This is nothing like the derivative by-the-numbers anime that we see too much of. This is a imaginative story that delivers a unique blend of cuteness, humor and terror. The high production values show a team that really wants to deliver something great.
One thing (so far) keeps it from being a true classic. The season ended at a reasonably satisfactory stopping point, but this is the sort of quest story that demands a resolution that shows the end of the quest. It seems obvious that the team that produced the anime wants to deliver future seasons that will complete the story. However given the economics of the anime industry and the fact that this is based on an ongoing manga there is no guarantee that this will happen.
One warning: given the cuteness of the character designs the DVDs will probably end up shelved in the children’s section of every library in America. I do not consider this suitable for young children. Teenagers should be fine but for those in the single digits this seems like nightmare fodder.
The Abyss is a kilometer-wide hole in the ground whose depth is unknown. Nobody has ever reached the bottom and returned to tell the tale.
It is a beautiful and dangerous place filled with fearsome primordial beasts and valuable “Relics” left by a lost advanced civilization.
The deeper you go the more dangerous it gets (though the value of the Relics increases.) The laws of physics work strangely down there. Daylight seems to reach all the way down. A phenomenon called the “Curse” will sicken or kill explorers who try to climb too quickly from the lower levels. Sort of like the bends but potentially much worse.
A town has grown up around the rim of the Abyss with quaint buildings and rough manners. Its economy depends on the “Cave Raiders,” a guild of hardy explorers who brave the dangers of the pit to bring back the precious Relics.
In the Belchero Orphanage children are subjected to strict discipline and trained as apprentice Cave Raiders.
As “Red Whistle” apprentices the kids are allowed to explore the relatively safe First Layer of the Abyss where the monsters probably won’t eat you if you can run away fast enough.
The Relics there aren’t terribly valuable but the kids are still required to turn any that they find over to the orphanage administrators under threat of harsh punishment. This sounds pretty exploitative but the kids don’t complain. This is a Dickensian world where worse things can happen to children.
The main character is Riko, a headstrong impulsive 12-year-old girl.
While exploring with her friend Nat she discovers a most unusual relic…
An unconscious robot boy! Delighted with her find, Riko convinces Nat not to turn the robot in but to smuggle him into the dorm.
Once revived, Reg turns out to have lost his memory. He has no idea who he is or where he comes from.
(Actually, though everyone calls him a robotto he seems more like a cyborg to me. But never mind.)
Riko is fascinated by tales of her mother Lyza the Annihilator, a famous “White Whistle” or top-ranked Cave Raider. (White Whistles are rare and always have some sort of honorific title.) Lyza vanished into the depths of the pit 10 years ago.
A turning point for Riko comes when an expedition brings back some items belonging to her mother, including a book of field notes and her whistle.
Tucked into the notebook is a handwritten note that says “At the bottom of the netherworld I’ll be waiting.” Riko is convinced that the message is intended for her. She becomes determined, whatever the cost, to make the impossibly dangerous journey down into the pit to find her mother.
She collects all the information she can about the way down.
Habo, a garrulous middle-aged cave raider, is a fount of information about the lower levels.
Reg determines to accompany her both out of concern for her and out of his desire to unlock the mystery of his own past. Together they make their getaway into the Abyss.
After a series of unnerving adventures they manage to reach the Second Layer, where things will start to get really dangerous.
After traveling through the Inverted Forest they reach a Cave Raider base run by a formidable White Whistle called Ozen the Immovable. Ozen is unfriendly and threatening but she eventually decides to help them for the sake of her ties to Lyza. Her “help” includes some unsparing advice and some pretty harsh training.
Ozen’s assistant Marulk is a cross-dressing boy who is thrilled to have some visitors his own age. He is deeply saddened when Riko and Reg set out to continue their journey into the depths.
If it doesn’t kill you the Curse of the Abyss can turn you into a “Hollow,” making you something no longer human. Nanachi is a Hollow with a particularly tragic backstory and a lot of practical knowledge about survival in the depths. As expected by everyone who has been paying attention to the OP and ED, Nanachi eventually agrees to accompany Riko and Reg on their journey.
And so the season ends with our heroes acquiring a valuable companion but they are nowhere near completing their quest. Though this season was extraordinary such an ending cannot be completely satisfactory. As I said above, if we are lucky enough to see the story completed in future seasons this could become one of the great anime classics.