[Hello all and welcome back to Weeb Analysis where this month we’ll be looking at the horrifying yet captivating next season of Made in Abyss: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun. Weeb Analysis is a monthly column dedicated to analyzing new anime and seeing which titles are true classics in the making and which ones are worthless shlock not worth your time. The question now stands: is Made in Abyss: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun worth your time or not?]
Can there truly be a light in the darkness?
This is the central question asked by Made in Abyss’s second season, referred from hereon out as The Golden City of the Scorching Sun. The franchise has been known to delve head first into complete and utter despair and find the beauty in such darkness. It’s a series dedicated to trying to find the hope and joys of adventure in a world that is so dead set on seeing you and everything you cherish destroyed. The show is uncompromising in its depiction of depraved nightmares and it’s a show that I both can’t recommend enough yet give tons of warnings before heading into it.
If you’ve been a longtime reader of the site, I’ve been covering Made in Abyss for Flixist since well before Weeb Analysis was a thing. Back in 2019, Sentai Filmworks released two compilation films of the first season of the show, the latter of which I gave one of the highest reviewed scores of the year. In 2020, a sequel film was released that continued the march towards artistic depravity the series is known for, and this past summer The Golden City of the Scorching Sun, the show’s second season, began streaming. I knew this was going to be one of my most anticipated shows of the year, which is saying a lot given just how many fantastic shows have been released this year, so that should be saying something. I am a huge fan of the series, plain and simple. But does it live up to that lofty expectation?
Yes, and then some.
If you were to ask me for a simple reason as to why I love the show, and this season in particular, as much as I do, I don’t think I’d be able to accurately tell you. Made in Abyss is complex. There is no clear delineation between good and evil within it. We follow a group of children as they adventure to the bottom of the world, encountering stranger and more bizarre sights and learning about the tragedies within the eponymous abyss they’re diving deeper within. For the most part, our heroes Riko and her robot companion Reg are observers. They meet new people and don’t pass judgment on them, but rather engage in their lives and come to an understanding of the nature of not only the abyss but human existence. Sometimes these encounters are peaceful and sometimes they can turn violent, but those are incredibly rare and not the norm.
At its core, Made in Abyss is an adventure about Riko seeking to find her mother. Her mother is a high-ranking explorer in the society she grew up in and has disappeared into the abyss where all cave raiders travel to. Upon meeting an amnesiac robot boy named Reg who claims he’s from the abyss, Riko and Reg set off to find her mother and try to remember Reg’s past. The catch is that this is a one-way journey. The deeper they explore, the harder it will be the come back up. Not just because of the distance they travel, but because of supernatural curses that punish any explorers who attempt to return. These curses can vary from headaches and fatigue if they’re rising from a short distance to the loss of humanity at greater depths. If Riko is going to look for her mother, then she will never return.
When season 2 begins, Riko and Reg have made friends with an inhabitant of the abyss named Nanachi, a cute bunny girl who was the product of human experimentation by a reprehensible scientist who sacrificed children to allow him to ironically maintain his humanity. The trio has descended so far into the pit that it will be impossible for them to return, arriving in what we call the Sixth Layer. While there, our heroes encounter a peaceful village of humanoid monsters called the Village of Hollows and learn of their culture and the tragic foundations of the village.
The Golden City of the Scorching Sun plays expertly with theming for the majority of its 12-episode runtime. The village is entirely centered on value and whatever value may represent to a person. If business is to be done within the village, a being must trade sometime of equal value to another. Yet value changes from person to person, with some exceptions. In the Village of Hollows, a place where no humans exist, anything from a human is deemed as being priceless and fetches a truly high value. However, if anyone ever attempts to subvert the rules of the village, a magical force called “The Balancing” occurs to forcibly remove value from the person that has unrightfully taken more than they needed.
Yet the concept of value is something that The Golden City of the Scorching Sun continuously plays with. Sure, value is present physically in the form of material goods and personal items, but then there’s an intangible aspect to it. What one person deems as valuable may mean nothing to another, so this barter economy is highly subjective. Then there’s the question of whether or not some things can even have a physical value. Can value be placed on something like love? Companionship? Family? Respect? How do you trade that?
This is a lesson that Riko learns quickly when her animal companion Meinya is injured by an inhabitant of the village. Riko cries at Meinya’s injury, and the village reacts. Something that Riko considers valuable and priceless was damaged, so the Balancing hurts and removes virtually everything that the villager finds valuable, with them crying all the while as all of their possession are destroyed. Riko is horrified yet conflicted at the act. She’s causing the suffering of someone who didn’t know any better, but in order to stop the suffering, she needs to say that her animal friend has no meaning to her, which she can’t possibly do.
It’s an interesting dynamic for this village to have, especially given that all of its inhabitants were once humans. They journeyed into the abyss, found themselves entering the village and becoming monsters, now happily content with living out the rest of their days in the village. It serves as a purgatory of sorts, and a bit of a sad one for its inhabitants. Several of the villagers openly pine about how they wanted to continue exploring the abyss, but no longer are able to due to the curse of the village. They can’t leave anymore as their bodies cannot exist outside of the village walls. They’re prisoners and are forced to live a life that they now must reluctantly live.
However, this isn’t the case for all of the villagers. Most are happy to find a peaceful home in the abyss. Outside, the monsters are ravenous and near indestructible. No one has any hope of ever defeating the violent beasts, so the village becomes a safe haven as well as a prison. Monsters are unable to enter the village due to the magical barrier surrounding it, but in exchange, no villager can leave it. Sure, it may not be ideal to live the rest of your life trapped in the village, but when the outside world contains so much death and destruction, it’s not entirely a bad outcome.
I wouldn’t by any stretch of the word call the Village of Hollows a utopia, but there is a sense of complacency and serenity within it. Violence can’t take place inside of it or the Balancing will take place and rectify any damages. Some of the inhabitants have lived there since the village’s foundation over 150 years ago. Monsters can’t get in, and there’s a sense of community within it. The village has a culture and is a genuine civilization. When the rest of the world is so awful, it is a light in the darkness. It’s stability in a world of such chaos.
But of course, there’s more to it than that.
There’s a famous short story called “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”. If you’ve never heard of the story, the basic premise is that there is a perfect utopia called Omelas where there is no conflict, no strive, and all of its inhabitants live in peace and happiness. However, there is a price to this peace. The joys of the city come at the expense of one child, who must always be kept in darkness, must always be ignored, and must always suffer. When people learn of this, they rage at it and inevitably have to make a choice; they can either leave the city, horrified by the suffering of this lone child in order to achieve the city’s prosperity, or they can stay and continue to let the child suffer for their own happiness. If anyone was to ever help the child, the city would be destroyed and all joy would vanish.
The Golden City of the Scorching Sun plays with a variation of this story, one that is arguably more horrifying. In the deepest pit of the Village of Hollows is a woman named Vueko, who has been there since the village’s foundation. She’s been chained and trapped for 150 years and she cannot leave, for if she does then the village will also suffer, though how is somewhat unclear. Or at least, it is, until you the truth learn of the village’s inception.
It’s at this point that it’s necessary to go into full spoilers for the rest of The Golden City of the Scorching Sun. I feel it’s almost impossible to conduct a deep dive into virtually every element of the show’s themes of value, hope, motherhood, wishes, and dreams unless I openly discuss the origins of the village, Vueko’s relation to it, the creation of the Hollows, and the suffering that stems from it all. If this has interested you up until this point, I highly encourage you to stop reading at this very moment and go watch the show. It’s streaming on HIDIVE and is worth watching, no matter how bleak and dark it may be, and believe me, it gets dark. It has some of the darkest implications I’ve ever seen in any television show I’ve watched, animated or otherwise. Again, this is your final warning.
The ultimate tragedy of the Village of Hollows actually isn’t Vueko’s imprisonment at the bottom of the village, but rather the horrific creation of the village itself. Vueko was from a group of explorers 150 years ago that entered the abyss in order to find El Dorado, not knowing what was actually in store for them. They were aware that this was going to be a one-way trip, but after recruiting a little girl from the top of the abyss named Irumyuui to serve as their guide, the adventurers progressed until they became ravaged by disease and starvation. The head of the explorers, a laid-back prophet named Wazukyan, surmised that they were going to die unless something drastic occurred. Or, in his eyes, a miracle.
He was able to acquire a treasure with the power to grant the wishes of anyone who touches it. However, this treasure best works with children, so he gives the item to Irumyuui. We never learn exactly what she wished for, but given the fact that she bonded with Vueko over their infertility and views Vueko as her adoptive mother, her wish has something to do with maternity and motherhood. Irumyuui overcomes her sickness but begins to mutate into a creature constantly giving birth to stillborn monsters daily, slowly losing her mind and sense of self. After an unspecified amount of time has based, she doesn’t even resemble a human and has become a hulking tower giving birth to larger and larger stillborn monsters. And as for the starvation, Wazukyan sums it up best by saying right to Vueko’s face that Irumyuui “saved us all.” The starvation ended because they found a food supply.
It’s at this point I’m writing this I have to take a step back and go, yes, this is a series where a group of explorers eat stillborn babies. When I said The Golden City of the Scorching Sun went into dark places, I mean DARK PLACES. While earlier moments in the series have been tragic, they don’t reach the heights of the tragedy of Irumyuui and Wazukyan forcing two additional treasures into her to cause her to grow into this mammoth tower-like structure that barely has sentience. And it’s this tower that becomes the Village of Hollows. Iruumyuui becomes the village and the explorers that journeyed with her use her desecrated body as their home.
Vueko, and most of the characters, do ask though if this is what Irumyuui wished for. After all, the treasures that Wazukyan gave her are meant to grant wishes, but was her wish to become this monstrous being to protect the explorers? Was it her wish to turn the inhabitants within her body into the Hollows so they could survive the rigors of the Sixth Layer? One could make the argument that it allows for Irumyuui to become a mother, something that she could never do, with the Hollows within the village serving as her children that she protects. Or was the wish actually Wazukyan’s trying to wish for some survival in the face of despair and wishing for his followers to believe in his prophecies? After all, he comes into possession of the wish-granting treasure first. Again, we’re never given a clear answer, but the revelations of the village’s origins leave a lot of conflicted feelings within our heroes.
Upon learning these revelations, Wazukyan, who is now one of the heads of the Village of Hollows, asks Riko if she’s disgusted by what Wazukyan did and thinks of him as evil. Riko is unable to provide him with an answer. Even now, I struggle to say that Wazukyan is an antagonist and outright evil. Make no mistake, his actions are reprehensible the untold suffering he put onto one little girl is unparalleled, but he seems to almost resent the result. Because of his actions, he can no longer leave the village and find El Dorado, trapped within his own prophecy. He doesn’t deny this, yet stays steadfast that the miracle of Irumyuui was necessary for their survival. However, he does seem to long for death to end his unintentional imprisonment.
Death does come for them all in the form of the Princess of the village, Faputa, the final daughter of Irumyuui. If Irumyuui truly desired to become a mother, Faputa was her wish fulfilled, and she’s a being of pure rage. She’s born knowing EXACTLY what the villagers did to her mother and the suffering all of her dead siblings felt as they were slaughtered for their sustenance. All that Faputa desires is to kill every last one of them, but as she so elegantly puts it, a child can’t return to its mother’s womb. She’s forever forbidden to enter Irumyuui/the Village of Hollows due to the magic preventing the monster’s entry. She’s stuck outside unless someone is able to grant her access.
Faputa is the product of several of the character’s wishes and desires from throughout The Golden City of the Scorching Sun. To some of the Hollows within the village, she’s their salvation, almost a messianic figure that will grant them peace. She is, after all, the only living daughter of their savior, Irumyuui. To others, she’s absolution, wishing for her to kill them so they can atone for their sins back when they were explorers alongside her mother. To Vueko, she’s someone for Vueko to protect, much in the same way she tried (and failed) to protect Irumyuui.
But to our heroes, Faputa is just a little girl who never received any love. She grew up alone, never having a family or a mother to care for her, outside of a robot guardian that acted as her caretaker. Vueko isn’t the child of Omelas who can never know happiness. Faputa is. Or maybe it’s Irumyuui. They’re both children who undergo suffering and can only be freed from it by an act of kindness. Vueko frees Irumyuui of her suffering by providing consolation upon being freed, interfering with the Balancing. Faputa is freed from her suffering when Reg grants her access and she’s able to slaughter the villagers to avenge her mother.
Regardless of who the suffering child is in The Golden City of the Scorching Sun, after learning about the truth of the Irumyuui, the viewers also want nothing more than to side with Faputa and watch her kill every last one of the villagers for desecrating her mother. And the animators spare no expense in showing just how Faputa makes the villagers pay for their sins. She’s finally getting what she’s always wanted but slowly begins to realize that by achieving her dreams, it’s at the cost of this society that has survived for well over a century. Whether the villagers indeed wanted retribution or not, the fact of the matter remains that the entire civilization begins to fall apart, with monsters now entering the village to devour the Hollows.
It’s funny that Wazukyan and the rest of the explorers were searching for El Dorado when by the time Riko and her crew reach the Village of Hollows, it basically is El Dorado. Depending on your interpretation of the myth, El Dorado is a city that explorers dreamed of, a location filled with an abundance of wealth and gold that would allow them to be set for life, the Holy Grail of discoveries. Wazukyan effectively made the Village of Hollows El Dorado. It’s a city as valuable as gold, granting immortality to its residents by turning them into Hollows and allowing them to become value itself. They are as wealthy as they believe they are and can have limitless value. The village is desired by Faputa above all else, yet is always out of reach until Reg grants her access. When her destruction is complete, the golden city is gone.
Like the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, when Riko and the crew discover Irumyuui, it’s a shining beacon to them, a safe haven. It’s a beautiful place, but slowly that golden hue begins to fade as reality sets in. The Balancing causes damaging harm to the residents that break it. Vueko is held captive. The village itself was built on the foundation of countless dead babies. Faputa wishes for her mother to be freed from her suffering. And when she’s done with her rampage, the village is gone. All of its residents are dead. Vueko dies after telling Faputa that her mother loved her. It’s just Faputa standing on the remains of her mother’s corpse. El Dorado is gone. Nothing gold can stay.
Despite losing everything, Faputa does gain something valuable; friends. Riko, Reg, and Nanachi all feel for the burden that Faputa had to bear and ask her to join them on their journies. Faputa has no reason to deny them as she has achieved all of her goals, but what she’s gained from this was something that she never had before. Up until now, she was alone outside of her emotionless robot companion, but now she has a group of people that she treasures and can accept that she no longer has to live for her mother now. She can live her own life.
I don’t really have any way to properly wrap this piece up. Usually, I can give some grand concluding thoughts about a show and why it works or doesn’t work, but I think that’s all self-evident. Made in Abyss is a hauntingly beautiful show, something that I think many people won’t realize given its fairly niche status within the community and difficult subject matter. But I implore you to give the series a watch, whether it be the first season or the excellent The Golden City of the Scorching Sun. Anime can be powerful stuff, and this season ranks up there as being one of the most touching and memorable seasons I’ve seen in quite some time.
January 2022: Anime of the Year Awards 2021
February 2022: Demon Slayer: Entertainment District Arc
March 2022: My Dress-Up Darling
April 2022: Platinum End
May 2022: Anime Recommendations Vol. 1
June 2022: Ya Boy Kongming!
July 2022: Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt
August 2022: Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero