Do you fancy the emotional equivalent of being crushed by a steamroller? Welcome to Made in Abyss! It ends incredibly, by which I mean "will test the limits of your ability to watch emotional and physical pain". However it's also positive and uplifting, in its horrifying way. It made me happy, tearful and gut-punched, all at once. I need them to make Season 2 right now. I might even buy the manga, even though Tomoko and I had already chosen not to do so earlier this year because the artist seemed to be targeting the paedophile audience. (That's just the manga, though. The anime tones that side of things way down, by the way, making the show inoffensive from that point of view unless you're some kind of scary hunter of child nudity. The only bit that struck me as dodgy, to be honest, was Mitty having a bust in ep.12 even though the big-headed cute blob character designs make the children look about eight. Canonically, I think they're meant to be twelve. Anyway, the show's had a huge positive reception in both Europe and America and you don't have to worry about anything looking pervy.)
The show's beautiful and warm for most of its run, by the way. It's only the last few episodes that get extreme.
It's set in a world with a hole going down forever. Well, maybe not forever, but it's been there for at least 1900 years and no one's ever reached the bottom and got back alive. People keep trying, mind you. They're called "cave raiders" and there have been so many of them that there's now an entire city built on the Abyss's edge. Its economy is based on "relics", which are weird/alien things people bring back up, many of them beyond valuation. Unfortunately going down is liable to be a one-way trip and that city also has a big orphanage for the children of dead cave raiders.
Firstly, things live down there. (Layer 3 reminded me of Cambrian life forms, while I think there's also a clear Ghibli influence in some of the design. Don't worry, the production values are gorgeous enough for the show to live up to that comparison.) Secondly, there's a Curse. Coming back up from the Abyss does things to your mind and body, like a nasty version of the bends for deep sea divers:
Layer 1 - dizziness
Layer 2 - nausea, numbness, headaches
Layer 3 - hallucinations, loss of balance
Layer 4 - pain through your whole body, bleeding from every orifice
Layer 5 - loss of feeling, risk of suicide
Layer 6 - death or loss of humanity
Layer 7 - death
Our heroes are children. I'll say that again. Small children. You're probably starting to see some of the emotional potential now. The cuddly art style might make you think this is a happy children's show. DO NOT BE FOOLED. Riko is the daughter of Lyza, a famous White Whistle (the strongest cave raiders) who hasn't been seen in years. Reg is a very human robot. They're going to be going down into the depths, because Riko is an indomitable girl who loves her mother.
These children are both lovely. Riko's a bit unusual, though, for instance being positive about second-hand cannibalism and having no cuteness filter on what's acceptable as food. Are you adorable and furry? Don't meet Riko. No matter how deep they go, she'll never stay hungry for long. She's studied the Abyss and cave raiders all her life, you see, and she's a super-enthusiastic walking encyclopedia on all things scary and mind-boggling. As for Reg, he's a polite, mild-mannered and somewhat tentative lad who's no match for Riko in anything, really, despite having arms like Iron Man and Dr Octopus put together.
They're best friends.
Anyway, they head down into the depths. You might be thinking "they'll be able to handle it". Or "they're just children, nothing bad's going to happen to them". You've seen films and TV before. There are a million stories about children going into super-dangerous places and they're always completely okay. Yeah, well, this anime ain't Disney.
The Abyss has some spectacularly weird life forms, many of which could swallow you in one gulp. There are some emergency medical procedures. There's one guy (seen in flashback and that only quite briefly) who's the absolute epitome of unforgivable and yet also basically a twisted version of Riko. He's sincere, polite and scientific. He wants to learn the truth and help future generations. However I also want to see him battered until his remains are only one molecule thick. You'll meet Nanachi and Mitty, whose name sounds like "Meaty" the way the Japanese voice actors say it and that's a horrifying bit of serendipity. There's humour. There's charm. The show wouldn't have half the punch it has without those.
You'll also be pleased to know that this isn't a "kill 'em all" apocalypse finale, instead having a positive, forward-looking ending that makes you love our heroes. I want to see where they go next. I want to spend more time with them. This show isn't always an easy watch, but I want more of it.