I am not someone who actively seeks out horror anime, period. I prefer to watch things that make me feel comfortable over anything else. So, picking up something like Made In Abyss, was a surprise to me. Known online as being one of the most deceptively dark anime in recent years, I was skeptical but intrigued.
When I say I prefer cute feel-good shows, it doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed some subversive anime in the past. I love when a story takes an unexpected turn or isn’t always what it seems to be at face value. One of my favorite anime of all time, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, is a testament to how much impact trope subversion can create when done well.
Made In Abyss is a dark fantasy anime based on the manga of the same name by Akihito Tsukushi. It has won Crunchyroll’s Anime Of The Year award back in 2018 and has since spawned two movies and a 2nd season of the show which shall air this year. There’s even a video game and live-action movie in production.
All of this is surprising because, in hindsight, Made In Abyss isn’t something everyone can enjoy. It has often been brought up alongside iconic works such as Berserk by Kentaro Miura. But what makes this adorably animated show comparable to media works that incorporate literal Eldritch horror? Let’s dissect!
Dante’s Inferno: The Abyss Is A Hole Straight To Hell
When I first started watching Made In Abyss, I got a very vague feeling that I had seen the premise before. With protagonists like Riko and Reg, children that just wanted to explore and find a parent figure, it’s a story we’ve heard before. Except, that’s where the cute art runs its course.
This is no mere fantasy adventure tale, oh no. This is a metaphor for hell itself, invoking the likes of the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, a 14th-century epic. But specifically, it resembles Dante’s Inferno, the section detailing the poet’s descent through the 7 Rings Of Hell.
And it’s not hard to make that connection. Despite the cute anime eyes and adorable child protagonists, the Abyss is a literal hole to Hell, with its Ascensions taking place of the Rings and its mutations being more terrifying than anything Dante could’ve dreamt up. There is so much dreariness, with each level becoming bleaker than the one before it. Very much like the punishments in Hell.
Made in Abyss: Gore Isn’t The Only Scary Thing
Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of bloodshed in this anime. And yet, all of it pales to the uneasiness and mind-boggling nature of The Curse Of The Abyss itself.
Take, for example, the Fifth Ascension of the Abyss. The curse here mutates into complete sensory loss, and that doesn’t sound that frightening, right? It’s just numbness. But that’s why pain exists, it keeps you in check. If you lose all sensation, you can bite down too hard and break your teeth in half. Your limbs can get amputated, and you’d never know. You’d lose what it means to even exist. That’s surreally horrifying – and you realize all of that does happen to Riko, a literal child.
And that’s just one layer. There’s the Sixth Ascension, where you become a blob but it feels like you’re being crushed by a mound of flesh for decades. And the Fourth Ascension, which has these parasites hiding amongst the flora that slowly takes over your body, feeding on your eyeballs until its larvae nest inside of you.
It’s frightening to see mutative horror like this juxtaposed with the saccharine character design.
We Don’t Talk About Bondrewd!
Oh my God, how is Bondrewd scarier than anything in this anime? It’s because he’s supposed to be one of the good guys. And yet, he has committed unspeakable horrors to get there.
Bondrewd, like Riko’s mother Lyza, is a White Whistle Delver. He is a huge proponent of knowledge above all and that’s why he oversees all these horrific experiments at the Ido Front in the Abyss. Experiments on humans just like him, the ones he wants to enrich. He’s kind to people but doesn’t even see the wrong in the actions he’s taking by killing these children in the name of science. Worst part? Every person he sacrifices, he remembers their name.
There is nothing scarier than a monster who believes himself to be a hero.
Is Made In Abyss Darker Than Most Horror Anime?
Yes. And it isn’t just dark for the hell of it. It isn’t edgy or filled with jump scares. That would cheapen the insidious nature of this story.
It’s created to disturb the viewer, frighten, and disgust them with the horrors a world like Orth can hold. No child, no matter how pure, is safe from evil and malice. And that’s genuinely heartbreaking to learn. It leaves you feeling hopeless.
At the same time, Riko’s story is a tribute to how far one is willing to go for the mere chance of saving the one they love. And perhaps that’s why it’s worth the watch. If you’ve got the stomach for it!