to fight for everything she’s earned, and approaches every decision with care and certainty. This harks back to episode 12, when Akko first saw Diana’s room and the evidence of her hard work and studiousness. It’s a little dry hearing Andrew re-explain this to Akko, but since she moves at a mile a minute, taking a break for some exposition isn’t unwelcome.

Soon after, Akko and Andrew overhear Diana’s aunt, Daryl (mother of Maryl and Meryl, so it’s clear that branch of the family values consistency), gloating over trapping her niece to prevent her taking over the family name. Akko, in her trademark fashion, is more than happy to ignore protocol and tradition to get Diana out of this jam.

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“Calamity is my middle name!”

This is among my favorite moments in the episode, where Akko uses all of the metamorphosis magic she’s been practicing up to this point to rescue Diana, but is poisoned in the process. It’s energetic, funny and touching; a microcosm of all the best traits that LWA brings to the table. Those of you who remember Disney’s The Sword in the Stone may get a few nostalgic flashbacks to its crazy wizards’ duel.

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Diana treats Akko’s wounds, losing precious time she could have spent completing her quest. It turns out that her family has a long and noble history as some of the magical world’s most accomplished healers, and it would be against her family’s code (not to mention her own morals) to leave Akko in need. Her heartfelt desire to live up to and preserve her family’s legacy is incredibly moving, and explains her fierce pride in her heritage. This is no “oh-ho-ho-ing” princess like we’re so used to seeing in anime; this is someone with every right to be proud of who they are and where they came from.

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This stalwart passion moves Akko as well, and with some help from the Shiny Rod and another of the magic Words, she and Diana rush off to finish the ritual. Once again, things go awry due to Daryl’s interference, but Diana continues to hold true to her sense of duty, and acts selflessly to aid others while forgoing her own goals.

Episode Summary:

Finishing strong, the end of this two-parter hits all the best notes of the series. It boasts a positive message about helping those in need without feeling preachy, and both Akko and Diana show off how much they’ve grown in the time we’ve known them.

That isn’t to say the episode is flawless. Part of that is the overall structure of the show; until this most recent arc, we hadn’t seen Diana for several episodes, so her sudden decision to attend to family matters felt like it came out of nowhere. There were plenty of hints before, but it could’ve felt less sudden. Another minor quibble is a scene near the end, where the Cavendish servants vow to protect the family’s interests, even if Diana isn’t present. It feels a little halfhearted, since we barely see Diana interact with anyone besides her head maid. The entire bit just comes off as shoehorned in.

Beyond some incredibly small nitpicks, episode 20 is fantastic. I’m loving Akko’s earnestness and enthusiasm just as much as Diana’s determination and compassion. With the two of them on much friendlier terms, we’re all set to push into the final arc of the show and face off against the magical plot that Croix has been hatching in secret.

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No prizes for guessing that Diana’s Shiny Chariot card will play a role

 


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Rolling Review – Little Witch Academia (16)

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Episode Synopsis:

Akko has finally learned the importance of the seven Words of Arcturus and is determined to unlock them. However, unlocking the next word requires something that she lacks completely. Akko and Sucy join Lotte in Finland to meet her family and try to decipher the next word, but disaster strikes when a magical disease spreads throughout the town. Will Akko find what she lacks in time to save her friends?

Review:

With the over-plot of the season kicking into high gear last episode, this one takes things in a much more episodic direction. Even so, with the potential to restore magic to its former glory on the line, Akko is hell-bent on discovering the remaining Words of Arcturus, and nothing is going to stop her.

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Except waiting more than a minute for a magic search engine to spit out results

Not wanting Akko’s normal pique to get out of control, Ursula tells her that the only way for her to master the remaining words is to experience them as she grows and comes to understand their meaning. This echoes what Professor Woodward (the tree-lady from earlier) told her and Croix many years ago. The difference in their reactions says all you need to know about what they thought of that advice.

What follows is a quick visit to Lotte’s hometown in Finland to meet her family and see her old stomping grounds. Though they don’t dwell on it, the slow weakening of magic can be seen in how the Jansons’ magic shop has been forced to become more of a general store over time. Just because it’s time for shenanigans doesn’t mean the episode is going to let you forget that there are serious events transpiring, and I appreciate that reinforcement of the show’s core struggle.

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We only get a little time with Lotte’s family in this episode before they and the rest of the town are consumed by Greenman disease; a magical affliction that causes moss to cover peoples’ bodies until they wither and die. All of this is brought on by a wide variety of esoteric conditions being met, culminating in the baking of hapansilakka pie, a Scandinavian “delicacy” made with such foul-smelling fish that it’s considered a health hazard elsewhere in Europe. I have a soft spot for ridiculously convoluted magical nonsense, so watching the montage of insanity that contributed to this outbreak was a treat.

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This sends Akko and the gang on a mad quest to secure the ingredients for a cure. As you might imagine, the components are almost as crazy and specific as the cause of the disease.

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As her friends begin to succumb to the disease as well, Akko has to set out on her own to finish assembling the cure. This finally leads her to a revelation about the importance of the next Word, though how much of the lesson she absorbed is left up for debate.

While the episode does move the plot along, most of it is purely short-term comedy antics. I’m fine with this, though it does feel a little more phoned in at times than some of the earlier episodes, which featured tighter stories and more focused humor. In any case, we do see a brief aside of Croix in her magical laboratory, and learn a little more about how she hopes to achieve her goals.

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Those rose-tinted glasses sure make it easy to ignore horrifying consequences, don’t they?

Summary:

Episode 16 is decent, has plenty of humor, and hints at more to come. Like some of the filler episodes in the early part of the show, it feels a little insubstantial, but Trigger has proven that even their less engaging episodes are still worth a watch. Progress is made and tidbits of backstory are revealed at a steady enough pace that I doubt we’ll need any great exposition dumps in the later arcs. Even without the more emotionally charged events of the main plot, it’s plenty of fun and a good chance to see Akko, Lotte and Sucy working together to solve a magical disaster that Akko didn’t have a personal hand in, for once.


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