As human beings, we inherently color our perception of the world through past and shared experiences. We often encompass our gateways to the world around us through the five senses, but the sixth sense that we often forget is our own memory; not only of what we remember, but how we remember it. The horrors, the pleasures, the joys and sorrows – they are all covered by a blanket of bias, and in this sense, nothing is actually true until it’s there, in the perfect moment of now, in front of our eyes for us to directly relate to.
I say this because as much as I can narrate my experiences of being an EMT, nothing can really come close to the moments I felt then. I can’t capture them again, I can’t relive them again, and I most certainly cannot encapsulate them in an way that others can understand and truly experience. The blood on your gloves, the sickening smell of guts on the stretcher, the adrenaline coursing through your veins as you race against the clock – none of this can truly be packaged in a way that a stranger can understand.
There’s a substantial difference between reading something and truly experiencing it. Emily’s post goes into this in wonderful detail, but more than the dissociation between Riko’s dreams of the Abyss and its haunting realities is the cruelty that Episode 9 and 10 (specifically 10) dives into. Made in Abyss has always been about the horrors of the Abyss, and for the most part, Riko’s somewhat suicidal mentality has also been her defense mechanism for surviving these horrors. The walls she has carefully raised up around her and Reg in their quest to find Lyza have tested the waters and have even earned the respect of Ozen the Immovable (whose own disturbing nature can’t decipher and break apart Reg and Riko’s bonds).
You could attribute this to Riko’s hardy nature as much as you can attribute it to Reg’s sturdy build. Episode 9 however, is surprisingly deceitful: it tells us that neither of these are the answer. Riko and Reg’s absolute and unwavering trust in each other is what makes them powerful, and it’s only when Reg loses unconsciousness after using his Incinerator that Riko has to rely on her own wits and physique to keep herself and Reg alive. Riko manages to get out of sticky situations with her knowledge and quick wits, but as she very accurately states at the end of episode 9: there’s no way a single person can survive the depths of the Abyss. If Riko had gone alone, forget her mediocre physical stamina. She wouldn’t have been able to survive the Abyss’ continuous attacks on her mental health, as stubborn as she is. Luckily, she does have Reg, and Episode 9 is a great touch to fleshing out how codependent these two are, and what good comes out of it as much as what bad comes out of them being alone.
The last half of that statement is proven true in Episode 10, which proved itself to be the best and by far my favorite episode of the show yet. You can raise your walls against the microcosms of the Abyss, you can outwit and evade, but yet again, Made in Abyss has been telling us over and over through visual direction: Reg and Riko are as much a part of an Abyss as they are its victims. In this hell, nature only follows one rule: survival. Not just any typical survival, but a survival through absolutely horrific violence. It’s that violence that Riko must bear terribly, that splits the kind of balance Riko and Reg shared, but most importantly, cracks right into the heart of what Made in Abyss has evolved into for the past 9 episodes.
Episode 10 asks these questions: What is violence? Is it purposeful? Is it an absolute? Is it an equalizer? Who instigates it, who perpetuates it, and who are its victims? But before we answer those, we have to ask: why are Episode 10’s events so shocking? Is it the intensity of violence that occurs? Is it the pacing? Is it the length? Even as I sat and watched Riko scream, I honestly did not feel sick. I’m not saying this to be tough, but I didn’t feel unsettled (the gore was unnatural and fantastical enough that it didn’t bother me). I felt shocked. That’s a truth for you there. Violence is always shocking. The purposeful, attentive action of ripping someone apart, of instilling pain and cruelty into them forcefully – it is hard. We’re not built to be cruel, not really. And yet, nature forces this upon us, again and again – we force it upon ourselves, upon each other. Violence is a disease, and because it is a disease, it fits perfectly right at home in the Abyss.
So yes, violence is shocking. It’s purposeful. What makes the scene of Riko slowly succumbing to poison and dying so shocking isn’t the gravity of the situation, or the actual gore involved. It’s the fact that Riko is the one who is suffering. It’s the fact that Reg, now without Riko’s help, has to be the one to break her arm and provide treatment. The reversal of roles is striking here, and it not only shows how much of a double edged sword the codependency has been, but how weak and fragile our main characters are, compared to the grand and complex system of the Abyss. It truly is inescapable, unknowable, unpredictable, and obsessive.
Up to this point, Made in Abyss has carved itself to be an adventure show that sits in the dark, meditates upon it, and in turn, lets us meditate about the horrors of nature. It’s still very much that, but Episode 10 is the first step where Made in Abyss no longer becomes meditative. It becomes forceful. And in doing so, it shatters our own expectations and colored perceptions of the show, because nothing is truly as it seems until it appears right in front of our face. We can read on it, we can watch videos, and hear people’s stories, but until it really does happen to us, we can’t understand it. This is especially true for violence, because it’s an active crime.
Is violence absolute though? Is it an inevitable end for every soul? I don’t think Made in Abyss has answered this question yet. In Riko’s case, it’s inevitable for her to be knifed again and again – this is her suicidal quest after all. But thematically, I don’t think Made in Abyss is that kind of nihilistic show. The only absolute truth that Made in Abyss has pointed out so far is death. But violence and death are very different things. Death is necessary, but I’d like to think violence isn’t a necessity as it is much of a cyclical byproduct. It’s a byproduct we don’t think enough about, in small doses like the way Riko easily throws away the rabbi t creatures to their deaths in order to keep herself and Reg alive. But Made in Abyss very brutally reminds us that violence is the most powerful predator, and that like everything else in the Abyss, is just as cyclical. Just as with any traumatic incident, you can break, break, and break your way down – but rebuilding upward, that’s the tough bit. Nothing that was once whole comes together the same way again, and we can say this about Riko’s arm as much as we can say this about Riko and Reg’s relationship. Ironically, it is a burden they must bear together if they’re to face the onslaught of whatever happens next.