“Unlike us, you’re a hollow from the old ritual site, aren’t you? You have a real life. You must have been protected by a very powerful desire.”
-Majikaja to Nanachi, Made in Abyss: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun, Episode 3
When Majikaja loosely explains the rules of the hollows’ village, Iruburu, he also speaks of individuals’ desires and how their transformed bodies reflect those. He then turns to Nanachi and says the above, reminding Nanachi of Mitty. The more that’s uncovered of Iruburu’s rules, especially its value system and concept of what “value” means to different occupants, the more Made in Abyss‘ second season turns the lens back on its three main characters and shows their own desires and reasons for traveling.
Against the backdrop of Vueko’s words that, “longing sometimes gets the better of instinct,” it’s a good time to revisit those desires of Reg, Nanachi, and Riko. Desires and wants seem to be the deciding factor of value in Iruburu.
Reg is the easiest member of the group to begin with, because his desires (like Riko’s) have been at the forefront of Made in Abyss‘ story since he saves Riko in the series’ first episode. His arrival in Orth is what begins the story and Riko’s own hero’s journey. She’s always had the desire to travel into the Abyss both for her own insatiable curiosity and to search for her mother. She’s also always broken the rules, to the chagrin of her friends Shiggy and Nat. But, she never fully delved into the Abyss past the first layer (under supervision) until she discovers Reg and decides to travel to see her mother.
By contrast, Reg has no deep lifetime desires because he cannot remember his own past. His wishes are immediate. He wants to know who or what he is.
One key point that Faputa’s robot friend and self-proclaimed Interference Unit reiterates is that Reg is different. The Interference Unit cannot tell Reg who he is, but knows that Reg is different because Reg can cross layers. This brings to mind something Ozen said back in the first season upon meeting Reg: that Reg is a god compared to even the white whistles of Orth. His existence and ability to travel upwards without taking on the Abyss’ curse fundamentally breaks the one rule of the Abyss. If the Abyss is a deity, even to white whistles, then Reg calls the nature of it into question simply by existing. The series plays with this idea through his animation style.
Another interesting facet of Reg is how his own desires have changed. Based on his parting words to Faputa, who questions why he would want to spend time with humans who will age, Reg says that he’ll stay with them until the end and think about what comes after when the time comes. Although it won’t be reflected by physical changes like a hollow — unless Bondrewd shows up for some more horrific experiments that disassemble him — Reg’s desires have already transformed internally due to his journey with Riko and Nanachi. He still wants to know who he is, as shown by his conversation with Faputa’s robot, but more importantly, he wants to stay by Riko and Nanachi’s sides.
From the moment that Mitty introduces herself and says “I’m Mitty! A future white whistle!” we can see how deeply-connected the two are. No one else had presumably bothered to reach out to Nanachi like that before. After Mitty breaks through Nanachi’s prickly exterior, the two are inseparable and Nanachi begins to open up about the things that they care about, showing a surprising understanding of the Abyss due to rooting through the trash bins of Orth and collecting a variety of reading materials. In a way, they initially fill similar roles as Riko and Reg, with Mitty having an innate overwhelming ambition to become a white whistle and delve into the Abyss, and Nanachi searching for something meaningful — their treasure, as Nanachi says.
“Nanachi, it’s alright. I’ll endure this. So, if I end up not being human anymore, please…let my soul return to you Nanachi!”
-Mitty to Nanachi in a flashback scene at Idofront, Made in Abyss, Episode 13
When the two are subjected to Bondrewd’s experimentation, plunged down into the Abyss and then brought back up, both are transformed into hollows. Mitty becomes a pink blobby creature that resembles the other creatures they briefly saw from the elevators (the other children brought to Idofront with them) and Nanachi becomes the Nanachi we as viewers are familiar with.
Majikaja tells Nanachi that Nanachi must have been protected by a powerful desire. That desire is twofold. It’s not just Nanachi’s but Mitty’s as well. Mitty asks for her soul to return to Nanachi and Nanachi asks from Mitty to not be taken from them. Later, under extreme duress and pain, she asks Nanachi to kill her. Bondrewd tells Nanachi that the curse Mitty received was twofold in that she lost her humanity but also is immortal. That result of the curse came about from Mitty and Nanachi’s desires to remain together and is later confirmed by Belaf who calls Mitty someone with a signal of love, a true immortal, and in a way, the incarnation of the Abyss itself.
Nanachi goes through a similar reaction when Reg asks them to come along with him and Riko — Nanachi has found another group with which they can form meaningful relationships. Yet, nothing can (or should, relationships with people aren’t replaceable) replace Mitty in Nanachi’s heart. It makes sense as to why, upon seeing Mitty in Belaf’s lair, that Nanachi would immediately want to lessen Mitty’s suffering in any way possible.
Vueko’s cautionary words to Riko about instinct and desire are said almost offhandedly. They’re less about Riko and more self-reflection on Vueko’s part, but they frame Riko’s entire journey perfectly.
It’s always worth returning to the beginning to see how far our characters, Riko in particular, have come. Riko in the opening scenes of the first episode is ambitious, curious, physically weak, and consistently getting into trouble. We learn quickly that she’s performed questionable experiments before and hoarded artifacts for herself. There’s a sense that even though she has close friends in Shiggy and Nat, that she’s somewhat of an outcast in Orth due to her ambitious nature and willingness to skirt the rules. At the very least, she’s certainly overshadowed by the presence and achievements of her mother, one of the greatest white whistles that Orth has ever seen.
It’s a message from her mother, Lyza the Annihilator, that sets Riko’s journey in motion. At a variety of stopping points on her descent, Riko finds out more about her own existence. According to one of Lyza’s closest companions and mentor, Ozen, Riko was a stillborn child delivered in the Abyss whose corpse was reanimated by a curse-repelling vessel. Ozen says that as soon as Riko was alive, she tried to crawl immediately towards the center of the Abyss.
Made in Abyss has always made the case that Riko’s desire to travel into the Abyss is twofold: to find or learn more about her mother, and something innate to Riko herself. A large part of Riko’s narrative in Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul, is Riko acknowledging that it isn’t just finding Lyza, but her own agency and path she is choosing for herself. She chooses to continue past the point where she can return with her humanity intact.
Now in Made in Abyss: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun, there are immediate comparisons between Riko and Vueko with their respective groups of ragtag misfit delvers — hardly the people that one would expect to make it to the sixth layer and the Abyss netherworld. When Riko tells Vueko that she doesn’t care if Vueko is a good person, it’s reminiscent of Bondrewd’s words to Riko — Riko’s own mindset isn’t all that far off from the warped and twisted world of a white whistle. It’s always worth reiterating that Riko would not have chosen Pruschka’s sacrifice in order to descend past Idofront, but at the same time the events of Dawn of Deep Soul and actions of Bondrewd himself made it so she didn’t have to make that choice herself.
All of this is fascinating buildup for Riko now, faced with the choice of what she can sacrifice of herself to pay for Mitty and Nanachi’s value.