“Poison and the Curse”, “Nanachi”, “The True Nature of the Curse”, and “The Challengers”
After Riko is badly poisoned by one of the creatures in the Fourth Layer, Reg is forced to rely on the mysterious Nanachi for help, and in doing so he finds out about the tragedy which drives her.
Before this season began, a lot of the talk around Made In Abyss revolved around how, despite its cutesy and childlike appearance, it was actually DARK and VIOLENT and DISTURBING. After seeing these last episodes, I can say definitively that such talk sells the series desperately short. Sure, there’s some undeniably brutal and graphic content here, some of the roughest scenes ever animated on TV in fact. But the violence and the brutality are used in service of raw emotional honesty, and devastatingly effective storytelling. Combined with the already proven strengths of the show in atmosphere, worldbuilding, and audiovisual feedback, the result is a tour de force of a finale which surely ranks as one of the most emotionally affecting shows of recent years.
Structurally, these four episodes largely resemble episodes 6-8, in that Reg and Riko’s onward journey is curtailed in service of a mini-arc that requires them to stay in one place for an extended period of time. The difference here though is that rather than arriving at a place of ostensible safety, they’re forced into a hiatus in the most painful was possible. Riko’s injury, and Reg’s subsequent attempts at field surgery, are probably the most gut-turning depictions of injury I’ve seen in quite some time. The effectiveness is doubled by having her injury happen offscreen, only to be realised after the fact, and by having it occur after an episode which was basically all monster-escaping hijinks. The subsequent blood and gore is a highly effective way of reinforcing how real and dangerous their situation is, even if it was understandably too much for many viewers.
I think it’s fair to say though that the real torque of these episodes lies less in their explicit onscreen content on and more in the emotional wringer that they put the audience through. In that sense, Abyss again turns in a masterclass in how to build attachment and connection to characters before delivering crushing blow after crushing blow. It’s not necessarily that the content is super original – ‘child was turned into a monster by deranged scientific experiment’ is hardly a trope that anime is unfamiliar with – but it’s the way in which the show presents it which makes it so powerful. There’s no silver lining here, no superpowers with a terrible price, or forbidden knowledge man was not meant to know. Mitty is an abomination who was never meant to exist, and Nanachi is not really doing that much better.
The story’s masterstroke is that it only chooses to unravel their secret history at the very end of its narrative, instead leaving us to guess and infer from small hints and gestures surrounding our primary narrative of Riko and Reg. Nanachi’s spiky, playful personality makes her a humorous, entertaining character, so it’s an even bigger shock when the curtain is pulled back to reveal the depths of the suffering she’s been through. So much heartbreaking detail is communicated through small moments, like the medicines and poisons scattered through the house, or the number of gravestones in the field out back. It’s clear that Nanachi’s suffering has been long and the result of a terrible feeling of love and responsibility, paired with a guilty conscience that she can never escape. While so much of Abyss has embraced the desire for freedom and discovery that the titular pit represents, in Nanachi we see how it is also a harbinger of tragedy – how her dream of adventure was used against her by someone whose curiosity has been perverted into greed and whose lust for progress has transcended all moral barriers. Bondrewd represents the polar opposite of who we see Lyza as – someone who values his destination more than the journey and will sacrifice anything and anyone to reach it, a cold faceless automaton to contrast to the motherly, very human Lyza.
Reg is also written extraordinarily well here, with his indecision and emotional anxiety both evident and relatable as he tries to work himself out of the moral dilemma he’s been placed in. The writing is nuanced enough to indicate that he’s not seeking an escape from responsibility, but rather to determine if the course of action that he’s taking is truly just. His riverside conversation with Nanachi, where he makes her promise not to take her own life, is a superb example of how the character has grown and matured to take on this terrible responsibility. It’s to the show’s immense credit that it goes through with the mercy killing, and the wordless aftermath of Reg and Nanachi clung together in grief is an impossibly moving moment.
Thematically there’s a clear link between Nanachi/Mitty and Riko/Reg and it’s obvious that part of what inspired Nanachi to help the stricken pair is the parallel between the two groups of children. It’s important though, that Nanachi didn’t help in the expectation that Reg would be able to help her in return – she obviously does not know about his Incinerator until he displays it in the penultimate episode. But by helping the two of them Nanachi is able to finally find absolution from her past, both in helping Mitty pass on and in having new purpose for her life after that task is accomplished. It’s no coincidence that Riko returns to consciousness after Mitty passes on – it symbolically shows the end of Nanachi’s old life, and her embrace of the new. Riko’s ‘dream’ is a brilliant, highly moving way of confirming that Mitty moved on to a better place, all while staying within the accepted bounds of the fiction, and while they never met it links the two adventurer girls in an intangible but deeply satisfying way.
There’s not much more that I can say on the matter, as to a certain extent this final series of episodes defy analysis, relying so much on primal, gut reactions. The sense of unease, of horror and wrongness that permeates the story is close to overwhelming, and makes for tough viewing at the best of times. But the result is an astonishing catharsis at the end of the line, an emotional outpouring that truly feels like a return from the brink. I’m not ashamed to say I openly wept through parts of the final episode, so oppressive is its tone, yet we close on one of the most unambiguously hopeful moments of the entire show. Much much more than a tagalong, Nanachi is an integral part of the fabric of the show now, and her departure with Riko and Reg is the perfect place to end this chapter, while at the same point feeling like a rebirth for the story, an adventure that’s beginning all over again. It’s been a long time since any piece of media made me feel things like this show did, and I suspect it will be a long time before we see its like again.
- The incredible art, direction, and music add immeasurably to the impact of these episodes, and high praise should be accorded to all the artists and musicians.
- For what it’s worth, Reg’s field medicine is not terrible. Tying a tourniquet around someone’s arm to prevent poison spreading is a legitimate method, and you do indeed have to break peoples bones before amputating limbs for obvious reasons.
- Nice, gross detail – the swarm of insects which surround both Riko as she’s bleeding out and Nanachi as she carries the mutilated Mitty away. It’s also another parallel between the two pairs.
- Nanachi’s explanation of the nature of the Abyss is quite complex and I suspect will be more relevant in the future than it is to these episodes, but the use of a visual metaphor is a great way of explaining a complex idea in simpler terms.
- The brief aside featuring Kiyui’s fever and subsequent recovery is something of a non-sequitur given where the series ends, but I suspect it foreshadows power ‘leaking’ from the Abyss itself, and perhaps the curse extending to those on the surface.
- Not even the most tragic of occurrences can dissuade Abyss from its mandated dick joke count. though Nanachi’s arch commentary at least offers a few chuckles this time round.
- There’ll be a separate Final Thoughts post for he show later this week, with several other blog members chipping in with their opinions.