Hello, I am The Luminous Mongoose, and I welcome you to the start of a new series on this blog, Mirror Match!
What is Mirror Match?
This is a new blog series where I take two anime series with almost identical plot structures and elements, then explore just how differently they tackle them.
Today’s contenders are Made in Abyss and Girls’ Last Tour, two cute and chronically depressing shows in their own right. Seriously, I can’t be the only person who thought that these two shows were similar on paper:
“After being given vague instructions by their guardians, two young children ascend/descend a harsh, dangerous but beautifully mysterious world in a search for meaning and purpose.”
Turning back is not an option as the locations they are in purposely prevent them from backtracking, be it supernatural causes or just bad luck.
Note: I will mostly be talking about the anime adaptations, as Made in Abyss’ manga is still ongoing and I haven’t caught up yet.
Nature Vs Technology
Made in Abyss’ setting is predominantly the bright colors of the earth, with lush green trees and grass, clear blue waters, and the plethora of colorful flora. Not only that, almost every section of the Abyss is sprawling with wildlife, ranging from harmless-
-to absolutely deadly.
The struggles that Riko and Reg face are mostly a direct result of something living that wants them to not be living. Despite that, there are still plenty of humans who keep on going deeper. Made in Abyss focuses on what happens when nature is left on its own to flourish and conquer an entire biome, and the dangers that go along with it.
In contrast, Girls’ Last Tour’s setting is the complete opposite. Instead of the lush and tropical greens in Made of Abyss, we are faced with the cold and stark white nuclear winter of a post-apocalyptic world. Massive towers of grey steel and concrete, destroyed bridges and military vehicles, and the overall lack of any sort of living thing except for our two protagonists. This is a world where Man VS Man already happened, and it was a war that nobody won.
The struggles our protagonist face in this setting is less killer robots or mutant zombies(A. I. is not malevolent in this series) and more the dilapidation of humankind’s industrial legacy. Their concerns are primarily focused on wether or not their fuel and rations can last them until the end of their journey, and if their path is obstructed by rusted up bridges and roadblocks of fallen buildings.
Worst of all, they are utterly and completely alone.
Cosy Catastrophe, Terrifying Trek
Despite everything, Chii and Yuuri are incredibly chill and almost apathetic to their situation. Whenever they encounter something new, at least one of them answers with “who cares, this won’t help us”. Usually, it’s Chii, the calm and curious one, who has to force Yuu to try and explore new things. Even when they end up in trouble or almost die, it is casually brushed off, painting us a picture of how used these kids are to the apocalypse.
While they do have meager resources, they are never really in danger of it running out through the first season’s run. So, most of the runtime of the show is spent philosophizing or talking about food. Some of the most beautiful and iconic moments from the show are quite honestly just the two girls appreciating the little things they can find to enjoy in a world that has no need for it.
It’s a strangely comfy way to watch the end of the world, perfectly aligning with the series’ stance on “getting along with the feeling of hopelessness.” This is despite arguably being in a much bleaker setting than the Abyss. At least you can choose not to go down. In this broken world, there is nothing else left to go to. A perfect setting for our slice of life anime!
The same feeling of comfiness is not as present in Made in Abyss, especially in the later episodes. The personalities of both characters work against that. While it is still a joker-straight man dynamic like Chii and Yuu, the personalities of Reg and Riko are much more prone to emotion. Reg is the cautious one, but unlike Chii, the dynamic is reversed.
Now it’s the joker (Riko) that is pushing him to do things he doesn’t want to do. However, he doesn’t have the calmness to temper the cautiousness, which just makes him paranoid. His powers and durability also means he’s usually in the thick of things, and his nervous and unsure personality contrasts against the destructive power he is packing.
Riko, on the other hand, is carefree and reckless to a fault. Her personality and backstory already cement her as the one who wants to keep moving forward irregardless of the dangers ahead, and it has cost her greatly multiple times through out the first season, with the last one almost killing her.
Unlike in Girls’ Last Tour, brushes with death here are taken much more seriously, because both protagonists have much more to live for than Chii and Yuu, who really have no aspirations other than living day-to-day in a desolate world.
Wow, I don’t know which pair is more depressing now.
That doesn’t mean that Girls’ Last Tour has no intense moments, or that Made in Abyss doesn’t have its share of cute breaks every once in a while of course.
After all is said and done, the core element to take away from all of this is that the biggest difference between the two shows is energy.
Made in Abyss is a show that is high energy. You can see it in the active abundance of nature, the personalities of the explorers being mostly thrill-seekers, and the overall emotional rollercoasters that the show take you on a ride for.
In contrast, Girls’ Last Tour is a show that is low energy. The world that they inhabit is cold and deathly quiet, the two girls are apathetic most of the time towards the collapse of civilization, and a lot of the show is simply the girls surviving and sometimes getting an interesting break. Heck, the energy in-universe is all being eaten by the mushroom cat people.
Obviously there are low and high energy moments every now and then for both shows, but at their cores, this is what they embody.
My personal verdict?
After giving it a lot of thought, I have to say my favorite of the two is Girls’ Last Tour, but by a VERY slim margin, and it honestly just came down to me liking the overall atmosphere of melancholy that Girls’ Last Tour brought to the table. Maybe it’s because I’ve already seen great fantasy worlds like Made in Abyss before in anime, but I’ve never really seen an anime that focuses on a world that is already long devoid of life, and gives a genuine message about how to deal with hopelessness. That’s why my personal winner for this matchup, is Girls’ Last Tour.
Tune in next time for another bout between twins in the next episode of Mirror Match: