My thoughts? MiA has great visuals and music, and the main characters are pretty darn cute. But mostly it feels like Hunter X Hunter fanfiction which doesn’t live up to the hype.
Made in Abyss is about a giant hole in the ground, called the Abyss, which is the last unexplored region in the world. It is several thousand meters deep and consists of seven layers, each more spooky than the last. Explorers come from all over the world to risk their lives exploring the Abyss, which is as beautiful as it is dangerous.
Our main character is a twelve-year-old girl who longs to be a cave-diver in the Abyss. Her mother is one of the world’s most famous cave-divers and has been missing in the Abyss for the past ten years. Our protagonist sets off into the Abyss in order to find her mother and become a great explorer in her own right. Sound familiar?
The first episode is very promising. In fact, it’s probably the best episode of the series in terms of hook, set-up, and character development. There’s a gripping chase scene, a mysterious discovery, beautiful locales, and interesting characters. And then, instead of launching into the adventure with the next episode, it just sort of…drags along.
In Hunter X Hunter, even before the main characters had any magical powers whatsoever, the show presented a gripping series of puzzles, adventures, and logic-games that made every episode a thrill to watch.
MiA starts off with a chase scene and a gripping premise, then hangs around for several episodes until the characters finally set off. And even then, interesting events comparable to the chase scene in the first episode are few and far between.
The chief appeal of Made in Abyss is its promise of fantastic adventure. And yet, it is very reluctant to deliver. It dillies around in daisies and sunshine for several episodes, admiring the scenery before gradually remembering that the Abyss was supposed to be…you know…scary and stuff. After all, the Abyss is literally cursed, causing those who venture within it to suffer horrible side-effects — including the loss of their own humanity — the deeper they descend. And even then, MiA does a very poor job of reconciling the contrasting emotions evoked by its deadly yet intriguing environment. It puts its characters through a Lovecraftian nightmare around Episode 10, but soon goes back to gushing about how beautiful and enchanting the Abyss is. Why? Because MiA can’t decide whether it’s Hunter X Hunter or a Miyazaki film.
It’s like trying to squelch together the opposing moods of Gon sitting on top of the World Tree with a nightmare scenario from the Chimera Ant arc: “Golly! All the people here have been eaten alive and converted into mutant insect-monsters!! Oh, but the scenery is so pretty…”
Hunter X Hunter always did an excellent job of reconciling the dual reactions people have towards nature. It knew how to contrast the horrifying with the beautiful. Made in Abyss does not. Hunter X Hunter knew how to keep a story suspenseful and generate new puzzles with every episode. Made in Abyss does not.
Maybe if I’d had lower expectations going in, I would have enjoyed this series more. Instead, with all the hype about how awesome and special it was, I found myself disappointed by the story more often than not.
That said, Mother’s Basement presented an excellent theory that Made in Abyss was originally designed to be a video game. I completely agree with him. The main problem with this show may very well not be the material, but the medium it was presented in.