The Nature of The Abyss

Introduction: Wanderlust

I remember more than one occasion, as a child and young teen, where I was filled with an unusual feeling I now call “wanderlust.” I would usually be somewhere with woods or mountains, perhaps in the evening, in good weather. What came over me felt a little bit like sadness, a little bit like inspiration, and a little bit like impatience. Most of all, it was a feeling of longing. I wanted to explore. I wanted to start walking into the woods and never stop. I wanted to leave the world I knew behind and dive into something new and mysterious. Adventure was calling me. I imagine that the characters in Made in Abyss would feel this way too with respects to the Abyss.

Adventure. Wonder. Awe. Longing. Destiny. Discovery. These sorts of words come to mind as one watches or contemplates Made in Abyss. It’s a wonderful and well-made anime based on the manga by Akihito Tsukushi. It’s full of adventure, mystery, horror, and more, as Riko and her new companion Reg descend into the giant hole called the Abyss. But what exactly is the Abyss? That’s what we’re discussing today.

Interpretations of The Abyss: Literal

What is the Abyss in a literal sense? At this point, the anime has not revealed the answer, and all I can do is form theories and rough ideas. Some say that the Abyss is there because long ago, some great meteor or ship or something from another planet crashed into the earth. That would explain why there are so many alien creatures and strange phenomena.

Another line of thought says the Abyss is a giant organism that draws people to into its depths. We already know that at the very least, the Abyss is a highly interconnected ecosystem. But that alone doesn’t explain the curse of the Abyss. When you consider the curse, it becomes apparent that some force — perhaps the Abyss as an organism — wants to lure people within and keep them there. Ordinary humans might see an alien organism like this as a kind of God. On that note, the Abyss may be a literal God, with intelligence, will, and special powers, rather than an organism. If this is the case it opens up more supernatural possibilities.

(The Abyss and surrounding city)

In the early layers of the Abyss, there are many human remains buried under rubble. They all have their skeletal hands together, their faces pointed upward, and their knees bent, as if they were praying to something above. Perhaps the people from long ago saw a great meteor falling, and prayed in their final moments. The God explanation could also explain the human remains. There might have been an ancient civilization of people who worshipped this God. Certainly, modern explorers have similar ideas. Ozen points out that people in the area believe in the Abyss in place of a God.

There are probably a lot of other theories to consider, but for now, I’ll just provide two others. One idea is that the Abyss is a huge portal to another world. There may not be an end to the Abyss, if it is indeed its own entire dimension. Another explanation for the Abyss is that there is a civilization of creatures with special powers at the bottom, and their magic is what causes the curse of the abyss. Various mysteries in the show might be hints, such as the enigmatic relics, or the way time-flow can seem altered in the Abyss. I won’t get into all that at the moment, since I wish to discuss the symbolic nature of the Abyss next.

Interpretations of The Abyss: Symbolic

While I prefer more positive or neutral interpretations, there are also some dark ways of viewing the Abyss that are worth mentioning. One might see the Abyss as a metaphor for temptation and sin, or even hell. It draws people in, and it’s so hard to resist. The farther in you go, the worse it gets, and the more difficult it becomes to return to the world above. Rather than thinking of this as “sin/temptation,” I think it’s better to call it “addiction.” Explorers crave the Abyss. They go into it, and become addicted to thrills and wonder within. It’s nearly impossible to escape beyond a certain level.

Various religions describe hell as having many layers. Once you are in hell, there is no way out. Pain, torment, and fearsome monsters/demons live within. People in hell are cursed, and will lose all humanity. Does this sound familiar? It’s quite similar to the Abyss. However, this metaphor falls apart pretty easily when you consider that cave raiders go into the Abyss by choice. Nobody sentenced them to this fate, and they committed no wrongs to deserve it. Still, some of the terrors found in the Abyss can certainly be called hellish.

The Abyss could also be said to represent longing or desire. Explorers venture into the great hole because of a sense of yearning. This goes back to what I was saying in the opening. The craving for adventure can be so strong. But the longing that the Abyss symbolizes is more than longing for thrills and unique experiences. It is longing itself. That’s how I see it, anyway. When I think of things thusly, I also begin to interpret the Abyss as my own personal longing. That would be the drive for knowledge.

The drive for knowledge is powerful for me, at least when I am mentally healthy. Even if I have no use for it, I love and want knowledge for its own sake. Ideally, I would keep taking college classes and doing reading and research forever (if only the the world worked like that). Clearly, this is important to me. So it’s not hard for me to think of the Abyss as a metaphor for knowledge and/or the pursuit of it. Let me explain a bit more.

One must search and quest to quench the thirst for knowledge– sometimes literally, and sometimes figuratively. In a similar way, the Abyss must be explored in order to satisfy the craving. Knowledge can be a frightening and dangerous thing, just as the Abyss is filled with peril and horror. And as I learned firsthand in my life, knowledge can also destroy people mentally and emotionally. The Abyss can destroy explorers by killing them or cursing them with the loss of humanity. Hopefully, my metaphor of the Abyss as knowledge makes more sense now.

Conclusion: The Abyss As Life

By now, it’s obvious that the Abyss has many interpretations and can symbolize a variety of ideas. Before finishing, I want to note one another metaphor: the Abyss is Life. Life gives everyone a hard time. And at least for those of us with major mental or physical illnesses or handicaps, life is suffering. There will always be far more pain and expended effort than contentment and reward.

The Abyss is likewise brimming with struggles and agony. And yet, people still explore the Abyss. They want to experience it. It’s almost incomprehensible. We, in the same way, continue to live. We are compelled by powerful emotional and biological forces beyond our control– forces that make us inexplicably driven to keep up our adventures. Pain alone is not all there is to encounter. There is breathtaking beauty as well. Life is suffering, and life is beautiful.

Thanks for reading here at Anime Rants. Sayonara until next time!


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