This is an essay post for the r/anime contest that ends on November 1, 2020. It will contain minor spoilers for the anime adaptation of Made in Abyss, and the premise for The Enigma of Amigara Fault. You can also read the original version of my essay here.
Sometimes, things in the outside world just feel like… noise. An endless buzz of sensory inputs that you don’t know what to do with. You want to be left alone. But you don’t want to be left alone with your thoughts. So you try to escape away to somewhere. You boot up your PC and watch the latest episode of an ongoing isekai anime, and for a brief twenty minutes you forget about the noise. You effectively escape into this other world, and all you can think about for the time being is what’s happening in this world.
Then, your twenty minutes end. You close the tab on your browser, and you sit there for a moment. Slowly, you start to realize. The noise never left, it was only in the background. It returns to the forefront of your mind, and for the rest of the day you forget about the fictional world that you were so captivated by only a while ago. You aren’t afraid to face your problems, but right now, there’s nothing you can do about it. You tell yourself to “stop worrying about it, it’s okay, stop worrying about it, it’s okay.”
You boot up your PC again. It’s a different day. You hear about this new fantasy anime called Made in Abyss, and you’re eager to see what it’s about. If it could distract you for just twenty minutes, then it’s worth the watch. And surely enough, it does. The world is so vibrant, everything in it breathes as if it has a life of its own. A world that you can imagine to exist even when the characters are taken out. You soak in every frame and lore like a child in awe. The episode ends, and you can’t wait for the next one. You close the tab on your browser, and you sit there for a moment. And then you start to think.
You ask yourself, “what could be down in the Abyss?”
The following days melt away, and you manage to enjoy other things. But when you aren’t doing anything else, your mind wanders off towards the Abyss, a giant chasm that entices adventurers all around to brave its terrifying depths. On the surface is the city of Orth, riddling the rim of the chasm with architecture. Right underneath it is The Edge of the Abyss, a sunlit grassy cliff where hammerbeaks swoop around the air and red whistles scavenge for little artifacts. Deeper below is the second layer, a dense, dark jungle called The Forest of Temptation, where the Seeker Camp is, and even deeper below…
You browse the internet one day. And on Reddit, on a space forum, you encounter a title that speaks of an “Abyss” that was discovered in Jupiter. You obviously think it’s clickbait, so you try to scroll away. But for some reason you find yourself clicking on it anyways. Curiosity gets the better of you. As soon as you click on it you’re met with a black circle staring back at you. It was amazing and horrifying at the same time. Your vision and focus gets sucked in by the “Abyss”. Why did something like this make you feel this way? Why did something like this exist? You press escape and continue scrolling.
The “Abyss” in Jupiter
You see the many diverse and fascinating lifeforms that inhabit the world of Made in Abyss. The inflatable neritantans that Riko throws to distract the flying madojacks. The glowing rohanas that float only on clean water. The shroombear, who has developed a symbiotic relationship with the parasitic water shrooms growing on its back, which supply nutrients back to the shroombear when it’s on the verge of death. And the crimson splitjaw, floating in the air currents like a manta-ray floating in the sea, that eats artifacts and relics, and because of this is said to hide treasure in its belly. It is also said that only 10% of the species in the Abyss are named. You remember drawings of a new species on Lyza’s documents, a creature that grows in its eggshell and uses it as a shield, a creature she awesomely names emperorshell. The imagination is stirred inside you, and the call for adventure and discovery is deafening.
You hear about the Inverted Forest, a place where the trees and the waterfalls are literally upside down! You hear about the frightening drop that is The Great Fault! You hear about the towering ‘cups’ of acid and hot water that make up the impressive Goblet of Giants! Your eyes sparkle with wonder, you feel the beckoning of the gaping chasm, and you want to find out if all that you’ve heard is really there.
The Goblet of Giants: the flatcreepers produce either acid or hot water, their stems are actually a different plant
The story of its curse — the nausea, the hallucinations, the sufferings — scares you, yet you are morbidly infatuated with it even more. You want to know what’s truly hidden under the darkness that is known simply as the Abyss. You want to go deep. The stories you hear come from messages that were carried to the surface by balloons. From them you here of it. You hear of the mythical Sea of Corpses and the rumored Capital of No Return. You want to see them for yourself. But the further down the Abyss goes the less stories you hear back.
The seventh layer is called The Final Maelstrom, where death is certain if one attempts to return from it, but what exists further down below? No one knows.
But you want to go even deeper…
There have been many anime before with fantastical realms of unfamiliar creatures and magical artifacts. Worlds brimming with various fictional species, many kinds of warriors with diverse powers, and all kinds of lore and architecture. But those worlds are only fleeting. For as long as the characters in it exist, you remember the world. The lowlife high-tech mishmash of otherworldly colonies in the western space noir that is Cowboy Bebop. The co-existence of industrial machines and the pseudoscientific alchemic wonder found in Fullmetal Alchemist. The retro future-past of an alternate Edo-period Japan in Gintama. Or the bug-ridden tribal planet in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The characters and conflicts in these anime linger in the mind long after the memories of the plot have died. But despite their impressive worldbuilding, the memories of these worlds lay faded, unable to attain the immortality that the rest have reached. Yet why does the Abyss linger and not fade?
You’ve always been fascinated by mysteries and conspiracy theories. You fondly remember to when you watched a UFO documentary for the first time. You remember the existential dread and morbid excitement you felt looking at the black-and-white picture of a blurry disk racing across the sky. That night you looked up at the stars and wondered what was really out there. You thought of the ominous dark monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey and you felt goosebumps on your skin. You wondered, and still do, what might be on the other side of the moon, or under the icy subsurface of Europa, or within the giant rings of Saturn, or far away in places mankind has yet to fathom. The sheer size and depth of the universe instantly overwhelms you. But you aren’t the only one. Some humans have died trying to reach the pitch-black coldness of space. Many dedicate their entire lives to unearthing its secrets. 95% of the oceans lay undiscovered, and yet large telescopes all over the world aim at the stars, wondering the same thing as you were. We’ve all either collectively reached madness, or perhaps something beyond the stars call for us.
The classroom desks in the orphanage of Made in Abyss are stacked vertically on the wall instead of on a horizontal plane, as if to unconsciously mimic the descent of the Abyss. Large crowds form around the Grand Pier to watch delvers return from their expeditions in gondolas that ascend out of the white fogs. Saints and heroes have been replaced by the legends of the white whistles — delvers that have been the furthest down in the Abyss and have returned alive. It is said that you can count the number of white whistles on your fingers. And then there are the telescopes in the many houses in Orth that all eagerly watch, all of it pointed down at the Abyss, the sky almost forgotten.
On one of her raids, Riko finds an artifact, a compass that always points at the highest star in the sky. But perhaps it doesn’t, perhaps it’s the opposite. Perhaps it points below, as Riko believes, to the deepest bowels of the Abyss. What could be so fascinating about this hole that exists for seemingly no reason on the face of the earth?
The many layers of the Abyss hold the promise of ancient artifacts and relics, and this is what the delvers descend to seek out, despite the stalking gaze of death. An entire southern portion of a district, called Wharf, was carved out in Orth by illegal raiders so they themselves could attempt to attain the riches of the Abyss. The Abyss itself is not unlike a religion. Ozen tells Reg that it would be unbecoming if mere red whistles were to easily reach the bottomless pit of the Abyss, a feat that is only expected of the almost-fabled white whistles. She says the men and women that delve into the chasm believe in no god above, they only fear one thing, and that’s the very core of the Abyss. Yet they accept its invitation regardless. Riko bids her friend Nat farewell by telling him that even if she never returns, they would still be connected through the Abyss. Cave raiders have found 2000-year-old skeletons, all that have mysteriously died in a position of prayer. The Abyss inspires devotion, a devotion to go deeper, and deeper.
It is indeed almost Lovecraftian in essence. Throughout the series Reg wonders who he is, and where he comes from. All signs point to his birthplace being at the very bottom of the Abyss. And if he’s truly from there, it must be wondered — what is he? Simply a robot? Or something much more? He is neither like the many strange and sinister beasts that inhabit the first five layers — like the corpseweepers that mimic the cries of its victims to lure in more prey — nor like the hollows that have been cursed by the Abyss to lose their humanities. Hollows, some like Mitty, that are deformed and without identity, cursed to feel pain but to never die. Reg’s origins seem to be a far greater mystery, of a far more obscured truth. Reg might not go mad from knowing what’s at the end of the Abyss like most Lovecraftian characters do, or maybe he might. As the Abyss has shown time and time again, the truth is not comfortable.
One of the most horrifying contemporary Lovecraftian horrors, you hear, is apparently something called The Enigma of Amigara Fault. You search it up online. It’s a short story written by a mangaka named Junji Ito. Is it really all that horrifying as people claim it to be? You flip through the pages to see what it’s all about. The story begins when an earthquake reveals a fault line at Amigara mountain with numerous holes of ancient and unknown origin. Each hole is uncannily shaped like the silhouette of a human. Two hikers, Owaki and Yoshida, meet each other while they’re on their way to the mountain, both claiming to feel an unexplainable compulsion to visit the holes after seeing it on the news. When they reach the site, they are surprised to find a large crowd gathered around the holes, all claiming to be similarly drawn to the fault. At first, everyone is frightened by the holes, but at the same time obsessed by it, unable to remove the thought of it from their minds. Eventually they find out why, as each individual at the site begin to discover holes that eerily fit their respective bodies perfectly, holes that call out to them. And then one by one, each of them begin to enter inside their holes, and…
“The process of delving into the black abyss is to me the keenest form of fascination.”
— H.P. Lovecraft
Reg isn’t the only one drawn to the bottom of the Abyss. There’s someone else.
“Riko?” you answer.
…That’s not the answer I was implying, but yes, you’re right. Riko as well. She wants to reach the Abyss because she wants to reunite with her mother. She’s only twelve, yet the lure of the Abyss drowns out her fear of death. Lyza, her mother, left her on the surface so she could continue to descend into
madness the Abyss and one day hope for her daughter to follow her down there too, possibly with no return. It’s not that she wanted to escape the surface, she just wanted to embrace the Abyss, to be swallowed by it. It was all she could think about when she was on the surface. She obsessed after it… to reach the very bottom.
“Is Lyza alive?” you ask. “I want to know!”
You will when we reach the bottom.
“When will that be? I’m curious, I want to know. I really want to see what’s at the bottom of the Abyss.”
Patience, one day you will. For now, you’ve watched the series, you’ve read countless wiki articles retelling lore, and you’ve devoured endless fan theories. The desire to know secrets and to unravel mysteries is innate in you. But as you wait for more revelations, you eventually start to forget about Made in Abyss. Many other series start to come and go, you move on, and the noise of daily life settles back in. The days go on. But behind that noise, it’s always there. Its curse holds you back from escaping completely. You distract yourself with other things, but it will always be there in the background, behind the noise. Lingering in the back of your mind. Calling.