Despite a very cartoony, westernized animation style, Made in Abyss lets us know from very early on that this series is no child’s affair; by featuring children who get seriously hurt through dangerous situations in the opening episodes and a story centered on a missing parent, the anime hints at something sinister from very early on. Characterization through the series helps hammer this tone home—not necessarily from the two leads, the adventurous Riko and the cautious robot boy, Reg, but through supporting characters who have a major impact on the story’s plot (spoilers ahead).
Two such characters are Mitty and Nanachi, beings who were once best friends when they were children. However, now Nanachi is an animal / human hybrid and Mitty a grotesque blob who acts more like a pet than person. While aiding Reg in healing a critically injured Riko, Nanachi relates the story of how she (Nanachi is referred to as a female by Reg, by the way, though in gender neutral terms in the manga) and Mitty were subjects of vile testing done on children; when their names were called to participate in a dual-person experiment, Nanachi retains most of her humanity while Mitty becomes almost entirely non-human, while also gaining near-immortality.
Nanachi continues to loves Mitty dearly, even in her new state, and so it’s a bit of surprise what she requests of Reg and his “incinerator,” a power relic: Nanachi asks him to kill Mitty.
Reg, at first, is unable to comprehend what’s been asked of him—to kill such a kind creature, and one that is bonded to Nanachi? But for the latter, there is no other choice. Mitty lives a putrid existence, only barely conscious of its life (for the series goes to great care to share that Mitty is not entirely devoid of humanity by focusing on her eye, particularly detailed in several scenes revealing the soul of an unconscious Riko bonding to her) and very likely to one day be captured and experimented upon, to outlive her caretaker and perhaps to suffer physical pain for all eternity.
Reg eventually acquiesces and kills Mitty.
I summarize these scenes as if they present a case that’s pro-euthanasia, telling us there are instances where we must be pro-active in other’s deaths. That’s a frightful area to tread, especially in an animated series, for the issue is complex and the consequences of the decisions made by those who have the power to kill another are of the utmost consequence (as are those of the lawmakers than can legalize euthanasia in any way).
But Made in Abyss does not take this quandary lightly, nor does it take some “side” in the issue. In fact, the series achieves complexity for the topic in way different than explaining the sides of a debate; it makes the situation itself complex:
- Nanachi loves Mitty deeply and does not want to part with her
- Nanachi in fact stops Reg at one point as if deciding otherwise
- Reg does not want to kill Mitty, and he will suffer by incinerating her as well
- Mitty is presented as innocent and joyful, both in her current state and former
- Nanachi is suicidal, perhaps at the thought of losing Mitty (again)
Likewise, significant questions like the rightness of allowing euthanasia are complicated and we do ourselves a disservice to walk some line, to be affected entirely by some news story (Dr. Jack Kevorkian was frequently on the news for his work when I was younger) or by a viewpoint divided along cultural or party lines. The latter had led me to make blanket statements of how wrong euthanasia is (with perhaps a few exceptions that would be accepted by the establishment, much as the same is done in pro-life stances) without being properly informed. Admittedly, I’ve thought little of this debate since my childhood, and was a bit shook by our podcasters expressing some positivity toward the right to die when answering this very questions in their recent podcast episode about Made in Abyss.
I’ve come to no hard conclusion after these past few weeks of though, and if I’m being honest, that troubles me. I want to have a straight answer, to fall one way or another—that somehow makes me feel like I have integrity, it aligns me with allies, and it gives me security. But there are issues and relationships and happenings in life that don’t reveal complete answers; sometimes I have to just wait and experience and learn, and sometimes accept that I may not ever know, not on this earthly plane.
I’ve come to the realization that I don’t have to be a politician, meaning that I’m not required to give an answer for every question under the sun, not even to myself. It’s more than alright not to know exactly what I feel about certain topics. It’s human. And for something as important to our culture—to individuals—as the right to die, and as expressed that way though the story of Nanachi and Mitty, it’s worth taking my time and giving much thought to it, for perhaps there’s ultimately and ironically nothing as intensely human as how we approach the way we die.