Made in Abyss Volumes 11-12 Manga Review

Made in Abyss Volumes 11-12 Manga Review

Sometimes, being a fan of Akihito Tsukushi‘s acclaimed Made in Abyss series means acclimating to suffering. Like many Western devotees, I was introduced to this bizarre, squishy, disturbing world via the 2017 first season of Kinema Citrus‘ fantastic anime adaptation. That first season covered the initial three manga volumes, while the 2020 movie Dawn of the Deep Soul adapted volumes four and five, then 2022’s second season concluded at the end of volume ten.

A further anime sequel has already been announced, but considering the glacial pace with which Tsukushi has produced new chapters over the past few years, we’ll be waiting a long time. Sometimes, six months elapse between (admittedly lengthy, gorgeously-drawn) chapters. With the publication of English physical volume twelve, we’re only a single chapter behind the current Japanese web manga release. When the wait for new volumes of a manga this compelling and mysterious stretches into years rather than months, it’s understandable to feel impatient.

Then there’s the content to consider — Tsukushi’s art is almost pathologically detailed; it’s no wonder he labors over each chapter for months. This isn’t a manga one can rush through — each panel is lushly detailed with dense ink-painted wonders — from the enormous, outlandish vistas that tower over the comparatively tiny characters to the cute-but-creepy designs of the characters themselves. Tsukushi’s incredible backgrounds are like if Hayao Miyazaki had used brush and ink for a softer, murkier ambiance instead of his well-demarcated penwork for Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind‘s Sea of Corruption. His characters are like a bizarre melding of the cute and rounded moe blobs of Tsukumizu‘s Girls’ Last Tour and the hyper-detailed sci-fi fighters of Yukito Kishiro‘s Battle Angel Alita, interpreted through the costumes of S&M furry convention attendees. There’s nothing else quite like Tsukushi’s dark, grimy, slimy, organic, and worrisomely moist artwork.

The downside of this amazing visual onslaught is that it can be challenging to parse what is happening from panel to panel. While this was a massive issue for the Golden City arc, I was grateful for the anime’s second season for so wonderfully interpreting and clarifying what was a dense and complex manga story I found almost impossible to follow. Thankfully, this is a little less of an issue in these two latest volumes, perhaps because the story Tsukushi intends to tell is simpler, with fewer characters. Instead of spending the best part of five volumes in a single place, we’re back to more of a travelogue. Even so, Made in Abyss would greatly benefit from being published in larger volume sizes, as I found I struggled to make out tiny drawings and lettering in certain panels, especially in artificial light. Perhaps I’m getting old or need reading glasses, but I had to read these volumes in direct, bright sunlight to follow the story without eye strain.

It’s wonderful to focus back on the central group of characters after they were separated from each other for long stretches of the previous arc. One of Made in the Abyss‘s trademark storytelling features is that actions have lasting consequences. Riko still requires a hand splint to help her grip, following her traumatic injury from the Orb-piercer back in the early volumes. Reg still only has one functional extendable arm after terrifying Sovereign of Dawn Bondrewd severed one out of curiosity. Nanachi still pines for Mitty after losing her twice and hopes she may be reunited with her soul one day. Adorable cinnamon roll Prushka’s soul is still bound to Riko’s white whistle, and Faputa can hear her disembodied, still sentient voice. (Prushka’s fate is one of the most upsetting events in all of manga and anime.) Everyone on this journey has suffered loss and, in a way, is searching for something that may make them whole again.

So the ever-curious Riko leads her friends ever deeper into the dangerous Abyss, naming every new geological feature or landscape she finds. She’s like a fantasy version of Dr. David Livingstone, except instead of the Source of the Nile, she’s searching for her mother at the Bottom of the Abyss. Has anyone else noticed in the way Tsukushi draws the map of the Abyss that the seventh and final layer looks disturbingly like a cross-section of an anal sphincter? Maybe I don’t want Riko to reach her destination after all…

Talking about things cloacal, in volume eleven’s opening chapter, Riko notices that the unclothed, animalistic Faputa has only one opening in her perineal region, “like a bird’s.” Faputa, of course, offers Riko to have a sniff. Of course, Riko obliges, burying her little face deep in there to get a good whiff of her new friend’s non-standard genital orifice. Much to Faputa’s pride, Riko announces the furry one’s unmentionable smell of “the sun and steamed potatoes.” I don’t know about you, but I’m sure I found that to be essential knowledge I could not have lived without. Going by the frequent narrative text, the Abyss, its environs and contents, seems like a rather stinky place.

Made in Abyss has always featured content that skirts the edge between “a bit weird” and “will I actually be arrested for reading this?”. While the anime — mostly — tones down this aspect, there’s a good reason the manga is sold sealed in clear plastic with a “Warning: Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” banner on its back cover. As much as I love the story and art, this isn’t a manga I could share with strangers, family, or even most of my friends. Although I’m practically numb to the sometimes fetishistic depiction of semi-clothed or even naked minors in this manga by now, it’s hard to give Made in Abyss the more general recommendation that I feel it would otherwise deserve.

Take the new characters we first meet towards the end of volume eleven, whom we get to know in more detail during volume twelve. This is a group of six cave raiders whose backstories add myriad interesting (and unsettling) wrinkles to the Abyss’s mythology. Three of the (adult) characters are women with an odd dress sense that almost comedically draws attention to their extremely prominent cleavages. That’s not objectionable, just mildly pervy. There are, however, two child characters who have been horrifically mutilated, each losing all four of their limbs and being left with stumps. Reg helps them to bathe in a scene that essentially sexualizes these two damaged, vulnerable bodies, and it’s implied that Reg himself becomes somewhat sexually aroused — though it’s against his will.

My eldest son looked over my shoulder at what I was reading and said, “Well, that’s it. I don’t care how much you tell me this manga is great. I’m never reading it now that I can see the author has a fetish for quadruple amputee children.” This succinctly expresses my distinct uneasiness with how Tsukushi sometimes portrays his characters. I feel very uncomfortable about the apparent fetishization of disabled children. Thankfully, the scene only lasts a few pages, but I must warn readers of this potentially very triggering scene.

Deeply unsettling nude scenes aside, these two volumes maintain Made in Abyss‘s compelling storytelling, with several new mysteries such as a huge secret cave on the second layer, stories of a mythical “Priestess”, and a new curse involving twin children. Some older mysteries inch closer to resolution as the true nature of the Abyss slowly comes into view, and long-posed questions start to be answered. With our main quartet on the cusp of exploring the final, seventh layer, it seems Tsukushi is maneuvering his pieces towards a complex and hopefully rewarding endgame. Who knows how much longer the journey will take, but I know that despite my misgivings regarding some of its content, I’ll stick with Made in Abyss until Riko reaches the deepest, darkest, dankest (and probably stinkiest) depths.

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