Made in Abyss and characters going through brutal things
So what happened is that I saw someone on Twitter wondering if they should catch up on Made in Abyss, because they'd heard (and seen from screenshots) that some brutal and unpleasant things happened to the characters and were partly wondering if the show was being gratuitous with them. This sparked a stream of thoughts on Twitter:
Made in Abyss's latest episodes are wrenching and powerful, but are they necessary? And is this a question that matters?
I don't think MiA's events were gratuitous or overdone & things mostly focused on the emotional impact. The body horror was probably needed.
'Body horror' is not quite the right description for 'people getting hurt badly', but Twitter has length limits. The show definitely presented the situation in a way that was intended to make it wrenching; this was not pleasant, pretty, antiseptic stuff, it was visceral and cringe-inducing and painful to watch. Within the context of the episodes I don't think the show dwelt on things in a way that would have made it torture porn or pain porn; the focus was very much on how all of these horrible things affected the characters, especially Reg. The horrible things got shown to give Reg's reactions context and weight, and the show framed things claustrophobically to focus on this (cf, which has spoilers).
(See Nick Creamer's description in his week in summary post for more concrete stuff, but note that it has spoilers. He calls episode 10 'viscerally excruciating' and I would have to agree with that.)
As for the overall necessity, we have to wait and see how the story develops. I think there are early promising signs based on Nanachi.
That the events in the episode are non-gratuitous doesn't necessarily mean that the episode itself (and those events) are actually necessary. We won't know how necessary the events were overall until we see the story and the show's themes develop more. However, I think there are already clear promising signs, because the course of the story has clearly shifted after the events of episode 10.
Story elements don't necessarily have to have a point; they can be there for emotional impact. But terror and pain are empty w/o a meaning.
Made in Abyss certainly delivered emotional impact. Whether it used too much terror & pain for that is still open and also a personal call.
This is the question of whether the question in my initial tweet even matters. If Made in Abyss episodes 10 and 11 evoke such a strong emotional reaction from us, do they have to be 'necessary' in the larger scale of the plot? After all, stories are in large part about the emotional reactions they evoke and episode 10 certainly did that.
I don't have an answer but I do have an opinion, which is that some ways of evoking emotional responses are cheaper, easier, and more shallow than others. Kicking a puppy is a bad cliche for a good reason. Tormenting characters just to get a reaction from the audience is lazy and unappealing, and in the process it lessens the impact of the entire work. I personally don't think that Made in Abyss has crossed this line, but then I'm a jaded anime watcher.
(And I will admit that there are caution signs in some things in Made in Abyss, things that came up in passing that I'm not sure really needed to be there. Some of these questionable bits have been there from early on in the show.)
Checking in on the Summer 2017 anime season 'midway' through
It's time once again for a much of the way through update on my earlier impressions of this season. By this point both my views and my expectations have solidified, although I'm still hoping for a surprise or two.
- Made in Abyss: I recently characterized this as a quest without
active opposition (so far), where the
obstacle in the way of Riko and Reg is the Abyss itself, with its
creatures and its very nature. The show is doing extremely well at
portraying this and making things feel real, and it's been a very
enjoyable ride despite the fact that we keep being told that Riko
is never coming back from the journey she's making.
With that said, I have no idea where the show is going and how it's going to come to a satisfying ending point. But the ride is so interesting that I don't care.
Very good, surprisingly:
- Princess Principal: The show has remained fully committed to its
core nature and as a result has delivered a whole series of episodes
with pretty solid impacts (and a few that were just fun), even if
they're nothing novel in terms of plots. I've been particularly taken
with the writing, which is often (although not always) willing to let
things be indirect and count on us to get it.
This has turned out much better than I would have expected from the premise.
- Senki Zesshou Symphogear AXZ: It's more Symphogear and it's
being very itself by leaning into its over the top stuff and
building on bits and pieces of past seasons in a way that makes
its world feel real and lived-in. It's absurd, of course, but
Symphogear has always been an absurd show.
- My Hero Academia: The show continues to move along pretty well, mostly avoiding the pacing pitfalls of the first season and the tournament pitfalls of the first part of this season. MHA isn't great but I do like watching it. It has charm.
- Knight's & Magic: This remains more or less pure-hearted fun, although
in the long shadow of Gundam it's hard to
have the cheerful reaction to a war between two groups of humans that
I think the show wants me to have, especially when it kills plenty of
people on screen. For now I'm ignoring the cognitive dissonance and
enjoying it anyway.
- Fate/Apocrypha: This has mostly delivered on a stream of reasonably spectacular fights with only a few diversions into annoying attempts at philosophy and character development and so on (all of which Fate is generally terrible at). Unfortunately, while I enjoy Astolfo and Mordred goofing around, my actual investment in any of the characters is almost nil so all of the action mostly feels empty and pointless.
- A Centaur's Life: I wound up feeling that the only thing the show
had going for it was its gimmick, and with the show's bland and so-so
production, that wasn't enough to keep me watching. I have some
theories about why this material worked much better in manga form than
animated, but that's for another entry.
- The Reflection: After watching a number of episodes I realized that I was only interested in it as a peculiar and interesting artifact, not as something to actually watch. I wasn't particularly invested in either the characters or the plot and the writing could be painful.
I've got enough shows that I want to watch that I've felt no particular need to seek out more or dig into my backlog (the latter is kind of a pity, since I have some good stuff I want to get to someday). More shows and more good to excellent shows would be nice, but I'm okay with what I have.