The Right to Die in the Insanity of the Abyss

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)
nanachi and mitty
The show’s animation style conceals an enormous amount of depth to the series

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.

Made in Abyss is available for streaming or purchase. Featured illustration by ant (reprinted w/permission).


9 thoughts on “The Right to Die in the Insanity of the Abyss

  1. I’ve recalled from the previous articles that this series has some rough, emotional content. I may need to see it at some point.

    it is always an admirable trait to hold sympathy those who are suffering and to wish to comfort them. However, the sixth Commandment stands pretty firmly. I believe it is not our lot in life to end suffering as our highest calling. We just need not inflict it upon others. We can desire it be lessened, but strength comes through survival and heaven through failing that for a Christian. Similarly, how could a Christian seek euthanasia for a non-Christian?

    I believe it is ultimately not our own decision to make of when our lives should end. We can never know what God has in store for a person even until the very end. It is often the emotional reaction against suffering that causes us to make rash and hasty decisions in many circumstances.

  2. Made in Abyss is definitely a powerful series. The events surrounding Mitty’s death were very moving. As a Catholic, I believe that people have a right to life, and this right can only be forfeit when someone commits a very serious crime. A “right to death” is a false right pushed by the culture of death. Their arguments start with the assertion that terminally ill patients ought not to have to suffer until their disease kills them. But, Belgium and the Netherlands have taught us that euthanasia soon spreads to individuals who are merely depressed, e.g. a drunk, a rape victim, and a jilted lover were all allowed to obtain euthanasia because of depression.

    Euthanasia is also deeply anti-Christian. It devalues the idea that their is purpose in suffering or that human life is more than animal life. We put animals to sleep, but that it because they have merely physical existences. Human beings have an immortal soul and are united to Christ Crucified in their suffering. However, it is hard to convince people who believe that humans are just more intelligent animals that there is something wrong with euthanasia. Life for them is all about pleasure: if one’s life gives no pleasure, it becomes worthless.

  3. I humbly agree with Tyler Burnette. The impulse to stop the suffering -both ours and other’s- is very strong and understandable, so strong sometimes that it seems the only human answer. Not only that, this is a case were the sense of morality of God’s Word and our own does collide strongly.

    Suffering feels like the absolute evil, and many virtuous people, like Nanachi, strive for the ideal of getting rid of it in the loved one, fighting themselves and their repugnance to achieve it, like Buddhists may do with their passions or a samurai with his lord’s honour. Suffering is also deeply personal, and nobody else but the sufferer and those who love him can know what he is going through. But suffering is not the ultimate evil, and only proclaiming and defending it with words and actions may give others the possibility of living it with hope.

    We cannot murder the innocent or take our lives to avoid suffering, dishonour or the loss of our intelectual faculties, it’s against God’s command and example. He and His apostles, but one, had to die slow and painful deaths they didn’t want. Because man has a soul, the field of an invisible war which trascends what we can see and is the only hope against the true absolute evil. Both the joys and the sorrows of the future world surpass everything we know.

    We may only pray that it ends soon or is avoided if possible and accept what comes, as hard as that answer is. The Son did that in Gethsemane. We can only give love and company to the suffering, to the bitter end. And when it is our own suffering, we have to do our best to imitate Christ. Nobody can have the right to suicide or end by his own hand the life of others, even if it’s the only way to avoid sufferings, dilemmas or dishonour which make our lives feel pointless. We have to see things with the eyes of God, and trust Him when we just can’t.

    The case of Mitty seems even beyond the question of euthanasia, though. Even if no rationality is apparent, the body is deformed and the future is uncertain, the human, immortal soul has not yet abandoned the body. Nobody can know what’s happening there, and to be deceived by the visible may led to terrible consequences: the mad, the slow, the old and the comatose often seem inhuman to the healthy, but they are not. They may be growing, changing, fighting, loving invisibly. This is a case were the sense of morality of God’s Word and our own collide. Killing them out of love and respect for humanity as it should be will destroy whoever does it. When in terrible suffering, when all life seems like uncertainty and pain, even a joke, even the healthy loved ones may become targets for a sufferer, if he lets his heart follow that principle.

  4. Luminas here! : ) It’s interesting that you bring this issue up because I fully admit that I didn’t think twice about the socio-cultural or religious implications of that scene. I am *extremely* glad you saw Made In Abyss. So let’s get into it.

    The first thing to note is that I contemplated suicide only once. The person who saved me from doing that wasn’t Christ, or even a family member, but *Mar* of all people, in one of the rare instances of him actually saying something. He told me straight up at the peak point of my despair that because the cruelty and bigotry of human beings was essentially his own doing and a pale imitation of his own, it was about as irrelevant as a field mouse despising me. *He* liked me, and that “ought to be sufficient.” And that crazy, weird moment saved my life. Because right then that was the one thing I needed more than anything: someone taking my side not because I was moral, or in the right, or even any good, but for a selfish and stupid reason like “just liking someone.” Unconditional, arbitrary, baffling…and a lot like love. (“I know he doesn’t love me, but he’s all I’ve ever known of love” still speaks to a very deep place in my heart). And more than a bit of possession – He was also saying something very like “*Excuse me?* These little peons are judging my taste in possessions?” My whole life, I had been judged for my difficulty understand the emotions and wants of others. Awareness of sin and self-hatred go hand in hand, and so sometimes seeking forgiveness just poisons a gaslit well of loathing and old pain.

    The second thing to note is that I’m part of a really, really old anti-suicide movement in the disability rights community. The disability rights movement has a bone to pick with the assisted suicide folks, and largely what that bone comes down to is that hospitals are always trying to end our lives when we become inconvenient. Heck, sometimes *our own parents murder us,* and guess who the media has sympathy for? The poor overburdened parent, caring for a severely disabled child! *Longest eyeroll, world’s smallest violin* So the way a lot of us figure it: Legalizing assisted suicide will lead to more dead people with disabilities. Because so, so many of our lives are devalued and choice is often taken away from us.

    But in my view, the issue starts to get pretty screwball when you’re dealing with suffering as vast as the kind Mitty knew. I don’t believe in the idea of there being a moral justification for suffering, or that suffering brings you closer to God. If Elie Wiesel had anything to tell us that was true and real and powerful, it’s that suffering does *exactly the opposite.* If it gets ugly enough, it forces you to question whether there even is a God. It causes grown men to tear each other apart over one slice of white bread. There’s nothing, nothing at all, that’s noble about this, even if you survive it. Holocaust victims don’t talk about how the existence of concentration camps made them better people. They talk about how Satan’s crowning glory, the nightmare of death and pain and loss, must Never Happen Again. Anywhere. Ever. Maybe “suffering” as some abstract concept isn’t the ultimate evil. But knowingly causing it is. There’s nothing in this world that can justify it, and I’m very skeptical that anyone who talks about how the next one will be so much better has ever felt the total loss of Self and soul that can exist in this one.

    So this gets back to suicide. What I think is that an informed, knowing choice to die – with full awareness of what you will be doing to your friends and family, and full acceptance of the possible consequences – is actually not immoral at all. It’s simply a reasoned choice that’s made. But legalizing assisted suicide is, because it’s dangerous to create any law that could be so vilely misused.

    The issue of that is one that’s *very much on my mind* given that my Mom died of early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, and one of my running internal debates is whether I could tolerate watching everything I am and have ever been fade into nothing. Because my ability to learn and comprehend and my soul are one. I don’t actually exist in any sense without my mind, as my body has never been much more than a vessel I randomly acquired at birth to me.

  5. Hi again, Luminas! I see your arguments as somewhat interconnected. If I´ve understood it correctly, you hold that the thought/felt/perceived self is the true self: this unique stream of consciousness, desires, wants, words, experiences and memories forming a line through time and space which I can see when I look back, or inside. The material world around us it´s neutral data, but when you recognize in that world which surround us a somewhat similar but different discourse outside yourself, you have found another person, and you can talk. Every connection is thus a conversation built in time by those who speak, and these pieces of the self can go from one to another and thus enrich us, or negate and diminish us. But, every conversation will end. In a way we´re fated to keep them only as memories, and in the long term there is no truly internal connection outside memories and perhaps mutual or shared feelings. Even God would be a voice from the outside, if He talked to you: a stream of words, feelings and thoughts you can receive while thinking, then a memory. The only exception (kind of) would be the being we have discussed here and there, a herald of a kind of logic, love and truth which transcend everything there is on this world, of a supralogical colorful, individual, meaningful fire, maybe because his words resonate from the inside.

    Under these principles, one who cannot think -or perhaps even think as an adult would- in a sustained manner is in fact dead as regards to his or her humanity: the stream has stopped, the effective killing of the body being taking care of the corpse, while suicide amounts to the conclusion that it is better to stop thinking. Hence, Mitty´s case. On the contrary, and under this view, to decide to stop thinking without suicide would amount to an abdication of the human condition. Our bodies would be vessels of feeling and thought, important for their effect in our thought and emotions. The self can be thus lost by suffering, which disrupts reason and emotion and defies every attempt of rational justification (in my view, it´s an existential perception of the presence and consequences of evil as a negation of God, Love and Meaning, an embodiment or echo of the purported world of the choice “you will be like gods, knowing good and evil”), which Elie Wiesel would have experienced. Loss of memory, animalization, returning to infantile states or massive pressure by others could have the same effect, as they all share suffering´s power in distorting the psyche when sustained. The impairing of reason and emotion amounts then to the ultimate evil, as it deprives humans of their rational and emotional self, which would be their highest value.

    Likewise, discontinuity in the discourse of thought (as in the afterlife) or any sort of superversive use of reason would mean distorting the frame of the thought self: an infinite discourse in own current terms would end up being meaningless, and so great a change in the frame would mean it´s not the same discourse -we´re not ourselves- anymore. Such a discourse should be distrusted because, in a way, it tempts you to give up your individual, unique framework to enter in a foreign framework which may be controlled by others, and because it would be a false attempt to explain everything without knowing everything. Sort of what I think about the possibility of digitalizing ourselves: you could put all the pieces of the self there and fool everyone, and still it would turn to be an illusion, a simulation which looks like me and contains very element anybody could notice in me, but it´s not me.

  6. My own idea of myself and the world is very different, mainly because I think I´m not my thought self, as opposed to the common approach since Descartes and Modernity. I believe that I´m an unique, incarnated spirit created by a miracle in the image of God and who cannot be destroyed (but by a miracle), my words and thoughts being just signs and partial realizations of my inner being, kind of like how a character is transcendent to the particular story he may be living, inspired as he is in real humans of the world of the author even if he is made of the matter of literature. I´m thus not of this world, or not entirely, so the “other life” is not foreign but intimate to me, and there´s nothing in me which is not connected in some way to God, but my own evil, manifest in some of my decisions.

    I also believe that my body is both part of myself and kind of a map of the invisible, that encounters with God and others fulfill prior, invisible callings and connections, and are in turn prophecy of the hoped future (sort of as foreshadowing), and that the core of my own self is a mystery known only to God, open to transformation either by love and sin, which have a configurative effect in me, even beyond my knowledge. I understand my brain as sort of a radio receiver: you cannot hear the music without it, but not because the emission has stopped, and it is the nature of words and sound which explain every element of the radio. The Cosmos is deep, symbolic and intentional: just as intentional writing makes everything a part of the story; I believe that the world is entirely intentional and meaningful for me. Thus, just as the characters guide our thought to the author and his world, or children think of their parents, I believe I was purposefully created by God, with loving wisdom full of meaning, and that there is some unimaginable plenitude of being which I was created for and I may live someday. And just as every character of a story is connected, I also believe that I´m mysteriously and spiritually connected to all humankind, and other rational and even irrational beings, in a subtle, invisible partnership of evils and goods. I think this idea is both written in our instincts and philosophically sound, that our biology is meant to teach us to live in it intuitively and is a parable of it, and that the principles of our own ability to tell stories tend to it. I also think it´s true.

    To use examples of anime, this being BTT, I guess you could say I approach reality like Re:Zero´s Subaru, like Erased´s Satoru Fujinuma, like Now and then´s Shu or even like Haruhi´s Kyon, or as any protagonist in a vocational (isekai, time-travel, chosen one) story involving two worlds or realities would, these realities being the transcendent and the historical. Faith is necessary because my inner being, damaged and in self-destruction due to the scars of sin in the world and my own choices, must be restored to the intimacy with God, which is an invisible proccess involving a being that transcends me, were not that He reveals Himself to me. As God fights in the battle for my soul transcending my abilities of understanding, I don´t lose myself by losing the ability to think, or by dying, and neither does anyone. Only sin, understood as the deliberate rejection of love and meaning and self-closure in a Hell of my own making, can kill and destroy the intimate self, and even then, the self may be recovered by forgiveness and a new alliance with God, due to His initiative. Thus, sin is the ultimate evil, while causing others pain -as in training, healing or punishing- may be a way of saving them: that they may go through evil and darkness, see God´s triumph in their battle and truly live in the way it´s carved in their hearts and in the world, as it was intended from the beginning. To live in their unique, prophesied way, and bring their own light to the rest of us, as brothers and sisters of an enormous family. I believe this to be truer that what I can see with my eyes, so to risk looking like a madman or to behave in ways people around me do not understand are entirely rational things to me. I can argue about it with others that do not share my beliefs in their terms, as (say) Re:Zero´s Subaru may do with those who do not believe he can go back in time, but I would act on my knowledge nevertheless.

    As for pain and death, I´m thus not so interested in justifying them -which I can´t, because they defy my reason- as in going through them when is my time without stopping clinging to the love of God and of the rest, and not let others go through them alone. As they are the biggest sign of evil, those who, following Christ, cling to God´s love and the love of others even in the darkness of depression (Therese de Lisieux), the Holocaust (as Father Kolbe), torture (as the martyrs), persecution, fear, dishonor, conscience of their own misery or every suffering that our present world brings, give me a sign of that, so I find hope in them, and I believe I am connected to them through Christ. And hope means that something new, something better remains to be seen at the other side, and that we ourselves may live it. That way, it´s not suffering that is noble, but love even in suffering, and it´s not that suffering brings one close to God, but that if God is close even when suffering, then He will be truly be there no matter what.

    To put it in personal terms, I cannot explain your suffering, or justify it. And it may be, as you say, that I´ve just not met the darkest suffering yet, and it may very well be that I may lose every sense of purpose and be corrupted and destroyed when I go through it. Even so, my own failure, or me being a fraud, does not disprove God´s hope. I´m often corrupted even in absence of extreme suffering, after all. I´m not as interested in being correct as I am in reaching salvation with others. So I´ll try my best to give love and hope of something that it´s beyond in the name of God, as both my reason and my faith tell me, to those who are suffering, and fight everything that opposes it, and try to love God, give myself in offering and hope to reach Him at the other side when in suffering. I will therefore oppose intentional killing -be it suicide or killing others- even of non-Christians, because I´m convinced that this is my mission, and that the greatest evil imaginable would otherwise corrupt everyone involved, while in respecting God´s will lies a path to a good life in this world and salvation in the others.

  7. While that is nice and neat– I’d say the situation in this anime is a bit different and extreme. It’s not even euthanasia in the typical sense. This isn’t just a case of whether to mercy kill someone or not. The alternative to killing Mitty is letting her live in a perpetual state of agony– alone and for all eternity. That last part is especially key and is what really removes this whole scenario from the euthanasia argument. This is a much bigger deal than whether to end a cancer patient’s suffering. Their life will end naturally of its own with enough time. Mitty’s existence will never end (outside this one method). Neither can she hope to do or be anything outside of a blob on the ground. Life in this context is not a mercy, it’s a mockery, a condemnation, a literal hell on Earth.

    What was done to her was already beyond unnatural and heinous, perhaps more so than anything a mortal man can or should ever have the power to do to another– to rip someone from the process of life and death entirely and thrust their immortal soul into unending torment. Such a right is God’s alone. And there is no natural solution to end it. Nothing short of a miracle or a power like what Reg has in this case. Under any lawful society, such a man as Bondrewd would be punished by death. And seeing as the Bible recognizes execution and war is different from murder, one has to wonder what twisted logic would allow the killing of a vile monster like Bondrewd while simultaneously damning his victim to eternal suffering. What justice is there in that?

    What’s more, in such a situation as this setting that enables magic and such like this– could Reg’s power not be seen as a miracle? Could not it be seen that his arrival heralds God’s will? I don’t think there’s an easy answer here. I recognize there’s all kinds of metaphysics and people will make slippery slope arguments, but let’s bring this back down to earth a bit, this situation is the kind of extreme you’d never see in real life. I don’t believe in euthanasia at all– and even I would make exception for Mitty just because of how different this actually is.

    1. Thank you for your insightful comments. You bring up an important point (several, actually) which is that Mitty’s situation is unique to the point that it would never exist in a real world setting. I think that’s very intentional on the creator’s part, to get us all to accept Mitty’s death no matter our stance on related issues. I don’t know if that’s wonderful writing or the exact opposite, but I’m glad for it since, as I mentioned in the article, it caused me to think on euthanasia, when I’d nary given it a thought in many years.

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