And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.
Spoiler warning for Made in Abyss ahead.
Made in Abyss has always concerned itself with this central question: why do people continue to descend into the Abyss? Looking at it objectively, challenging the Abyss seems insane. It’s full of terrifying monsters, inhospitable landscapes, and a curse that can inflict a fate worse than death. No sane person should want to enter that hell, and yet people are constantly challenging it, going deeper and deeper with no idea if they’ll ever come back. Trying to brave such an environment seems like madness, but the Abyss offers one thing that everyone wants: hope.
It’s been well established that nobody truly knows what the Abyss contains. People have explored parts of it, but nobody knows all of its secrets. Compound that with the powerful artifacts and lost technology that Cave Raiders regularly find, and the Abyss becomes the perfect temptation. Nobody has completely explored it and nobody knows its true nature, but that very fact is what makes it so enticing. The Abyss could contain anything, which is why so many people obsess over it. It’s unknown nature and the occasional discoveries within it give people hope that it could contain that which they hope for the most. What exactly that is depends on the person, but everyone desires something. The Abyss feeds that desire by promising everything they ever wanted if only they go a little further, descend a little deeper.
Everyone who descends into the Abyss has a different reason for doing so: Riko wants to find her mother, Reg wants to find his past, and Nanachi just wants to find a purpose. Still others descend out of simple greed, hoping to find some great treasure hidden deep in the Abyss. What these people have in common is that they all want something, and they all believe that they can find that something in the Abyss. This desire is also what leads so many to ruination.
The road to hell in Made in Abyss is paved, not with good intentions, but with desires. Desires themselves aren’t framed as evil-Riko’s simple joy at exploration shows that-but desire without restraint can be a terrible thing. Riko decides to seek out her mother in the Abyss with the full awareness that she’ll never return. Riko never says as much, but it’s obvious from the way she never talks about a return journey or what she’s going to do after she finds her mother. Riko only seems to care about meeting her mother, with no regard for her future or anything else beyond the immediate moment. She’s essentially sacrificed her future to the Abyss in the hope that she’ll eventually get what she desires most.
These desires aren’t inherently bad, but they can lead people to terrible places. Nanachi and Mitty both only wanted a place to belong, to be useful, but descending into the Abyss came at a terrible cost. They were used in an inhuman experiment and sent to the sixth layer, a place I can only describe as hell. The sixth layer is an empty place with no light, no scenery, nothing. The only inhabitants that we see are the mutated forms of past experiments, people trapped in monstrous forms that can’t die, but can’t truly live either. All they can do is crawl around moaning, hoping for death. Mitty was subjected to a similar fate, while Nanachi was mutated into a hollow while still maintaining their humanity. They only wanted to find a place to belong, but that desire led them to take a risk that eventually became a curse for both of them.
This is the true nature of the Abyss: it offers the possibility of everything you could ever want while simultaneously demanding everything you have. For some, it’s their life, for others it’s something far worse. Nanachi and Mitty both lost their humanity in a literal sense, but the ones who have gone the deepest, the White Whistles lost a different form of humanity. The two that we see are both cold and borderline (or not so borderline) sociopathic. Ozen is cruel and appears to lack empathy, but still tries to be human, while Bondrewd was perfectly willing to sacrifice children in an effort to learn more about the Abyss. It’s never clear whether they descended so deep because they were so inhuman, or if descending into the Abyss changed them. Regardless, the depths of the Abyss are an evil place, even if the Abyss itself isn’t.
For all the evil that comes from it the Abyss isn’t evil by nature. All it does is present the offer to people. Many Cave Raiders choose to stay in the upper levels and never pay the steep price of the lower levels. It’s only a few who are willing to take the Abyss’ bargain and make the sacrifice necessary to reach their deepest goals. For those people willing to stare so long into the Abyss, the Abyss truly will stare back.