Made in Abyss Episodes 4 & 5: High and Low

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It’s sad when they die….but they become the flesh and blood of those creatures, and then once become our strength. That is how – all us cave raiders – have grown strong.

Made in Abyss has been a pleasant surprise for the past five episodes, shapeshifting into all sorts of genres – an adventure, a tragedy, a drama – until at one point, it blurs into all of them. On one hand, this makes for excellent world building and small moments of powerful characterization. With Rico as the anchor of the show’s myriad of settings, we’re allowed to witness the world from a child-like perspective of innocent wonder and enthusiasm. Reg also offers us a similar point of view, as he is a self insert for the audience to slowly learn more about the mysteries of the Abyss.

On the other hand, there’s a kind of apathetic tone that’s consistent throughout this shapeshifting. I can’t really place my finger on it, but much like the Abyss itself, the show has this unsettling presence throughout. It’s not the monsters, or Rico’s somewhat frightening nature of accepting brutal realities, but more or less how these things are portrayed from a third person point of view. It has repeatedly put me on guard for what might be coming next, which one could classify as a strong reaction from a ‘thriller’ genre, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call Made in Abyss a thriller. There is not enough desperation and momentum to really classify it as such. Rather, the tone of the show toward its characters and setting seems to mimic more of a documentary, and it’s this particular genre mix that interests me most about Made in Abyss, especially as it dives (quite literally) into the Abyss as our main two characters witness first hand its wonders and horrors.

Much of Episode 4 and 5 feel like a traveler’s journal – Rico and Reg’s journeys are accompanied with plenty of dialogue and monologues about what they see in front of them, and them deducing their chances of survival based on this evidence. There is of course, the wide eyed mesmerization of nature and its inhabitants, but there’s also the fear and horror of it threatening you at every turn. This is precisely the kind of backdrop I think Made in Abyss needs, as it gives us an equal opportunity to learn so much about the dense settings that lie in the Abyss, but also watch as Rico and Reg must learn how to rely on each other for survival. Neither component is easily displayed either.

Much of Rico and Reg’s journeys rely on a descriptive and analytical narration that aids the structure of a documentary-like show.

This is specifically seen in Episode 5, when the duo finds their first case of absolute danger. Running doesn’t help anyone when Rico is kidnapped by a corpse weeper and Reg must rely on his wits and abilities to help her from being eaten. Throughout this scene, there’s an ongoing tension as to whether Rico will get eaten or not, but at the same time, it’s not really tense; the way the scene is set up is that Reg calmly thinks things through, just like Rico, and manages to avoid disaster at the last minute by using his laser. The presentation isn’t necessarily detached, but it’s not terrifying or inspiring.

Much of this is because the end result of Rico and Reg’s journey is set in stone, with the show to consistently nod its head at confirming this. With a resolution like that, the peril that our duo faces doesn’t seem so terrifying for them. Instead, it works for us, the audience, to understand the dark mysteries that lurk in the Abyss. In this way, Made in Abyss works very well as a nature documentary. Part escapist, part surreal, and a persistent reminder of the war that is life and death in the world; Made in Abyss roots for no one, whether it be prey or predator.

Lastly is the idea of what Made in Abyss defines as ‘hell’. Rico’s symptoms, while somewhat mirroring pressure-related symptoms, doesn’t seem to be the diving metaphor I imagined. I’m sure we’ll figure more about this later on from the mysterious Ozen, but it’s become very clear to me that curiosity isn’t the only thing that draws people to the Abyss – its very journey is like an addiction, While the Abyss defies logic and physics at every turn, it also defies conventional humanity. “If you stare into the Abyss, it will stare back into you” is a bit of a cliche, and even more so to be literally applied to a setting here, but Made in Abyss seems to extend it to every dimension of world and character building. Humans by default are drawn to mysteries they can’t understand, and the Abyss is a giant gaping hole of them. With this metaphor, Made in Abyss becomes clear: Hell isn’t other people, or terrifying creatures, or even life itself. It is the inherent compulsion to understand, at the expense of mortal peril. Nail-biting, fidgeting, or even regular anime blogging analysis – as humans, we commit to habits that don’t really make sense to others, but somehow, in their own weird way, make sense to us. Rico’s hell is only beginning, but she’s determined to follow it to the grim end to find her own personal logic. We, as her companions, are only doomed to follow the incomprehensible, and hope that her curiosity will be satiated before her own life is finished. Made in Abyss isn’t a documentary, adventure, or drama. It is a tragedy.


2 responses to “Made in Abyss Episodes 4 & 5: High and Low

  1. I’m super excited for you to get down to Ozen and then the following ep, the show’s about to light up! And you’re dead right about the themes, this series is kind of like a spooky attic full of bugs and spiders and you’re going through each box one by one, scared of getting bitten or stung but ever so curious as to what ancient treasure’s been left behind.

  2. “It is the inherent compulsion to understand, at the expense of mortal peril.”

    Have you read the lyrics to the OP? It ties in very well with that point but is something I missed early on since it wasn’t translated in the subs I watched.

    It sounds very upbeat, but there’s lyrics about not minding having to sacrifice everything and heading to a place from which there’s no return. And of course the last few lines “Even if it’s a curse, this excitement is real. Never will our longing end.”

    Anyway, I’m excited to think of what you think of later episodes! I’m not sure how much of the manga we’ll get through, but the manga has already been tantalizingly addictive with how it slowly releases more hints about the real nature of the Abyss and the people who explore it, so be prepared to still have a lot of questions at the end of 13 episodes…


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