We’re officially kicking off the season with one of the most engrossing introductions to an anime setting. While manga readers have warned people of the dangerous elements lurking deeper into the series, there’s no denying that the first episode of Made in Abyss was spectacular. Let’s dig into the focused vision that has made that possible, the strengths of its design work, and obviously some of the interesting creators involved.
Key Animation: Kazuto Arai, Taketomo Ishikawa, Shinya Uchida, Maiko Ebisawa, Chie Kitahara, Takushi Koide, Miki Sakaibara, Mai Sakamoto, Ayako Sugimura, Shiori Tani, Akane Tsukamoto, Tomoyo Nakayama, Kaori Higuchi, Akiko Matsuo, Tatsuya Miki, Kou Yoshinari, Shinpei Wada
— The aspect that seems to be getting the most attention so far is the world itself, and for good reason. If you’re building a series revolving around adventure and discovery, exploration needs to be rewarding in and of itself. And even while highlighting just how inhospitable of a place it is, Made in Abyss immediately draws you in and makes you want to explore further. I don’t feel like the backgrounds themselves are as breathtaking as the absolute best TV anime material, but they’re a very competent realization of stellar ideas. It’s precisely on a conceptual level that Made in Abyss’ world is most attractive; on a general sense, the very notion of a massive hole draws you in, and the cohesion in design sensibilities plus notorious attention to detail seals the deal. Many shots, both indoors and outside, are built with verticality in mind – it’s an aspect you constantly see in the surroundings and that has obviously influenced their society. It goes beyond that, though: round shapes dominate the world, and the idea of light pouring down from above is present in all major scenes. All it took was one episode to make this outrageous setting feel believable. It’s almost as if a convincing world is crafted through good design rather than long-winded exposition.
— The elegant delivery doesn’t stop at the environmental worldbuilding. Right about everything in the episode is presented in a graceful way, particularly so during the introductory sequence with no dialogue that gives us glimpses of their society. Even the grotesque elements of the work have been hinted at in a very natural way, as seen with the torture room and utensils. I can only congratulate the series director Masayuki Kojima for his storyboard, as well as his assistant Hitoshi Haga for directing the episode. Kojima is more of a known quantity due to projects like his Naoki Urasawa adaptations, but I feel like Haga might be a more interesting figure. After many decades of experience he only recently started directing full TV anime episodes, and yet he’s already been entrusted with a whole show here, albeit not as a solo adventure. Besides directing and storyboarding, he’s also an active animator, designer, supervisor, and even CG artist – to the point of acting as 3D director in Kinema Citrus’ Scorching Ping Pong Girls recently. Hopefully his creative range will be put to good use.
— As a side note: Hitoshi Haga isn’t the only assistant series director, since the much younger Shinya Iino is involved as well…except with a slightly different credit, 副監督 vs 助監督 – as meaningless of a difference as Assistant Director vs Director Assistant. This isn’t surprising since they might simply be helping out in different aspects of the directional duties, with Iino possibly focusing on management since he used to be a production assistant at the studio. Rather funny technicality either way, which even the official translation wasn’t very sure how to tackle. There’s another irregular element in the credits as a seemingly non-existent studio was credited for coproducing the animation, but let’s leave that investigation for the future.
— If we’re talking about unusual elements regarding the production though, a certain charismatic creator managed to steal the spotlight again. Kou “Aninari” Yoshinari might very well be the most unique animator in the industry. It’s not just that his style is unconventional, but rather the he approaches the craft in fundamentally different ways that sometimes confuse even his peers. When he appears as a guest he basically exists outside the regular production line, painting and applying effects to his own sequences as he pleases. In this case though, Aninari is in charge of the show’s bizarre monsters as their designer, and that gives him plenty of room to experiment with nightmarish creatures. Anime fans tend to hate different approaches on principle, but I can’t blame anyone put off by his sequence in this episode. No matter how you look at it, the otherworldly overfiltered creature isn’t aesthetically pleasing. The counter to that is obviously that it’s not meant to be, but complaints are understandable. The second half of the scene is more reminiscent to his recent painted work, and the girl’s acting is exceptional throughout, so there’s plenty of goodness to appreciate even if you disagree with some of his choices.
— The thorough character acting isn’t limited to Aninari’s scene thankfully, but rather became a constant throughout the episode. The humane touch is definitely one of the highlights, alongside the generally excellent layout work; the latter both emphasizes that verticality I talked about and makes many standard scenes interesting to look at. This was achieved by a rather strong lineup of animators. The character designer, Production I.G star Kazuchika Kise, had one of his rare appearances as supervisor on TV anime. He was assisted by the likes of Kazuto Arai (who earned the top credit thanks to his extensive action work), Tatsuya Miki, as well as some of Kinema Citrus’ own talent, like the very promising Takushi Koide and Scorching Ping Pong Girls’ designer Ayako Sugimura. Here’s hoping that they didn’t use up all their strength already!