Author: Akihito Tsukushi
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Horror
Localization: Seven Seas Entertainment
Rating: Older Teen
Available to read online on BookWalker, fees may apply.
(This review consists of general impressions and is spoiler-free)
See that cover up there? If that alone were to cultivate your expectations, it might not take long reading Made in Abyss to discover that it’s a serious case of artistic style dissonance. That’s putting aside, of course, the many warnings circulating the web.
Made in Abyss is an excellent fantasy adventure and is one of the best examples of worldbuilding I’ve ever seen. This review is just getting started, let’s dive into it.
The story begins in an island town surrounding a deep abyss. The town’s economy depends on treasures discovered in the Abyss, with even residents of an orphanage participating in treasure hunts.
The Abyss itself is home to many monsters and other life forms, which makes trips to the abyss dangerous. However, the Abyss has an enigmatic “curse” which makes raiders experience deleterious effects when they attempt to ascend upwards. The deeper the expedition, the worse the effects.
The main character is Riko, an orphan girl whose mother is a famous raider. One day, when on a raid with others from the orphanage, Riko is attacked by a monster, but saved by a mysterious robotic boy with no memories of where he came from, or even why he attempted to save Riko. The robot boy then lived among the orphans, passing himself off as a human boy.
One day, a celebration was held in honor of Riko’s mom, who went on an expedition she did not return from. However, Riko did not give up hope that her mother was still alive. One day, she was shown a message from among her mother’s effects:
Come to the bottom. There I’ll be waiting.
If you guessed that Riko escaped with the robot boy into the depths of the abyss to reunite with her mother, knowing that she’s embarking on a journey from which she can never return, then you’re getting the hang of this “manga” thing.
As Riko and Reg journey through the Abyss, they encounter numerous life-forms that range in danger from benign to the kind of thing that even a man with a death wish would want to avoid. So nightmarish are the denizens, that this manga might even ruin leaves for you.
Much of the progression of the early story has to do with how the group copes with the dangers of the Abyss, as well as how they find the basics for survival, such as food, shelter, and water.
In the instances in which there is danger, there is a sense of something at stake, since Riko’s party isn’t just some assemblage of generic character classes (warrior, healer, wizard, etc.). Riko and her friends are dripping with personality, further supplemented by moments of levity which serve to further characterize the cast. Because, you know, just because the plot isn’t being advanced doesn’t mean the story isn’t being meaningful.
What’s more, there is a connotation of lasting consequence with every possible thing that could go wrong. For example, if someone were to fall over and hit their face on something, they might have to wear a bandage on their face for a very long time. If an artifact slips out of someone’s hand and they end up losing it, it’s gone. If someone ends up injured or poisoned, the agonizing choices that have to be made for one’s immediate survival are just the start of it.
And that’s just what nature has to throw at the heroes. Once other humans are involved, the stakes get higher over whether they are friend or foe. For example, once this guy starts showing up:
…That’s the last chance for anyone who is faint of heart to take a hike. Over the course of the series, the only one who has managed to outdo Bondrewd’s horrors was Bondrewd himself.
To describe the art style in just a few words, think Ichigo Machimaro meets Tony DiTerlizzi. The stylistic design of the characters is a stark contrast compared to how gorgeous the environments are, whether they are of the island town or the majestic landscapes of the deep abyss.
The way the characters are stylized seems to follow their intended effect. Children and more sympathetic characters tend to be portrayed with softer, rounder features, while adults generally have sharper, more angular features. While the manga obviously stars the children, the adults are in a class of their own, as they exude a certain world-weariness that would be difficult to find outside of fast-food staff.
One thing I found kinda surprising was that there was nudity. Not just that it was there, but also that it was treated as a matter-of-fact thing. It was mainly the tip-of-the-mountain that was showing; I didn’t see any tube steaks or roast beef sandwiches. But if you’re mature enough for boom sticks, grown-up beverages, and movies where things get killed, you could probably handle it.
Made in Abyss has an intellectual element, as well. A few volumes in, and the birth allegories start to become more obvious. And the more you think about it, the more you start to notice. Or is that confirmation bias at work?
From what I’ve seen so far (up to volume 9), this manga series seems excellent, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next. New volumes seem to come once every few months to about a year. That’s fine, considering that it’s more likely to be a better product if it’s not rushed. Still, volume 9 ended with a cliffhanger, which doesn’t do much to make waiting easy.
There is already an anime adaptation underway, but I’m kinda on-the-fence as to whether to give it a look. It’s not that I have a problem with knowing what’s going to happen; it’s that I know what parts of it might be difficult to watch. It’s one thing to read the difficult parts, but seeing them in motion might be emotionally draining.
But hey, the warnings aren’t to discourage you, they’re to make sure you’re mentally prepared. Still, Made in Abyss wasn’t made for everyone. Some audiences might find this one disturbing.
But now onto it’s score. Made in Abyss volumes 1-9 get a score of a satisfied Nanachi out of 10.
Which, as you might guess, would be a 10 out of 10. It’s outstanding.
By the way, I wonder whether Akihito Tsukushi has heard of Cave Story?
(The art provided in this review is snippets from the reviewed manga, to give an example of the work. These are used for review purposes, and therefore fall under Fair Use.)