I wrote this previously, Why You NEED to Watch, Made in Abyss
I’ll admit it, within my own writing, I have never been a huge fan of worldbuilding. I prefer to invest more time into my characters, and the situations they find themselves in. Yet, this isn’t to say I don’t appreciate worldbuilding in the creative works’ of others, in fact – especially within science fiction and fantasy – it is often imperative to the tone and the feel of the narrative as a whole.
This is intrinsically evident in both literature, and visual mediums. In novels like Phillip Reeve’s Mortal Engines series. In video games such as Fallout and just about any RPG you can think of. In films like Star Wars, and Blade Runner. And, in TV such as Stargate, Fringe, and Game of Thrones. Worldbuilding is hugely important in all these examples. It gives backbone to the ideas, a foundation for the story to stand stable on.
What Makes For a ‘Good’ World?
Take a look at the greats: I’ll use the world of Mortal Engines as an example, here. Both because of how detailed it is, and because of my never-ending love for it. There are very few worlds I feel as enamored with as much as I do with the tumultuous, ravaged land, and the hulking traction cities of Mortal Engines. (If you haven’t read the novels, do it NOW!)
In Mortal Engines, the Earth was ravaged by The Sixty Minute War. A war that lasted… sixty minutes, changing the shape of the world in the process; as a consequence of such a large-scale, and completely apocalyptic conflict, the volcanoes in the Ring of Fire simultaneously erupted – a cataclysmic event that the world would never recover from. From the ashes of the old world, Traction Cities were born. Hulking cities on tracks, or wheels that traverse the ruined land, preying on smaller and weaker cities, catching them in their jaws, before ripping them apart in their Guts; coined, Municipal Darwinism. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the Anti-Traction League. A group of people mainly residing in the walled, conventional city of Batmunkh Gompa. And, it is between them, and the cities where a war ultimately breaks out. Here, they fight for the control of ‘Old Tech’ weapons and devices from the old world that might swing the odds of the battle.
Of course, this is just a brief outline of the wider world of Mortal Engines, things do go far deeper. Still, even this serves as a reminder that real value lies in creators spending time developing theses worlds. And, whilst more detail and exposition can be put into a literary medium than it can a visual one, this translates over into Made in Abyss. Because, although different, I believe the world to be as wonderful, and as inspired.
So, without further ado. What I think is required to achieve wonderful worlds:
- Feasible lore and backstory of the world itself. It doesn’t have to be massively in-depth or hugely elaborate, as in Made in Abyss’s case. It only has to be understandable and somewhat nuanced in its existence.
- History of the world, why things are the way they are. Information like this makes things appear more credible, more believable – therefore making it far easier to step into the shoes of any character that exists within it.
- Characters that have the potential to be impacted by such a world. Both in their present life, and their pasts. After all, the history and origin of people, is as important as the land itself.
- Conflict is an integral factor in any story. It’s needed. After all, how can we invest in a narrative if the characters do not have anything to overcome. The surrounding world and landscape must reflect this – give it legs to stand on. The conflict/danger should be a product of the world and its people.
- Reasons for things. Everything exists for a reason. Of course, we don’t need to know the reasons for everything, especially when they are not relevant to the narrative. Yet, if the opposite is true, we have to know why that is the case.
- An understanding (if needed) of political systems, ideology, and social constructs. This is especially important when they differ vastly from the ones we are familiar with. And when they have forged empires/kingdoms of the past. This all comes to affect the present world climate – who sides with who.
When these things come together they – hopefully – create a world that is inspired. One that we’re able to fully immerse ourselves in, as if we were there in person, as if we had known the place our entire lives. A world that is in motion, always evolving as the narrative moves forward. As it swirls and undulates beneath the characters, forging their journeys… ending them.
This is worldbuilding.
Simple, Yet Inspired
Made in Abyss’s worldbuilding is neither the most elaborate, nor the most detailed I have seen. Still, it’s rather unique, and there’s true feeling behind it – something I consider to be far more important. For I want to the world to elicit an emotional response in me. I need for the world to directly influence my viewing experience. Made in Abyss absolutely achieves this, and more.
The Abyss itself is where the wonder lies. Well… that’s more or less where everything lies. Simply because Made in Abyss centers itself there. There’s no unneeded exposition of a world we are never going to experience outside of this. We only know the things we need to know. Because, there’s such thing as knowing too much. Made in Abyss isn’t guilty of this, like so many other shows are. In simple terms, it gets straight to the point, no hanging around – no explaining things that are in no way relevant to the narrative. Even the lore is reserved, and the release of it, naturally paced.
This is part of the reason why Made in Abyss stands out amongst this season’s anime (Summer 2017)
The world it presents appears entirely naturally developed, as if it could truly exist at some given point in time; be that the far future, or the far past. We’re fed small things we recognise, things we can connect with – the ship fossilised into the wall of the Abyss, the ‘monkeys’ swinging through the trees. It allows us to place our own mind in a world that is distantly removed from anything we know. After all, the Abyss is just a hole in the ground, of course this alone can never make for good worldbuilding. It has to be populated, and eerily recognisable. And, the Abyss couldn’t be any more bursting with life and identity if it tried.
At The Helm
Kinema Citrus is the animation studio behind Made in Abyss. The art director is Osamu Masuyama. He has previously worked on titles such as: Eden of the East, Spirited Away, Tales From Earthsea, Welcome to the Space Show, Ponyo, Howls Moving Castle, and From up on Poppy Hill.
You’ll notice all the Studio Ghibli features. That’s because Masuyama was Art Director/Background artist for many of them. A role he picks up as Art Director in Made in Abyss. This is where the brilliant quality of the backgrounds, and art in general stems from. Because for a seasonal show, I cannot overstate how utterly exceptional the visuals really are.
This being said, great backgrounds alone do not make for a great worlds. We know this.
The writers Hideyuki Kurata and Keigo Koyanagi are vital in adapting the words of the original manga by Akihito Tsukushi into the anime we all love. And, Masuyama is responsible for translating the world, from a still one, to one that can move and breath – so to speak. After all, being background artist for Made in Abyss is a hugely important role, if not one of the most important. Not only because you have to make sure things don’t stray too far from the original source material, but because the entire feel of the show depends on it.
Some say aesthetics aren’t important. Yet, in a show like Made in Abyss I would completely disagree – a show that is dependent on its world, a show that without a – at least – credible world would have no basis for its jaw-dropping conflict, and no way to convey its narrative structure in a way that is understandable, in a way that is stunningly wonderful. Simply imagine Made in Abyss with the visuals of Berserk (2017)… it would be a completely different entity altogether, one that would fall apart at its seems.
This is why worldbuilding is vitally important.
When done right, you get something like Made in Abyss. Something with heart and desire, something that is a pleasure to watch from start to finish. Creators should take a deep look at it, examine what makes it so great, and grab that inspiration for their own work. For the world needs more shows, more art on the level of Made in Abyss.
What do you think of Made in Abyss, anime of the season?
Thanks for reading, as always.