Made in Abyss is a show that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to watch, let alone write about. And yet it only took one episode to win me over. 3 months and many posts later, I’m simply in love with what I consider to be one of the most captivating TV anime in years. Enjoy this final post that covers its spectacular final arc, all while trying to uncover the final secrets of this fascinating production.
Storyboard: Shinya Iino, Takao Abo
Episode Direction: Toshiharu Kudo
Animation Direction: Kuniyuki Ito, Kaori Higuchi, Kyuma Oshita, Ryu Miura
Assistant Animation Director: Sue Ikezu, Kanae Hatakeyama
Prop Animation Direction: Takeshi Takakura
Key Animation: Naomi Okita, Daiki Kato, Teruyo Kato, Kyoko Kawada, Yuki Kudo, Mito Shimizu, Kanako Takeuchi, Shiori Tani, Satoshi Noma, Kanae Hatakeyama, Yusuke Hatano, Hirotaka Hayashi, Ryu Miura, Takahiro Mizuno, Yuichiro Yamada
— A much-needed restrained episode after the preceding madness. This isn’t to say that it’s all been solved, but even when reliving the events from the previous episode as seen from Nanachi’s eyes, there’s a sense of relative safety that definitely wasn’t there before; in the same way that at all moments in #10 it felt like Riko’s life was at great risk, #11 fills you with confidence that she’ll at least survive. This feeling is strongly reinforced direction-wise, but the fact that Nanachi sent Reg to fetch her lunch to begin with served the same purpose. And as a fortunate consequence, that also meant we got to see new locations in this Goblet of Giants, as well as some curious new species. Shroombears and water shrooms might be the quintessential Made in Abyss creatures, as beings linked in a symbiotic cycle of life and death. The fauna isn’t only interesting when Kou Yoshinari animates it after all!
— One neat detail, which I first considered a hunch but in retrospect seems more obvious, is how even the entrance to Mitty’s room is meant to represent her appearance: the triangular shape, sawtooth, even her missing eye are represented. Since it’s later mentioned that Nanachi handicrafts many toys and decorative elements for Mitty, this seems to be intentional as well. Nanachi is a good rabbit.
— Most key animators here worked for the first and last time on this episode, which is something that has occurred a couple of times around the end of the series. The show’s regulars have done tons of work, and so the production found some ways to alleviate their workload a bit without outright subcontracting episodes in full – some episodes entirely in the hands of new freelancers whose work is still supervised by some core animation directors, plus one that was essentially solo animated by one of the team’s trustworthy members. Obviously all these strategies have only worked because the show had a strong production schedule to boot, but it seems undeniable that this project has had fared notoriously well when it comes to the time available and management of it. And of course, the talent to make it all work, but that was never up for discussion.
Key Animation: Kotaro Okubo, Jin Oyama, Yuka Kuroda, Ayako Sugimura, Myung-Hwa Gu, Masato Numazu, Masayuki Nonaka, Yuka Hasegawa, Hidenori Makino, Kanna Hirayama, Yuki Yonemori, Takayuki Kitagawa
Shinya Uchida, Miki Sakaibara, Shu Sugita, Shiori Tani, Akane Tsukamoto, Akiko Matsuo, Tatsuya Miki, Kayano Mori, Shinpei Wada
— I feel a bit conflicted about this episode, and not because it’s not good. Admittedly, the contrast between Nanachi’s practical, very precise knowledge of the abyss and the academic yet surface level understanding that raiders have is interesting. My issue is fairly personal: I prefer the mystique of the abyss to the knowledge of how it operates, so Nanachi’s explanation of the curse was, albeit unsurprising, not really what I want out of the series. That’s also why despite loving the show, I wouldn’t mind if it didn’t get a sequel; my curiosity about the events that await Riko and Reg doesn’t really outweigh how much I like the unsettling vagueness of the setting, so in the end I would only be happy about a second season in the sense that it would mean more of something I’ve enjoyed a lot. If you are curious about how the abyss works though, and I imagine most viewers are, there’s honestly nothing wrong with this episode.
— Series director Masayuki Kojima himself had full control over the episode, and he had at his disposal a fairly impressive list of animators – this was considered an important episode, there’s no arguing around that. The most striking scene is without a doubt the meeting between Riko and Mitty; an unsettling mix of disturbing and heartwarming, so Made in Abyss in a nutshell. The surreal might not be Kojima’s forte, but when the source material provides him with interesting concepts that can transition to animation just fine, the execution is as strong as the rest.
— Animation-wise, the highlights come during the bouncy Nanachi exposition and the fight against the orbed-piercer. Neither the show’s acting nor its action peaked here, but they’re nice scenes nonetheless. Masayuki Nonaka will be the name that stands out the most, but there are other notable character animators like Shu Sugita and Takayuki Kitagawa, accompanied by more action-oriented ones like Tatsuya Miki. The one who isn’t there is Kou Yoshinari, who didn’t contribute any animation to this final arc. It’s understandable because they aimed at a more standard depiction of the creatures, which feels fitting once they’re exploring alongside the actually experienced Nanachi. It would have been nice to have some more otherwordly cuts of his, but it’s easy to see why they changed approaches.
Storyboard: Masayuki Kojima
Episode Direction: Satoshi Mori (Gift-o’-Animation)
Animation Direction: Satoshi Mori, Yasuko Tada (Gift-o’-Animation)
Assistant Animation Director: Kuniyuki Ito, Akemi Kamata, Akane Tsukamoto, Kaori Higuchi
Prop Animation Direction: Takeshi Takakura
Key Animation: Mihiro Iida, Irei Eri, Shinya Uchida, Ayako Kakiuchi, Masakazu Kawazoe, Satoshi Shigeta, Kana Harufuji, Kanako Takeuchi, Saori Hosoda, Daisuke Mataga
Satoshi Mori, Yasuko Tada, Miyuki Kakei, Masumi Kinoshita, Miyu Hayase, Mitsuota Yoshimoto
— The direction during Nanachi’s past is particularly inspired, standing out within a generally excellent episode. There’s an argument to be made about the true thematic highlight being how the show wrapped up its thesis about humanity’s irrational longing, but I was actually more interested in how it twisted the idea of the abyss itself as a deity through Bondrewd’s twisted actions. He presents himself as a savior to the orphans he plans to experiment with, promising them a much brighter future in the depths of the abyss. Of course he turns out to be a false prophet, so his depiction as their leader becomes more twisted by the moment, even before the truth hits.
— Made in Abyss has always been hard to stomach, but its usage of gruesome imagery has been relatively economic; most anime that wants to evoke similar uncomfortable feelings liberally relies on gore, but this has been a more restrained affair in that sense. That’s why seeing Mitty’s visceral transformation, as well as the pitiful butchery after she’s been tortured, are such impactful moments. I hate this show that I love, by the way.
— The sequence serving as the show’s ending is perfect, a final showcase of Kojima’s cohesive vision for the series. As seen by the gap between Nanachi’s understanding of the abyss and what people in the surface know, information has as much of an issue traveling upwards as we’ve been told. In this case in particular, Riko and Reg are aware that their words would never become more than rumors, but after retracing their steps and with the help of their companions, the package reaches its destination: their friends, who happen to be in the same spot where Riko originally found Reg. The final rendition of the town is a strong contender for the most gorgeous backgrounds in the show, and that’s quite the award. To top it off, the last track in Kevin Penkin’s beautiful soundtrack finally gets to play here. I couldn’t ask for more.
— I’ve been praising this show’s color design and art direction non-stop because I genuinely believe it’s been an integral part of the show’s success, but there’s one detail about them that I haven’t been able to bring up much – the texture of the metallic elements is really attractive! Because of the nature of the setting we haven’t seen much of that, but that trend has changed a bit around the end of the series, particularly in Nanachi’s flashback.
— One of the most incredible aspects of this episode will largely be overlooked, since it’s tied to its production. The finale was actually produced by Gift-o’-Animation, the new Kinema Citrus subsidiary that I introduced back in Made in Abyss #2. The crew is so small they didn’t even have key animators of their own yet, so at the time it seemed more like a curiosity that could have interesting repercussions in the future. As it turns out, I underestimated how exceptional this production was. Gift-o’-Animation came back for the double-length finale, and they actually provided key animation to it on top of the digital painting and in-betweening tasks that they’ve been using as training. Leaving their two leaders Satoshi Mori and Yasuko Tada aside, the rest of their small team is made up of young artists who were drawing key animation for the first time. Sure, the core Kinema Citrus team still animated many tricky scenes, but we’re essentially talking about a studio’s animation debut on the big finale. Hell, arguably two studio’s animation debuts, since White Fox Izukogen only started drawing 2nd Key Animation this season; I’d rather keep it short since I might cover a White Fox series next season, but it’s noteworthy how their training studio’s first official appearance as clean-up artists (alongside NEW GAME!!, PriPri, and Classroom of the Elite this season, which considering schedules means this might have been chronologically the first) was in this episode as well – likely because of Mori’s presence, since he used to work at White Fox. So, to sum things up: on top of the many good things it has done, Made in Abyss has also been an excellent project to give new opportunities to young creators.
— Speaking of unusual production matters, that name you see at the bottom of the key animation list is in fact the mangaka Akihito Tsukushi, who contributed some of his art to the episode too: the final cuts of the series were drawn, although heavily corrected, by the author himself. The final endcard was also his of course, but it’s always interesting to see manga artists directly work in animation. And besides being a neat curiosity, it’s a sign of how involved he was in the adaptation. Another noteworthy art contribution was the final illustration by Mieko Hosoi, which Ryosuke Nakamura took as a chance to share all her work on the series. He tweeted the clean versions that he’s used at the end of the opening without the extra filters applied to them, which makes them even more beautiful.
— On a more standard animation level, the obvious focal point is Reg blasting away Mitty. I suspect mechanical and effects expert Satoshi Shigeta handled part of it, as well as the scene beforehand with the detailed depiction of his metallic arm, that greatly resembles his contribution to episode 5. Heartbreaking moments aside, this sequence showcasing Mitty’s fluid movement also caught my eye. It gets across how inhuman she’s become, and the motion itself is enchanting. Sadly, looking at any footage of Mitty right about obliterates my soul.
— This was one of the strongest episodes in the show without a doubt, but I’ll keep my final impressions brief; if anything the finale has reinforced my feelings on the show rather than changing them, so if you’ve read the rest of the posts then you should already know how I feel. To sum things up: a brilliant take on source material that I was frankly terrified by, made possible by core staff that had direct control over every single moment in the series. They trimmed the more questionable ends while reinforcing its voice through amazingly cohesive execution. Do I recommend it then? I’d never do it, but that’s not really criticism as much as my belief that pushing someone into the abyss is probably illegal. There’s no arguing around that the author is weirdly into the body fluids and suffering of kids, which is obviously a perfectly valid reason to avoid the series at all costs. Personally I feel like the anime’s reduced that to a negligible factor by shifting the focus away even when those scenes are actually present, and it never even gives the impression that it’s fetishizing their pain. Reg getting a roboner in the finale is 10 seconds in a masterful double-length episode, so I don’t want to give the impression that this kind of stuff dominates the show. Beware that it exists, but maybe give it a try if you think that won’t bother you. The show is otherwise absolutely incredible.
— Production-wise, this has been nothing short of a miracle. A studio that lost many talented individuals and didn’t even have their full lineup available had to tackle the project, after suffering through many poorly planned projects as of late. Made in Abyss has been the exact opposite: thanks to its very healthy schedule, they’ve produced everything very ahead of time and that’s allowed them to fully dedicate themselves to the project, without impending doom to just finish it ASAP. A solo key animation episode by someone who regularly contributed to the rest of the series, someone notoriously slow like Kou Yoshinari being allowed to regularly contribute, and talented series directors who had the time to work hands-on for every single episode. The art department is also worth all the praise and then some, since they cleared a very hard task: paint a world that inevitably draws people in despite its dangers. The setting is conceptually fascinating and for the most part, their execution is similarly strong. If the companies involved decide to make a sequel I hope they don’t rush it out the door, because there’s no doubt it wouldn’t be the same.
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