“Made in Abyss” is a recent anime series from Kinema Citrus, first aired in 2017. It is based on a manga by Akihito Tsukushi which began in 2012. I wouldn’t call it steampunk, but it’s more steampunk in spirit than many stories that claim that label. It has a Victorian-era feel, with nineteenth-century technology, exploited orphaned children and subterranean exploration complete with pith helmets. Its vivid artwork and masterful world-building make it an absorbing series.
As with some of the previous anime shows (Black Butler, Clockwork Planet) I’ve reviewed on this site, Abyss has children as protagonists. Though it has some moderate horror aspects and some mild sexual humor, it is more family-friendly than the others. The heroine, a spunky twelve-year-old girl named Riko, lives in an orphanage in the town of Orth. It’s a circular community surrounding a huge and seemingly bottomless hole in the earth known as the Abyss. The Abyss is a place of mystery and danger. It has its own unique ecosystem with fantastic creatures and contains ancient technological marvels of unknown origin. Riko’s parents were professional Abyss-explorers, known as “white whistles.” Her father died in a tragic accident, and her mother is believed dead as well, though Riko doesn’t accept this. She’s convinced that her mother is alive somewhere down there and that she must go find her.
In this rather dystopian world, orphans are put to work as relic-hunters in the upper levels of the Abyss, which contains many deadly dangers. During one of these trips, Riko discovers the most amazing relic of all, a child-sized robot with great powers and no memory of his past. She disguises him as a newfound orphan and convinces him to accompany her on an expedition to find her mother. The most interesting thing about the Abyss is the mysterious “force field” which fills it with a diffuse light and also has adverse effects on human physiology known as “the Curse of the Abyss.” This curse gets worse the deeper one ventures. Riko, having been born deep in the Abyss, believes she may be immune.
Made in Abyss avoids many of the pitfalls (pun intended) of anime story lines by having nuanced characters. Riko is full of enthusiasm but she is sometimes discouraged. Reg has great powers but they have a cost, so he must use them only when necessary. As they venture into the Abyss they encounter adult relic-hunters who seem at first to be the children’s allies, but have their own selfish agendas. This keeps the series exciting throughout.
Abyss may seem childish at first glance but in my opinion, it is far and away the best new anime of the past two years. It has it all: adventure, danger, mystery, humor, and tragedy. I heartily recommend it, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the second season scheduled for sometime later in 2018.
Made in Abyss is available for watching on Amazon Prime Video and other streaming sites.