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A Mother’s Gift: More on Made in Abyss and post-apocalyptic fiction

Any story that follows the monomyth, or Hero’s Journey — as named and made popular by Joseph Campbell and his The Hero with a Thousand Faces — involves a return.

The return is one of the more important parts of a standard hero narrative, since it’s at that point where the hero must not only eschew the place (physical or metaphorical) of where they received enlightenment, but is tasked with gifting that knowledge to the unenlightened. Arguably, bestowing that wisdom upon everyday people in their everyday world is the very thing that makes them heroic.

For example, in the post-apocalyptic short story By the Waters of Babylonwhich I’ve referenced before in relation to Made in Abyss — John returns to his father and tribe with important knowledge of the civilization that preceded their own. Although his father cautions him of dumping too much information on the uniformed, the realization that what he thought were gods were actually mere humans who destroyed their own world is what inspires him to say that they must rebuild. His realization and return likely spark a period of growth and industry.

Made in Abyss‘ second episode is also the start of Riko’s journey as the hero of the main narrative, but it also has some fascinating commentary on the return itself, through the structure of the Abyss.

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A vertical society — Cinematography and visual clues in Made in Abyss Episode 1

Whenever I hear “top-down” or “vertical” society, I recall Gatchaman Crowds. In that series, Rui Ninomiya references Japanese anthropologist Chie Nakane and her 1970 book Japanese Society, stating that one of their goals is to destroy vertical social structure still prevalent in modern Japan.

The basics of vertical society are just as it sounds: a top-down hierarchy with a “senior” and a “junior,” but Nakane reinforces that these titles and ideas are all tied into the group with which the person identifies. A Japanese person will first compare or establish themselves in a group, then branch out into their given profession or role.

For example, she states that asking a Japanese engineer about their job would result in that person saying, “I’m from A company” rather than the more western response, “I’m an engineer.”

Made in Abyss is a vertical society in both in social construction and physical existence.

There’s an obvious, “It works on two levels!” joke here, and both societal and physical structures are reinforced visually. This only adds to the post-apocalyptic feel of the series, dropping clues as to what may have happened in the past to create such a vibrant society that is seemingly on a dangerous precipice.

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