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The Abyss is a gigantic vertical cave, which is the only untrodden region by humans after having already explored and searched all over the world. Strange and peculiar creatures, and invaluable relics that modern humans can never be able to create, are to be found in this extraordinary deep and huge hole. The curious figure of the Abyss, with its fullness of mystery, captivates people and drives them to the adventure to the Abyss. People started to refer to adventurers who have tried to dive down the big cave as “Tankutsu-ka”. An orphan girl named “Riko”, who lives in the town called “Orth”, surrounding the Abyss, dreams to be a great “Tankutsu-ka”, like her legendary mother and solve the riddles of the Abyss. One day, when she explores Abyss, she comes across a robot who has a human boy figure and escorts him back to Orth…

Made in Abyss is a Japanese animation series based on a comic series of the same name, written by Akihito Tsukushi. It has 13 episodes and each episode is 30 minutes long (except for the final episode, which is 60 minutes), and developed by Kinema Citrus, a Japanese animation studio. It is a story of two main characters Riko and Reg, who go through a breathtaking and thrilling adventure to dive into the Abyss, a spectacular fantasy world. It aired on Japanese TV channels in the summer of 2017, and is streaming on overseas online platforms as well.

Riko, Reg, and Nanachi

Famous high-profile creators from the Japanese animation industry gathered for this animation series. It was directed by Masayuki Kojima from Kinema Citrus, a veteran of TV animation series who directed titles such as The Record of Boy Hanada and Monster when he worked for Madhouse, one of the globally famous Japanese animation studios. Hideyuki Kurata, who wrote scripts for many popular animation titles like R.O.D -READ OR DIE- and GUN×SWORD, was in charge of the whole structure of the stories in the series and wrote the scripts of seven episodes. In terms of the visuals of the series, one of the star animators from Production I.G. (one of the top Japanese animation studios, which has developed a lot of great animation, including a film Ghost in the shell directed by Mamoru Oshii), Kazuchika Kise was welcomed as the character designer, and Osamu Masuyama, who drew a lot of background art for Studio Ghibli’s works and Makoto Shinkai’s films, joined as the artistic director.

Animationweek could have a precious opportunity to hear behind the story of the series from Akihito Tsukushi and Masayuki Kojima. We are happy to share their words with you.

Interview with Akihito Tsukushi (Author of the original comic) and Masayuki Kojima (Director of the TV series)

Hideki Nagaishi (HN): Where did the initial idea of the story of Made in Abyss come from? How did you develop the universe of the Abyss?

Akihito Tsukushi: I really love orthodox fantasy video games, like diving into dungeons and battling with swords and magic. I had worked for a game company for ten years, so I had been having a strong passion for writing a realistic orthodox fantasy story like Made in Abyss.

I am getting chances of coming up with ideas for the story and universe from various things. For example, when I read a comic series titled Silver Spoon, which Hiromu Arakawa (she is best known for Fullmetal Alchemist) is writing, I got an inspiration for the structure of the story. It is a story of a student of an agricultural high school, and there are many things I didn’t know even though it is a story about the real world that I know. For instance, there is an expression: “When I rode on horseback, I felt that I was integrating with the earth, and I got the strange feeling of my entire body itself becoming taller.” And I felt, when I read this expression, that this sounds like a fantasy story for me, and thought that I can write a fantasy story if I use this style of storytelling. I mean that a story has many different meanings behind it, so that when I create one thing for the universe of the Abyss, I would gather the threads of its story by considering the reason why it exists here now. That is how I have written the story.

In terms of the design of the universe of the Abyss, I got an idea of how I will build it when I saw a big tree, which was exhibited at National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno (It is an area in Tokyo, Japan where there are many National museums). In the description of the tree, there was one sentence saying, “Tens of thousands of creatures are living inside this tree”. I thought that such a huge number of creatures are living in the micro-world, so that I could create an interesting new world, not by expanding the world by designing materials of it one after another, but by stretching the understanding of the one vertical cave, the Abyss, like the tree and designing it in detail.

Cross-section diagram of the Abyss

Masayuki Kojima: In that way, all kinds of unknown realms (for us) of a story, can be fantasy for us, isn’t it? Regardless of what kind of story it is, even if it is a story of an agricultural high school or a story of a parallel world, if audiences do not know the universe of the story, it could equally be a fantasy for them.

Akihito Tsukushi: Yes. If I can make audiences think “Hmmm, I see” about something in our real world through the story I wrote, I think that it would be a good quality fantasy story for them. So, what I would like to write is a persuasive story, which enables the audience to think like that, if the information in the story is fabricated fact, which doesn’t exist in our real world.

HN: I would like to ask both of you. Could you please let us know your first impression when you heard about the TV series project at the first time?

Akihito Tsukushi: If I remember right, it was around April 2015 and I was writing the story for the fourth volume of my original comic, when I heard about the project of the TV animation version of Made in Abyss. To be honest, I thought that it would be a 5-minute short animation series when I heard of it the first time, but it turned out that in the project, each episode is 30 minutes long. Then I thought, “Insane! Are you serious?”, because if it will be a 30-minute TV series, it means that this scene and that scene from my original story will be animated*1, so I thought it was probably difficult to get the project off the ground. Hence, I was really surprised when the project was greenlit.

*1: Characters in the original comic series of Made in Abyss have several very hard and tough experiences, which are really demanding mentally and physically. It means that these scenes in the original comic could be too shocking and difficult to animate for a general TV series to broadcast.

If the animation project were decided officially, I need to get my pace of writing and drawing up for publishing a few new volumes to stock enough story to make a 13-episode animation series before starting production of animation. So, one more thing I thought when I heard about the TV series project was that I started to worry about that, thinking “Oh, my god! What am I going to do?” (laughs).

Masayuki Kojima: In my case, Muneki Ogasawara, a producer of a company named Kinema Citrus, which I belong to, gave the first volume of the comic to me saying, “This is the next project we are thinking. How about directing this?” And actually, I thought, “This story will be absolutely interesting. I want to do it!” Soon after, when I just saw the cover illustration and the first page in the comic, which is a color illustration printed on the facing page (Comics in Japan are generally in black and white), I replied to him: “Yah, I will think of that”, at that time (laughs). Anyway, the illustration has a persuasive universe, so I could imagine how it will be if we animate this comic story and move them. Then, when I started to read it, the story was more interesting than I had imagined.

Cover illustration of the first volume of the original comic

The first illustration in the comic printed on the facing page

Akihito Tsukushi: Now, the director said that he wondered how it would be if he animated it. I was completely fascinated when his words became reality and appeared in front of me as a storyboard, which he drew. It was so great. And I also thought that it was insane to animate this storyboard as a TV animation series (laughs).

Masayuki Kojima: At that time, I said to animators at Kinema Citrus, “This original story is amazing. We definitely want to animate this one, don’t we?” And some of them agreed with me, but some said, “It would be really hard work” (laughs)

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