After last week’s pivotal episode, Made in Abyss‘ latest offering allows us and Reg to decompress a bit, further showcasing the strength of its atmospheric storytelling. This is one of the series’ greatest strengths: it knows when to breathe. Made in Abyss has several layers and they’re not the ones that can be measured on a map of the titular Abyss.
Instead, it continues to offer bits and pieces that are part of the overall atmosphere of the show, leaving us as audience members and Reg guessing as to what is actually happening.
Although Nanachi sends Reg into a tizzy by hinting at gathering threats to Riko’s life from the poison — and I don’t doubt that Nanachi was serious — the senses of danger and hopelessness that loomed over Episode 10 are gone. Nanachi will save Riko. Reg will help. And eventually Riko will wake up.
Yet, by removing the tension of whether Riko will live or die (I haven’t read the manga but I’ll be floored if she doesn’t live) Made in Abyss builds a different kind of awe at the magnificence of the Abyss itself and the ways in which creatures, humans, and the rare hollow Nanachi have learned to live within it. Despite the lack of urgency in this episode, outside of Reg’s frenetic ingredient gathering, Made in Abyss truly shines in episodes like these, where the Abyss is the main character and the plot of Riko and Reg is secondary to the monstrous but wonderful world of the Abyss.
Episode 10 was a perfect example of how Made in Abyss plays with the different levels of knowledge that various characters have within the series. Additionally that this extends beyond in-universe characters to a meta level of the audience itself, and whether the individual watching the anime has read the manga or not. Made in Abyss had already shown us visually that the Goblet of Giants was a dangerous place. In hindsight, Riko’s injury on this layer was forecast from as early as Episode 2, but this in no way takes from the visceral shock of Riko’s wounds and the anguish of Reg in the moment.
With Riko now out of commission indefinitely, Reg needs someone to give him instruction. Reg is incapable of moving forward on his own due to his anxiety and memory loss, requiring another individual to advise him. Nanachi handily takes Riko’s place at a perfect time in the narrative.
At this depth, Riko’s knowledge of the Abyss will dwindle. Furthermore, her information won’t be learned from practice or trial and error but from her education. Nanachi’s knowledge is seemingly the opposite, born from necessity and practice.
While Nanachi works on Riko’s hand the question of why they have a tray of surgical tools at the ready lingers in the background. Nanachi’s hideout is full of odd knick-knacks, like delving equipment and whistles of different colors. All of these small but careful details raise questions about Nanachi to us and to Reg.
Why does Nanachi have a surgical tray and know their way around injuries? Where did the delving equipment and whistles come from?
This game of background details is has been played by Made in Abyss since Episode 1. We’ll likely never know where the praying skeletons come from, or what sort of world existed before Orth. But this episode marks another turning point, where even Riko’s obsessive encyclopedic mind that catalogues Abyss facts and relics is vastly outclassed by Nanachi’s real-life experiences.
Details are revealed one after the other in this episode. Reg recalls a moment with Lyza, which further supports the theory that he was sent by Lyza to aid Riko in her quest to dive to the bottom of the Abyss. Nanachi introduces us to Mitty, another human whose ascent from the sixth layer wasn’t as fortunate as Nanachi’s. Mitty retains none of her thoughts or memories, proving the rumored loss of humanity that accompanies an ascent from the sixth layer.
Placing this in the episode that followed physical proof of the fourth-layer curse — bleeding from every orifice — the curse of the Abyss becomes a substantial entity, further inviting questions about the location of Nanachi’s hideout and why the curse is not present. Every detail, from the trappings of Nanachi’s home, to Mitty’s red eye, to Reg’s memories, to the introduction of creatures like the shroombear pique viewers’ interest and leave them begging for more.
Perhaps the most important detail is the quick flash to a red-haired, red-eyed girl in Nanachi’s memories before Nanachi jumps in to help Reg with Riko. Although Nanachi later jokes that Reg is a pushover, Nanachi was exposed to potential capture the moment they revealed themselves to Reg. This memory of Mitty is what pushed Nanachi over that threshold from passive observer into active helper and, coupled with memories of Bondrewd and Nanachi’s description of Mitty, Nanachi’s own past is not a happy one. Even if we never find the truth of how Nanachi came to be a hollow, the fact that Nanachi was willing to jump in to help speaks volumes that simply describing what happened in the past could never accomplish.
In lesser series, these details would be used to obfuscate the true narrative or throw the viewer off of the scent of a mystery. Yet, Made in Abyss is more concerned with allowing the viewer — and Reg — to stew in an unfamiliar atmosphere, where you can’t quite pinpoint what will be important for surviving future events. Episodes like this are what make the series so special: where the viewer and Reg can sit back and let memories of details in the series wash over them.