Made in Abyss, Volume One collects issues one through eight of Akihito Tsukushi’s SF manga.
Riko’s world is thoroughly explored, save for one location. On an island in the middle of the Beoluska Sea there is a tremendous vertical cave structure known as the Abyss. Scattered here and there throughout the Abyss are marvellous artifacts of a long-vanished civilization. Bold Cave Raiders, as Riko’s mother Lyza was and Riko hopes to be, delve deep into the Abyss in search of wonders.
There are a few problems.
The Abyss has its own complex ecosystem, including some impressively large carnivores. If one avoids these creatures, a misstep could send one plummeting ten kilometers or more. Those who are not eaten and who avoid fatal mishaps must face the Curse.
The deeper one explores, the greater the effect of the Curse. It strikes as one returns from the depths. Venturing into the upper levels might make one nauseous as one makes one’s way back to the surface. Returning from the deeper levels demands a larger price. Delve deep enough and there is no hope of return. Not alive, at any rate. Messages on a balloon might make it back, but no Cave Raiders.
Hence the town of Oath, built not too far from the mouth of the Abyss, has an ample supply of foundlings and orphans, who provide the next generation of Cave Raiders. The Belchero Orphanage provides these parentless children with an education, firm discipline, and the skills they will need to survive — at least for a time — the dangers waiting for them in the Abyss. Enough of the Orphanage’s graduates will survive long enough before they die to have children of their own. And so it goes.
During a practice run, Riko and her friend Nat are very nearly eaten by a vast split-jaw. They survive, thanks to the intervention of an unseen party armed with powerful energy beams. Soon after, Riko finds what she thinks is an unconscious boy. She is astounded to discover that Reg is no boy, but a surprisingly humanoid robot, presumably having made his way up to the surface from the depths of the Abyss. Rather than surrender her find (and take the chance that Reg will be dismantled for research), she hides him at the Orphanage.
A message from Lyza makes its way to the surface, asking Riko to join her mother at the bottom of the Abyss. Riko is determined obey her mother. With Reg’s help, she might even survive the journey. Whatever happens, one thing is clear: she will never see any of her friends again — at least on the surface.
The Orphanage’s disciplinary methods include suspending children naked for extended periods of time, presumably on the assumption that humiliation will compel obedience. In Riko’s case, the discipline compels her to learn how to avoid detection. This allows her to pilfer the Orphanage’s stores of treasures wrested from the deep.
This is the introductory issue. It presents questions but few answers. Who dug the Abyss? How were they able to keep it from filling with sea water? Or magma? Or simply collapsing inward? What powers the ecosystems underground? And why is that the Abyss is the only location where the artifacts of the ancient, unnamed civilization have been found? I presume that at least some of these questions will be answered in later volumes.
Yes, there are cute characters, drawn fetchingly. No, this seems unlikely to be a care-free, jolly romp. How does it feel to be a teacher, sending students off to almost certain death? How does it feel to be a student, knowing that one faces death or a maimed and crippled survival? Not cheery, I would think.
I anticipate lots of danger and death in the following volumes. But I was sufficiently intrigued by the artwork, setting, and characters that I think I will keep reading.