Episodes 1-3 – Made in Abyss: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun

“In that place we finally arrived at on our long, arduous adventure…we had still been unable to find a way to survive.”

And just like that, we’re back on the journey. It may have been five years since we last saw Reg, Riko, and Nanachi on the small screen (and two years since their big theatrical adventure in Dawn of the Deep Soul), but for our intrepid gang of heroes, it’s only been a few days since they sent their balloon up to the surface and set off to confront Bondrewd the Sovereign of Dawn. It was an incredibly harrowing and nearly fatal few days, for sure, but you would n’t know it just looking at Riko ‘s shining eyes and earnest grin his. This girl has quite literally been through five different layers of hell just to get down to the Sixth, and she hasn’t lost a step.

Of course, the poor girl isn’t invulnerable to the (sometimes literally) unspeakable trauma that the Abyss has subjected to, and even Nanachi makes a comment in Episode 3 that her attitude must at least partially be a defense mechanism against all of the insane bullshit that they have to deal with on a daily basis, but still, the point remains. Riko is a resilient girl. She’s going to need every ounce of that resilience, too, because by every indication, The Golden City of the Scorching Sun is hellbent on pushing its heroes—not to mention its audience—to the absolute breaking point.

If you read my coverage of the new season’s premiere, you’ll know that I really dug it, despite the fact that Riko and the gang’s arrival to the Abyss’ Sixth Layer is saved for the very end of the episode. I’m very curious what we’re going to learn about Vueko and the rest of the Ganja’s time in the flashback sections of the story, especially since we basically have confirmation that the Faputa that reigns as the “Princess of the Hollows” is the same young girl that the Ganja recruited who knows how many decades (or centuries) ago. Still, Episode 2 and 3 are what properly allow us to spend time with the true heroes of the story, and their latest adventure is a fascinating mix of what’s come before and things that none of them ever could have expected.

In a certain sense, “The Capital of the Unreturned” and “Village of the Hollows” almost feel like throwback episodes to the early stories of Season 1. We’ve spent so much time recently either dealing with bringing Riko back from the brink of death or defeating The World’s Best Dad in the World’s Worst Game of Operationthat Made in Abyss has lacked that awe and adventurous spirit that made its opening chapters so gripping. Well, here in Layer Six, there’s plenty of awe and adventure to go around, even if the utter alienness of the environment makes it impossible to let our guards down completely. whatever other… quirks Akihito Tsukushi has as a creator, the man is one of the most talented artists around when it comes to environmental and creature design, and those talents are on full display in the creatures that the kids encounter (and eat). Thankfully, Kinema Citrus is still more than up to the task of brining the haunting beauty of the Abyss to life, too. While we haven’t gotten any visuals that are of the same quality as, say, either the movie or the Season 1 finale, there’s still plenty of time for the KC artists to strut their stuff.

Besides, even if the animation is only at eight or a nine out of ten on a technical level, the new setting and characters are just so goddamned strange and unsettling that the visuals are never anything less than compelling. We’ve alread talked a lot on the ANN After Show about how all of the Hollows that the kids encounter once they get to the titular village look conspicuously like if a teenaged Jim Henson went completely deranged and turned all of his Muppets into Eldritch Penis Monsters , but it’s such a weird sight to behold. When you combine most of the Hollows with the viscous and altogether hostile environments of the Sixth Layer, it really does feel like we’ve been transported into the horrific lower intestines of a planet-sized god. Something tells me that this was not unintentional, on Tsukushi’s part.

This new layer isn’t just inventive on a visual level, either. The most novel thing about the whole experience so far is the fact that we’ve discovered something more than just one or two tormented survivors, this far down. In the Village of the Hollows, we have a culture. It’s a culture with some real dark shit going on, which we’ll get to in a second, but the weird little microcosm of what I can only describe as Ritual Magic Capitalism is truly fascinating. This is where we learn that the Hollows have all taken forms that suit their basest desires, a part of the dark “bargain” they’ve made in exchange for their protection and survival in the Abyss. As our tour guide Majikaja explain, some of these Hollows live for nothing else but the ultimate pleasure of a single experience, usually a physical one, and usually something that’s kinky as hell. In exchange for these experiences, value is controlled and commodified not simply for the trade of physical objects, but for pieces of the self. It’s capitalist thought taken to its most self-centered and abstract extreme, a system wherein others can (and will) tear the meat off of your bones in their efforts to save up every scrap that they can, so maybe someday they too can constantly have dozens of tubes inserted into their bodies’ horrifying orifices.

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Speaking of which, there’s the one elephant in the room that always comes up when you discuss Made in Abyssthough its maybe never been as relevant as it is in The Golden City of the Scorching Sun: This show is fucking disgusting. That isn’t even necessarily a criticism, because Made in Abyss is so very clearly trying to disgust us, and I think some of it even works on a thematic level. The Abyss is a kaleidoscopic whirlwind of the best and worst that the magical nature of this world has to offer; it is cruel, yes, but its cruelty is neither malicious nor malignant. Each creature must suffer to survive. The humans, though, can weaponize that suffering; they can even turn it into a remarkably effective economic social structure. What made Bondrewd such a villain was his ability to completely disregard the bodies and the agency of the children he dissected in the pursuit of his scientific advancements, and the Village of the Hollows is kind of an extension of that ethos. On that level, I can understand what Made in Abyss stands to gain from being so unflinching about the physical and psychic harm that its characters must endure.

On the other hand, though, I genuinely don’t see how you could argue that there isn’t something about Tsukushi’s fixations that is not blatantly fetishistic, and even for those of us that have been able to make peace with that aspect of Made in Abyss, this season is ramping up the intensity to levels that may prove to be too much even for fans of the series. Yes, sure, you can argue that Dawn of the Deep Soul was just as graphic, but for me, there’s a difference between the patently absurd situations of Bad Daddy Bondrewd’s No Fun Science Corner and the much more intimate sights on display here in Season 2. Having poor Prushka get sliced ​​up and shoved into a giant metal Pez dispenser was awful, yeah, but it’s so abstract that it’s easier to go along with, in the moment. That stuff with shoving Riko and Nanachi’s hair into the putrefying buttholes of dead animals, though? That’s the kind of messed up nonsense that I could lose me some hours of sleep if it turned up on a true-crime podcast or something. I couldn’t even get through poor Meinya’s ordinal at the market in one sitting; it’s the single worst thing the show has done to me since I had to watch Reg fail at amputating Riko’s arm for ten minutes straight.

In short, I wouldn’t blame any of you for bailing on Made in Abyss, even when the new season has been so compelling thus far. It’s still a magnificently dark and beautiful story, and I think it manages to stay just on the right side of the empathy borderline to keep its grossest shenanigans from completely destroying my ability to enjoy it. This is the Abyss, though. It’s most famous quality is that things only get worse, the deeper you go. So, as sad as I am to say it, I really don’t think things are going to get any better for Riko, Reg, and Nanachi. Vueko and the Faputa learned their lesson ages ago, it seems. You might have to do some truly reprehensible things to survive, all the way down here, and even after it is all said and done, who is to say that surviving isn’t the cruelest punishment of all?

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Made in Abyss: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun is currently streaming on HIDIVE.

James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitterhis blog, and his podcast.

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