I felt super late to the game when I first started watching this series in fall, and feel even more so now that I’ve finally gotten around to finishing it. From the beginning, I knew there was something different about this show, something that resonated with me in particular, because of who I am and what I have grown up with: Made in Abyss would be a fantastic video game—and was most likely initially conceived as such. I truly regret not jumping on this anime sooner, as I could’ve easily been one of the first to give it praise and explain how it would make for a fine gaming experience. Sadly, I missed out on that and was beaten to the punch by Geoff Thew, Professional Shitbag. He has a great video on “The Anime that Should Have Been a Video Game” on his YouTube Channel, Mother’s Basement, which I strongly recommend checking out if you care for more details on the matter.
Before I myself get into how aspects of the show would most likely translate swimmingly to the interactive medium of video games, let me first start with a brief description of the show. Imagine a fantasy city built both physically and economically around a colossal, and seemingly bottomless, hole. Spelunkers venture into the mystical Abyss with hopes to bring back resources, but most don’t dare to delve too deep in fear of not being able to return. With each level lower in the “Abyss” comes even greater peril, as the mysterious chasm is filled with a myriad of murderous creatures. One day, a young girl by the name of Riko stumbles upon a robot boy named Regu. Riko is a capable explorer with an insatiable curiosity, but lacks the physical strength necessary to survive the greater depths of the Abyss (because she’s twelve). Regu (also twelve-ish) can seemingly make up for that weakness, equipped with his super-duper extendable (and retractable!) robo-arms, general robot strength, and Samus’ Zero Beam from Smash Bros Brawl—but he lacks the experience and determination that Riko has due to his amnesia.
These two quickly become best friends, and together they decide to venture to the bottom of the Abyss in search of Riko’s mother, whom they learn may still be alive. If it sounds like I rushed the description in that last line, that’s because the show’s like that too! It feels really weird and off-putting at first when these CHILDREN set off, with no adult supervision, into the most dangerous and unpredictable place in the ENTIRE WORLD. Riko, for one, isn’t anywhere near high-ranking adventurer status, and Regu could be even be considered a newborn in the sense that his memory is only a couple days long now.
If this were a game, I would imagine it would take far longer to leave this tutorial/hub world—spend some time learning the mechanics, completing side quests, building bonds with the supporting cast, painfully departing from them when the time comes, and so on. An anime, on the other hand, would not lend itself well to this process. No one wants to sit back and watch someone else grind for hours until they can finally progress; That shit’s sometimes not even tolerable when doing it firsthand! So, the story skips past that part as the two brave/naïve adventurers dive into this pit of immeasurable suffering.
There are many indicators that this story was first created with the structure of a video game in mind, and the greatest example of this would have to be the Abyss itself. This hole in the ground is designed as the ultimate dungeon. Difficulty increases as a player descends through the Abyss’s distinct and richly detailed levels. Each floor comes with new aesthetics, unique enemies, and various stages that require evolving gameplay mechanics to traverse; As Regu gains more control over his body, his platforming skills increase from being able to jump and lower himself down, to swinging and climbing combinations—necessary for levels containing far less solid ground.
Even how the plot progresses is reminiscent of a video game narrative. Complications that require a sole character to be in control while the other remains incapable of helping, relying on only that character’s abilities to bring both of them to the next save point…I mean, to safety. Riko handles the adventure aspects while Regu takes over for the action parts. At some point, a mandatory fetch quest will unlock a cool new fishing minigame using Regu’s missile arms. When they’re ready to progress to the next level, there’s usually a boss battle to overcome first. Some of those boss battles will be an impossible wall the first time around, designed to be a setback/teachable moment.
Now, before I start getting into possible balancing issues in this hypothetical game, let me steer this review back on track. As an anime, that rushed start might’ve felt disconcerting at first, but soon after I realized that I probably wouldn’t want it any other way. Yes, it doesn’t sit so well with me that these are children going into a realm that isn’t fit for even the strongest of warriors…but I think that’s the point. This unnerving feeling I get when watching Made in Abyss is something special, and something very hard to replicate. When put into the shoes of a twelve-year-old—not even a teenager—I feel their fear on a heightened level. It’s like the difference between playing a survival horror game with a gun in your hand, and playing a survival horror game completely unarmed…except this feeling might be even stronger.
The vulnerability of a child’s perspective makes the show that much more thrilling to watch. It wouldn’t be the same if these characters were older, or even just had more experience, preparation, or skill at their disposal. While a bit of squeamishness may come with experiencing the irresponsible aura of a world that would allow small children to meet such a horrendous fate, I must admit: This makes for some damn fine television. And please don’t take this in a “I get off on watching children suffer” kinda way. I simply “get off” on stories that manage to move me in profound and unique ways…and Made in Abyss does just that.
I didn’t touch too much on the actual details of the world, nor of the monsters that inhabit it. Perhaps I just think it would be better experienced first-hand then through reading my blog. That’s really what my idea of spoilers is, after all: Anything that would be better experienced by oneself than heard from another. Just know that this anime is an immensely impressive feat, brimming with creativity and originality. When it comes to world-building, Made in Abyss absolutely rises to the top—and while it would, and maybe still could, make for a brilliant video game, it still exists now as a damn great anime series…
…that needs a season 2.
Thanks for reading.