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BHS Blogress Report: 2017, Week 43 – Abyss-mal… or Not, Rather

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Week 43 – Abyss-mal… or Not, Rather

It’s not often that I can report progress on both my major writing projects in the same day, but here you go: I got about 2.5 pages apiece of both Soulsnatcher Chapter 6 and Shattered Skies Chapter 31 done today. I’m aiming to get the former done by the end of the month in time for my Patreon deadline, we’ll see how well that works. Of course, there’s also my other project for AO3 that I want to finish by October’s end, but… that’s a lower-priority thing, it’ll happen when it happens.

My media consumption this week has been marked by some really heavy lifting done on my feels. The first I’ll mention was the end of Clara Oswald’s tenure as companion on Doctor Who. Since this is from a recent season, I’ll tag this section with a *SPOILER ALERT*.

So, I was peripherally aware of the events of the show enough to know that her departure was coming and that she was going to die, but I was not prepared for Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth becoming absolutely goddamn terrifying in his efforts to save her. A line he gave to the person indirectly responsible for Clara’s coming death made my skin crawl: “You let Clara die, and I will rain hell on you until the end of time.” Shortly followed by “You’ll find it’s a very small universe when I’m angry with you.” It’s heartbreaking to watch, but it’s also some of Capaldi’s best acting. And then he topped himself in the following episode, “Heaven Sent”, in which he carries the whole show by himself for fifty-five minutes (save for one line spoken by a hallucination of Clara, a non-speaking minor role for a little boy at the end, and a seriously disturbing monster) as the Doctor goes through his own personal Hell. That statement is not hyperbole at all: without spoiling it too much, when I say he out-Homuras Homura, that should be an indication of how impressive this episode was. It’s a crowning achievement, and now it’s right up there with “Vincent and the Doctor”, “The Doctor’s Wife”, and “Flatline” as an all-time favorite Moffat-era episode.

And then there was Made in Abyss, a fantasy anime from this past season that I was not prepared for. Oh, I heard in advance that its cutesy, adorable art style was a Madoka-esque deception, but good freaking lord. This series is simultaneously one of the most gorgeous to look at and one of the hardest to watch I’ve seen in years, and the comparisons to Madoka are NOT AT ALL unfounded.

To sum it up: there’s the Abyss. It’s in the middle of an island in the middle of the ocean. It’s a circular hole in the world several miles across, it’s filled with ancient relics and strange otherworldly life forms, and it’s so impossibly deep that no one’s ever seen the bottom and lived to tell about it. And something (or multiple somethings) about it is just plain wrong: the farther down you descend, the more goes wrong with you when you try to come back up. It starts with headaches, dizziness, and nausea just from climbing up a few feet within the first thousand meters or so, and at deeper depths it can escalate to hallucinations, bleeding out all your orifices, insanity, loss of humanity, death, and worse. Yes, worse. TVTropes calls this thing “Uncle Lovecraft’s Fun-Time Murder Hole” for damned good reason.

Our main character is an excitable twelve-year-old girl named Riko, a “cave raider” in training who waits for the day when she can go past the first layer and discover the Abyss’s secrets for herself. Her mother was Lyza, a great explorer who (possibly) went deeper into the Abyss than anyone else in history… but she’s been gone down there for ten years and hasn’t come back. On one of her excursions, Riko finds an amnesiac robot boy she names “Reg”, with extendable arms, a cool helmet, and laser cannons in his palms. Finding and activating Reg leads her to discover that Lyza might be alive in the Abyss after all, and that she might be waiting for Riko to join her… so Riko and Reg set off on a forbidden journey to the bottom, she to find her mom and he to find his lost memories.

This sounds like innocent fun, and the incredible Ghibli-esque scenery and animation certainly makes it look like it could be… but then you get stuff like the “Curse”, the Abyss sickness that seems purposefully designed by some sadistic asshole to prevent people who go down from coming back up. Then you get a succession of really horrible monsters that resemble Ghibli creations after a particularly terrifying acid trip. Then you get the plot twists, including the revelation that all along Riko’s been closer to the Abyss than she ever imagined, and then you get one of the few scenes in any anime ever that made me squirm with discomfort and distressed me almost to the point of illness, and then you get an absolutely adorable character with one of the saddest backstories in anime history, and-

I don’t say this often, but if this sounds interesting to you and you have a strong spine and stomach to take it, WATCH THIS SHOW. It’s been appearing on many “Best of the Year” lists, and it well deserves them. Despite my comparisons to Madoka, it’s one of the most unique stories I’ve seen in ages, very much its own thing. And dear lord does it grab hold of your feels and beat the living hell out of them. There’s apparently another season in the works, which gives me yet another 2018(?) anime series to anxiously look forward to.

– BHS

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