Rolling Review – Made in Abyss (12)

 

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Episode Summary:

Riko spends another episode unconscious and recovering, making this a dialog-heavy episode primarily between Nanachi and Reg.  Oddly, we also spend a while back on the surface, as Leader tends to one of his small charges as they fight off a fever.  The episode ends with a fast-paced action sequence in which Reg saves a Black Whistle from the orbed-piercer, and gives him a message to deliver back to Leader that they’re still alive and pushing onward.

Episode Review:

Sometimes I’m not really sure where this show is going, and the beginning of this episode is a prime example.  Back on the surface, Kiyui is fighting a deadly fever.

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This little guy

We spend the first few minutes watching Leader talk to a pharmacist from a trading fleet as they try to save him.  Leader goes quite in depth describing the “Birthday-Death Disease”, an increasingly prevalent illness that exclusively kills orphan children on their birthday.  As soon as Kiyui is brought to the trading fleet’s ship, he recovers almost immediately, leading to the unspoken conclusion that something about being near the Abyss is causing it.

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And then we cut away back to Reg, Riko, and Nanase without further explanation.  Now, I appreciate worldbuilding as much as (and to be fair, probably more than) the next guy, but it’s hard for me to understand why we had this sequence.  Unless Riko is going to mysteriously die on her birthday while deep in the Abyss (as opposed to dying from the multitude of horrors down there or from the random “maybe you’ll suddenly stop” effects of the Curse-Repelling Vessel), I can’t see what we gain from this other than a needless confirmation that humanity isn’t really welcome near the Abyss, and that life is especially unfair for people in this show.  Oh well, at least there was a shot of a really cool ship.

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Nice boat

Seriously, that thing wouldn’t look out of place in a Miyazaki film.  Moving along, we’re treated to an explanation by Professor Nanachi as to how the Curse functions on a mechanical level.

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…Why do you have so many pre-prepared, handmade bulletin board thingies?  Those can’t be easy to make.

Simple and effective, Professor!  The Curse is like an ever-increasing set of pieces of cloth that let you through easy but hurt when you push through them on the way up.  It’s apparently caused by the same force field that allows light to make it all the way from the surface to down here, and as with so many things in the Abyss, WHY WOULD YOU MAKE THAT?!?  Why.

We’re also treated to a few light moments when Nanachi makes her patent-pending Netherworld Stew.

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Does everyone have a trademark stew in this show?  Reg, you gotta get started on yours!

Described as both looking like and having the texture of mud, it’s nutritious, filling, and almost completely unpalatable to poor Reg, who shoots a look at Nanachi that’s equal parts accusation and pity.

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It’s one of those moments when you chuckle, but it’s tempered by the crushing knowledge that once Riko awakens, she and Reg will leave this oasis of safety and continue on to places of almost impossible danger.  So, good job making these scenes of levity feel precious, show.

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Thanks, Nanachi, you really know how to – did you say “predict the future”?  Oh come on!

The show makes sure to maintain a sense of “everything is wrong just below the surface” with a shot of (what I assume is) Riko’s unconscious mind that is… quite unsettling.

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Yeesh, I don’t even know what I’m looking at and I’m unhappy.  They’re a talented bunch, the guys making this show.

The relatively easy-going episode ends with a shocking request from Nanachi to Reg, and a tiny flashback of Nanachi’s past that serves as a warning of what might lie ahead, clearing the way for a final episode that’s all downhill, both literally and figuratively.


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Rolling Review – Made in Abyss (09)

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Episode Summary:

Riko and Reg leave Ozen and company behind and descend through the Third Layer of the Abyss.  The center of the shaft is smooth and impossible to climb down with Reg’s arms, so the pair finds their way down by using animal dens.  In one of these dens, a powerful creature attacks them, and Reg is forced to use his Incinerator to kill it.  This leaves Riko alone in the Abyss for two hours while he’s unconscious.  She immediately gets herself into trouble, but perseveres through it, finally coming to the realization that she couldn’t have made it without Reg (who finally awakens as the episode closes).  It’s a lesson that will surely be reinforced frequently as they approach the Fourth Layer.

 

Episode Review:

The show makes a hard shift away from the compressed time on display in the previous episodes, putting every minute of Riko’s fight to survive the Third Layer without her protector into clear focus.

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I must say I prefer it this way, as the exploration from the characters’ point of view is much more interesting than having a summary of what happened, as we did with Ozen’s survival training.  There’s plenty to take in, from the strange ecosystem of the Abyss…

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Stone-cold Riko prepares to throw live critters off a cliff to distract local monsters

…to the ruins of the civilization that lived here…

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A boat embedded in the wall?  That must make for quite the story.

…to the unique structure of the caves here.

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Of course, while I’m enjoying the scenery, Riko and Reg don’t have that luxury.  Riko’s impetuous exploration quickly places her in mortal danger.

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As with the hippo from last episode, Riko stands stupefied in front of her impending doom, with only Reg’s quick intercession keeping her alive.

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Well, both his quick intercession and his LASER HANDS, that is

This attracts the attention of an even larger monster that the pair are barely able to evade before Reg falls asleep, giving Riko a warning not to move until he awakens.  Riko, finally aware of how tenuously she clings to life down here, sits down to wait and – oh, who am I kidding.  She immediately, like within 5 seconds, realizes she’s hungry and decides to go find food, dragging Reg along with her.  She doesn’t seem to have a single self-preservation instinct in her body, a point made crystal clear when she follows the scent of fruit deep underground (red flag!) to find it emanating from a glowing (double reg flag!) hole in the ground (klaxons to full power! Sound the alarm!).  Instead of wondering, she steps right up to it and is eaten by a large plant filled with digestive juices.

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To her credit, she quickly realizes the position she’s in and begins stabbing her way to freedom.

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She gets points for determination and quick thinking, but if this had been anything but a stationary monster with a slow death by disintegration, that probably would be the end of the show right there.  I don’t know what it’s going to take for Riko to start assessing her surroundings before charging ahead, but she really needs to learn that lesson soon.

The rest of the episode sees her confront an upward slope, which under normal circumstances would be a minor inconvenience, but here in the Abyss is a nigh Sisyphean climb.

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On that terrible incline, she confronts auditory and visual hallucinations caused by the curse and comes to the realization that she couldn’t make it without Reg.  As Reg finally awakens and the two stand at the entrance to the fourth layer, I hope she takes that lesson to heart, because things aren’t getting any easier.


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Rolling Review – Made in Abyss (04)

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Episode Summary:

Riko’s adventure begins in earnest, as she and Reg begin rapidly descending the Abyss in hopes of evading any pursuit from Leader and the others.  Along the way, we get a taste of what the journey will bring, from ancient ruins to terrifying monsters to simply finding food.  The intrepid duo also encounter Riko’s uncle Habo, who gives them some food, a vaccine to prevent sickness in the second layer of the Abyss, and a worrying warning about the guardian of the Seeker Camp that sits at the entrance to the the second layer – Ozen the Unmovable.  Undeterred, the two continue, reaching the edge of the second layer.  Riko is now considered to be a suicide by those on the surface, and her further progress will only be impeded by the challenges of the Abyss and those who live in it.

 

Episode Review:

It’s a little strange to feel proud of a character for charging recklessly towards her own death, but Made in Abyss makes you really want to root for poor, doomed Riko and her protector, Reg, if only because of her irrepressible optimism.

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Figure 1: Irrepressible optimism

Despite barely having a plan and a supply situation that will require them to scavenge constantly as they progress, Riko is nothing but excited for her journey.  It helps that Leader left her a message containing a copy of her mother’s final journal, as well as a message from him to her that spurs her to faster action.  Well, that and Reg, who is assuredly the only thing that might keep Riko safe for longer than a day down here – I don’t even think she has a weapon beyond her survival knife.

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That is a pretty sweet monster-alert system you got there, Reg
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Seriously, what was your plan if you didn’t have Reg’s Bionic Commando powers?

Thankfully, this isn’t going to be a tale of a useless princess being protected by her robot knight.  Riko may be all of 12 years old and unprepared for fighting, but she does have a good set of survival skills and the tools to use them.

Speaking of fighting, they encounter their first terrifying denizen of the Abyss.

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Why is every creature down here awful?

What’s interesting about it is that for this monster, and another one that appears later on, the animation style changes.  It feels like the creatures have been run through some kind of blurring filter, smooshing together all of the internal color lines and making them almost seem… rotoscoped or something.  I mean, they clearly aren’t but it’s really hard to describe the effect.  In any event, it makes the encounters with these monsters really stand out, and makes them feel very different than the characters we’re following.  Probably this is because if the monsters were drawn with the same rounded softness as the characters, they wouldn’t look menacing at all, and so this difference in animation really highlights the danger these monsters pose.

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Not even kidding, Riko, you would’ve been eaten Day 1, 8’ o clock without the Reg-Arm

Much of the rest of the episode (not counting the minor encounter with Habo; the episode summary really says it all) is some absolutely stunning background stills that the characters move through.  The other Con Artists have each said as much, but it’s worth stressing – nothing this season, or for that matter, several seasons, has looked this good.  Please enjoy the following gallery:

I’m almost more excited to see the various areas of the Abyss than I am to follow Riko and Reg’s adventure.  Especially because of the warning given to Riko by Habo about her upcoming meeting with Ozen.

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The way this line was delivered, in context, made me shudder.  I’m worried for you, kid.

In summary, I am totally hooked for what will happen next, and what the next area of the Abyss will bring.

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Oh my god you guys are so screwed.  Go in there so I can see more.

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Rolling Review – Little Witch Academia (22)

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Dun dun dunnnnnn!

 

Episode Synopsis:

The riots from the soccer matches, and the enmity between the countries, have worsened.  Britain’s leaders, Andrew’s father among them, have begun down a path towards confrontation with another continental nation, probably France (although they are not named).  Of course, this has nothing to do with Akko… until she discovers that Croix is using her techno-magic to keep the two sides angry as a way to create additional magical energy and pursue some kind of dramatic end-game.  She confronts Croix, and the fallout from this leads to the reveal of Shiny Chariot, the cause of her disappearance, and a dark secret that may stop Akko from pursuing the Words.

Episode Review:

Before we get too deep into the review, I just want to say that Andrew’s dad is pretty good at cutting a dramatic figure, even when he really shouldn’t.

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This is a man that knows how to turn off a television with extreme prejudice

 

Before we go any further, though, I think it’s appropriate to post a SPOILER WARNING here.  We generally do spoil most of our episodes as we review them, but this one is a lot more spoiler-y than usual, in the sense that it would be a lot more dramatic and impactful to watch this episode than read about it.

At last, we’ve reached the pivotal point of the season.  Croix’s plan has left the lab and moved onto a national stage, a crisis is rising, and the major arcs of Akko, Croix, Ursula, Andrew, and probably Diana are all getting ready to intersect.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Croix’s plan is not super original as far as anime villain plots go.  Gaining power from negative emotions and using them to do… whatever it is she’s planning…

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With a name like that, you just know this plan isn’t going to be puppies and rainbows

…is a pretty standard trope.  That said, the explanation of this large plan was given alongside the explanation as to why Akko is basically the world’s worst witch (Shiny Chariot’s show accidentally? intentionally? stole the audience’s magical aptitude to generate magical energy), and that actually did a really good job of tying together many of the things that have bugged us all season.  That event is why Akko is bad at magic, why she can’t fly on a broom, and also explains why Ursula was so reluctant to reveal herself as Shiny Chariot.  It’s not just that Ursula would have to deal with Akko fangirling on her for the rest of her school life, she also would have to explain her very dark past and risk losing both Akko’s friendship and (perhaps more importantly for Ursula) Akko’s pursuit of the Words.

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Of course, putting off this painful explanation means that it happened at the worst possible time instead

So, nice job on that one, Trigger, it explains a lot in one fell swoop.  Of course, we don’t know everything yet; there’s still more to learn about Croix and Ursula’s relationship, as well as –

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OK, what?  Ursula, you have some SERIOUS explaining to do.  I thought that was a charming background detail, but the shape on the moon is RELEVANT!?  We’d better circle back around to this, and soon.

Akko is, of course, emotionally devastated by the revelations, and now I’m sure it’ll be up to her friends to get her back on track.

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Plus, someone’s going to have to stop, or at least hold off, Croix before there’s another European war.  Come on, Diana (and maybe McGonagall), show me what you’re made of!

With the big drama going on, there are a number of other musings I want to touch on.  For one, Croix’s reveal does have one major plot pitfall (other than its standard-ness) – no part of it appears to hinge on Akko or the Shiny Rod at all, at least at this point.  So why did Croix spend so much time befriending Akko?  Her reveal didn’t take the form of a dramatic betrayal of some trust Akko had in her; Akko basically stumbled onto Croix as the plan was beginning; Croix was surprised to see her there at all.

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Was it just to hurt Ursula?  Maybe, but that doesn’t seem like it was a major goal either, just kind of a side project for Croix.  In short, I don’t know why Croix ever played “good professor” with Akko, but maybe there’s more to come.

 

Next up, the riots.

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They make a strong statement

As silly as it is to imagine Britain and France going to war over a controversial referee call in a soccer match, I do have to wonder how European viewers are feeling about the show.  Here in America, I’m pretty used to my country being represented as a shady, immoral, vaguely threatening but usually incompetent villain that menaces Japan from afar.  Or to the assumption that all US citizens are either gun-toting cowboys (for the men) or blonde airheads (for the women).  It’s… a depressingly common portrayal in anime.  But now, out of the blue, it’s Europe’s turn, and their characterization is being one soccer riot away from a war.

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So to any of our European readers – what are your feelings on this episode?  Leave us a comment; I’d be fascinated to read it.

 

Also of note: Andrew’s character development.  Andrew’s difficult relationship with his powerful, brook-no-interference father, and how the heavy burden of his father’s expectations of future leadership is weighing on him, are their own small but well-told story.

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In almost the background of the show, Andrew is having his own quiet arc.

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Real talk, though, Andrew – you may always feel the need to look proper, but some of the poses you strike look ridiculously uncomfortable.

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Seriously, what are you doing?

Maybe take some more cues from Akko.

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Bad example.  That looks a lot more fun… but still uncomfortable to hold

Finally, as we approach the endgame of what has been an enjoyable ride, I do find myself feeling a tinge of regret: I don’t feel like we really got enough time with Lotte, Sucy, or the academia part of Little Witch Academia.  Well, maybe they can do a sequel, or a spinoff or something.  LWA Gaiden: Diana and her Terrible Toadies?


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Rolling Review – Little Witch Academia (18)

 

 

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Get off me, you simpleton!

Episode Synopsis:

The Wild Hunt, an event where highly trained ghost hunters compete (?) to hunt ghosts that appear on a set schedule, is coming to town.  Constanze, the mute techno-mage in training (different kind of techno-magic than Croix, though), is preparing a mighty mechanical steed to participate.  Enter Akko, who accidentally breaks one of Constanze’s helper robots, and takes it upon herself to make it up to Constanze by working with her to build her ship.  Problem is, Constanze doesn’t want any help.  So begins Akko’s quest to prove that sometimes, it takes teamwork to get a difficult job done.  Oh, there’s also a massive magical mecha showdown towards the end.

Episode Review:

This is another fine episode by Studio Trigger from a quality standpoint, with some standout scenes, but I can’t help but feel like the message is a bit off.  Constanze makes it clear from the outset that she doesn’t want any help from Akko.

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Well, see, there’s your problem.  Akko definitely doesn’t have a clue how to read English.

Akko takes the lack of friendship as a challenge, and sets about aggressively trying to make Constanze her friend.

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This is despite numerous conversations with both her own friends and Constanze’s that confirm Constanze’s preference.

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Now, I figured we were setting up Akko to learn another valuable lesson about how people are different, gain (or at least try out) a new virtue that will help her unlock one of the Words, etc.  Instead, the lesson is that Constanze is in the wrong by not accepting Akko’s help…

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Pictured above: “Help”

…and that sometimes it takes people with different skills to accomplish an objective.

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Upon seeing the impossible majesty of a plant in the shape of a cow, Constanze had no choice but to become Akko’s friend.

Now, admittedly, that’s a fine lesson too, but there’s gotta be a better way for Constanze to learn it than having unwanted assistance shoved down her throat until she accepts it.  Someday, Akko is going to meet someone that she truly can’t help with her patented mixture of optimism and bull-headedness, and that’s going to be a rough day.  On a side note, why doesn’t Akko show this level of commitment to making friends with Diana?

Moving on, the second half of the episode is an incredibly fun action sequence in which Constanze and Akko take off in their new ghost-hunting magitek ship for some Wild Hunt action.

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This stylish number emerges from a secret under-lake launch site, because if you’re doing a mecha episode, sometimes you gotta go with the classics

The fight is Trigger at their best, with dramatic action shots all over the place, and gets much more hectic once Croix shows up to make the ghosts stronger and more aggressive with her techno-magical cube things.

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That looks like trouble

Fortunately, Constanze and Akko have a trick up their sleeve.

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Yes.
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Yes!

 

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YES.

Is it kind of strange to suddenly have a mecha show in the middle of your magical witch school show?  Sure.  I still enjoyed every minute.  From the transformation sequence to the English attack names to the giant explosions, it was a perfect classic mecha nostalgia moment.

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In terms of plot development, there isn’t too much, though we do get a bit more of Croix’s master plan, which is currently in the research phase.  She apparently has some way to obtain energy from human emotions, and today’s experiment was to gauge the output from panic.

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Based on previous episodes, it seems like she’s really going for the negative emotions, but she may also be causing unintended benefits for Akko’s plan to get people to like magic again:

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These folks are 100% convinced about magic’s radness factor after watching a magical mecha take down a sinister bird demon with an exploding drill arm

Another episode behind us, and I’m left with only one question: Does Akko even attend classes anymore?

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