This is a little known fact about me, but I received an anthropology minor in college. I’ve taken osteology, archaeology, and human identification courses. In my world, bones are cool. Bones rock. They tell us a lot about people and animals who’ve come before us, especially if no one thought to write anything down about them or if those writings burned up or withered away.
I love the things they tell us. Things about age, gender, diet, health, and the population the person was born into. And if those bones survived long enough, they can tell us something about ancestors long forgotten. After all, we often find nothing else to commemorate their passage except for bones and a few fragments of pottery, metal, or stone.
So imagine my delight when I started watching the new anime Made in Abyss and the main character is a chibi archaeologist. She’s got an insatiable desire to find out more about the creatures and people who live down in this giant sinkhole that opened up several generations ago. No one has ever reached the bottom and the deeper you go, the more likely it is that you won’t be able to return.
I actually cheered when Riko came on screen with her head-lamp and pith helmet, slinging a pick-axe and carrying an over-sized backpack. Then as the seconds ticked by, I realized, “Wait. Are we in a forced, child-labor archaeology setting here?” And the answer is yes, yes we are. Sort of.
The Abyss is such a dangerous place that many of the people who go down into it never come back up. Which in turn creates many orphans.
Riko lives in an orphanage on the edge of the abyss that supports itself by collecting and selling the technological artifacts found in the Abyss. The orphanage teaches the orphans a valuable trade by training them to become a “Seeker” and to go deeper and deeper into the abyss collecting those artifacts and selling them to society. There are many levels of Seeker, from the apprentice who is only allowed to venture to the very top of the abyss, to master-level Seekers who have gone down and returned many times, facing all kinds of dangers but bringing out technological wonders to those living on the surface.
I love Riko because she cheerfully acknowledges that the Abyss will eventually kill her, but to her the knowledge gained on the journey is absolutely worth risking her life. The animators don’t try to hide how harsh the world is, and Riko doesn’t turn away from it. Instead she embraces it with an infectious zest for life. She’s everything I want in a main character: learned, courageous, practical, and fully engaged in the world around her.
And personally, as someone who decided not to spend her whole life stooped in tents in possibly dangerous places digging up forgotten people and relics because of the time and risk involved, I can only respect Riko’s determination to forge ahead anyway.
And that’s only where the series starts. It gets better—and darker—from there. But Riko? She has no regrets.