“About 1,900 years ago, a huge pit was discovered on a remote island in the southern sea of Beoluska. With a diameter of around 1,000 meters and a depth that is still unknown to this day, the mysterious formation mesmerized people. Valuable and dangerous primeval creatures and bewildering relics that are beyond comprehension beckoned adventurers looking to strike it rich, which in time gave rise to a giant city. Over the span of many years, with a spirit of adventure for the unknown and countless legends luring them in, the world’s only remaining unexplored chasm has swallowed up a great many people. It is known as the Abyss.”
–Made in Abyss, Episode 1
When we first are introduced to the city of Orth in Made in Abyss‘ initial season, there is already a well-established social hierarchy with its own societal norms. All of it involves the Abyss, around which the entire city functions. Riko and her friends are cave divers in training, and through them we learn the rules of the Abyss as well as Riko’s own personal connection to it as the season continues.
For the opening of its second broadcast season, Made in Abyss chooses to return to the initial discovery of the Abyss itself, effectively bookending the entire story while also making it abundantly clear that whatever comes next is uncharted territory not only for our protagonists in Riko, Reg, and Nanachi, but even the city of Orth itself.
The City of Orth
One of the more impressive but less-talked about aspects of Made in Abyss is how it makes you care about the characters first and uses them as lenses through which to view the world of Orth and the Abyss. Even as someone who loves anime series where characters essentially talk at me about philosophical concepts or are mouthpieces for the director’s view on life, the best anime series deftly balance both good characterization that makes you feel something for the characters and the central philosophy or other overarching narrative of the series. Made in Abyss uses both Riko and Reg as our frames of reference, with Riko being the character for which everything in Orth is normal and Reg as someone who knows nothing about the Abyss and this city that has grown up around it, despite coming from the Abyss itself.
Made in Abyss: The Golden City of Scorching Sun begins approximately 2,000 years prior to the events of Made in Abyss with a look into the first inhabitants of Orth (who of course aren’t actually the first inhabitants of the island, which is something that should absolutely be kept in mind), led to the Abyss by the same compass that Riko shows off in the first season’s second episode. Then, it’s part of an impassioned speech that Riko is giving to her friends, which is met with eye-rolly and fond “here she goes again” responses, hinting at just how many times she’s extolled the virtues of being a cave diver like her mother, and exploring the treasures of the Abyss. By contrast Vueko, who is one of three sages at the forefront of the discovery group 2,000 years ago is uncertain at every turn, but similarly guided by the compass.
It’s easy to see how the color-coded whistle system, the turning in and cataloging of relics, and the rigid societal systems of Orth evolved from this group of explorers. What’s even more interesting is how the specific group that made it to the island while other ships capsized around them is a group of seeming rejects. As Vueko says in her monologue, they were forsaken by the people of their homes and people in general. Much like Riko herself was never expected to surpass the pillar of strength that was Lyza the Annihilator, Vueko was never expected to survive her horrific circumstances, never mid find the Golden City.
Riko, Lyza, and the Abyss
At the end of Made in Abyss‘ first season, Riko makes her figurative ascent. The visuals mirror the ascent of her mother Lyza, framed with eternal fortune flowers that follow the balloon she releases up to the surface. Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul is crucial not only for overarching plot and world building, but for Riko’s emotional narrative. It’s in Dawn of the Deep Soul that Riko admits that she’s not only looking for her mother, nor is her journey simply because she wants to be more like Lyza, but that the very existence of the Abyss and the thrill of adventure calls to her.
This thirst for discovery, like the Cosmic Compass tying Vueko and Riko together across a 2,000-year timespan, is echoed by Vueko when she speaks of her time in the Abyss. We see Vueko traversing the same locations (some calling back to emotional heights of the first season), fighting the same monsters, and looking at the Golden City with the same awe. Made in Abyss is so careful to tie in its overarching themes to Riko’s individual emotional narrative. If Vueko had been part of a chronological exposition about the Abyss, it wouldn’t have had nearly the same impact. Now, coming after Riko’s renewed thrill of adventure and determination, knowing that she’ll never be able to return to the surface, Vueko’s story hits that much harder and reminds us of seemingly throwaway bits of background information (the praying skeletons, the timing of 2,000 years) that are woven into the fabric of the Abyss and its many mysteries.