Made in Abyss & the Derangement of Bondrewd the Novel (or, what makes a good villain)

Bondrewd is a monster. That’s the simplest way to describe him. Saying that his actions are irredeemable is an
understatement. The mere idea of him is terrifying and yet, there’s something
about him that is, oddly alluring. There’s an unpredictability to him that you
can’t help but get interested in. Which is an aspect of villainy that can feel
damn near impossible to get right when creating one’s own antagonist. Believe me,
it’s a, pain in the ass. And it’s why, in this episode of the Storyteller’s
Notebook, a series in which I analyze various storytelling techniques used by
various creators in various mediums, I want to break down Made in Abyss’
infamous Lord of Dawn, Bondred the Novel, and figure out what makes him such a
great villain. And yes, spoilers ahead, for both the anime and the manga, as well as
a content warning for graphic and disturbing imagery. For those who may not
know, Made in Abyss is a manga created by Akihito Tsukushi that was adapted into
an anime of the same name, about a young girl named Rico who runs into a robot
boy she names Reg in the middle of the legendary Abyss, a cavernous hole full of
relics, monsters, and ruins around which a society of explorers has sprung up to
uncover all of its secrets. The story follows the pair as they go on an
adventure into the Abyss to find Rico’s mother, a legendary cave raider who’s
gone missing. Along their journey, they deal with all sorts of trials and
tribulations, including the Curse of the Abyss, a strange phenomenon that affects
delvers and raiders as they tried to ascend the abyss, whose effects range
from simple nausea to physical deformation and death. They eventually
run into Nanachi, an orphan of ambiguous gender from a
foreign country who, alongside their friend Mitty, was transformed into a Narehate due to Bondrewd’s experiments, and soon they all face off against the Lord
of Dawn himself as he blocks their path to the sixth layer of the Abyss. On a
surface level, Bondrewd, like any good antagonist, is a challenging roadblock
for the children to overcome. He’s intensely interested in Rico and
Reg, Rico for the fact that she is an undead child born in the Abyss, and
Reg for the fact that he is a living automaton, and has few qualms about
kidnapping and experimenting on them for the sake of scientific discovery. His
formidable strength, durability, and vast array of Abyss relics means that he’s
not going to be defeated through brute force alone, a point made
clear by the way he shrugs off the giant scorpion trap they set up to kill him
like it was nothing! Alongside that, he is able to hijack
Nanachi’s vision to spy on them, hindering their ability to make plans and outwit him. And worst of all, thanks to the Soul- Slave Machine, Zoaholic, an Abyss relic
that lets him spread his soul across multiple bodies, he is technically
immortal. Even when they do manage to kill him, one of his loyal cave raiders,
known as the Praying Hands, simply throws on his mask and Bondrewd returns as if
nothing had happened. He’s a tricky obstacle in the children’s past, one that
is not going to be dealt with so easily. But, on a deeper level, there’s something
simply, uncomfortable about Bondrewd. His mere presence dominates every page he
makes an appearance in, with his arms often stretching beyond the panel to
emphasize it. His and his raiders’ appearance is oddly uncanny, having the
familiar makeshift stylings of a typical delver, but with an eerieness created by
their masks, which twist what should be humanoid facial features into something
strangely mechanical, and whose flowing robes give them a religious air that
compliments their unquestioning devotion to science and technology. Their appearance teeters on the edge of the uncanny valley, being recognizable as
human, but not quite, an uneasy feeling magnified by Bondrewd’s dominant
presence. But one need only look at Bondrewd’s actions throughout the story to
see the depth of his derangement. He almost casually tortures and experiments
on orphaned children to find a way to manipulate the Curse of the Abyss,
turning them into horrific blobs, creatures or, even worse, cartridges, small
device’s made by scraping the aforementioned orphans clean of
everything except the parts of the body necessary for the Curse of the Abyss to
take effect and stuffing them into cases that pump them full of enough drugs to
keep them docile. They are then connected to Bondrewd’s body in such a way that it
circumvents all of the pressure and pain of the Curse onto these still, living,
children, until their nervous systems simply can’t take it anymore. His actions are irredeemable, but do seem to be caused by the Zoaholic, which,
ironically, by giving him immortality has taken away his humanity. And yet this
demented side of his character is heavily contrasted against his parental
nature. He genuinely cares about the children he’s tortured for the sake of
science, not only remembering each of their names, but also what they were like
before he ruined them. When fighting Reg, he doesn’t get
angry when he’s bested or outwitted, he’s almost proud, and praises him for getting
the upper hand. His relationship with his daughter, Prushka, is warm and caring. He
encourages her to do her best and is there for her when she needs it. We even see how Bondrewd went to great lengths to help her survive in the Abyss,
even when others encouraged him to give up on her. Likewise, Prushka cares just as much for him as he does for her, and cries when
Reg kills him for the first time. There’s a genuine emotional core to Bondrewd’s character which only makes what he does, specifically, what he eventually
does to Prushka, all the more heartbreaking. I think this dichotomy can
best be summed up by this panel toward the end of Volume 5, after the children
manage to weaken Bondrewd’s forces enough to move forward in their journey. This
image leaves us to wonder, is this a man who has been blessed with redemption and
who has seen the error of his ways? Or is this a man cursed by his own ambition,
forever trapped by the choices he’s made? This duality, as both a mad scientist
and a loving father, adds layers of complexity and nuance to Bondrewd’s
character that makes us dig deep to try and fully understand him and why he does
the things he does. But for as interesting as Bondrewd is in of himself,
it’s a similarities where Rico that I, personally, find to be most fascinating. Both are characters who’ve come back to life thanks to the power of a relic of
the Abyss. Both to use some kind of mechanical aid by Nanachi to help them
navigate the Abyss. Both have a strong knowledge of the Abyss in its many
dangers. Hell, both of them have even strapped Reg to a torture chair and
experimented on him. But most importantly, both have a profound desire to reach the
Abyss’ bottom and uncover its secrets. They’re both characters driven by
ambition. This is a trait that in Rico is portrayed as a positive, and almost
inspiring thing, yet in Bondrewd, we see this same characteristic taken to its
most extreme, where such drive makes a person go to despicable lengths to
accomplish their goals, and leaves both Rico and us, as the audience, to wonder
whether such desperate measures are worth it, or even justified. In this story
about children learning how harsh and cruel the world can be, Bondrewd acts as
a dark reflection of the protagonist, Rico, and subverts the ideals that she
and her friends had initially aspired to. Even more disturbingly, Bondrewd also
reflects, not just the world Made in Abyss is set in, but also our own, since Bondrewd
and the other white whistles are hailed as heroes. This in itself
would be twisted, with people looking up to the Lord of Dawn without realizing
what he does behind the scenes, but what makes it even more questionable, is that
some of the white and black whistles, at the very least know that something’s
going on. Ozen warns Riko and Reg to be wary of Bondrewd, and Habo tells Nate & Shiggy about some of the sketchier aspects of Bondrewd’s history. And yet, no
one does anything about it. They let Bondrewd carry on his business as usual
because of the amazing feats that he’s been able to accomplish. It’s an
earth-shattering revelation for Riko, to find out that one of the people she’d
looked up to for so long turned out to be a monster, and one that in the real
world, seems to be all too common. And it’s something has become especially relevant
after the recent sexual assault and harassment claims have come out about
many celebrities in Hollywood. But, as an Irish viewer, Bondrewd’s acts hit a little too
close to home. As mentioned before, there’s a strong religious air about
Bondrewd and his delvers. They’re called the Praying Hands, they have an
almost priest-like appearance, and their base of operations, Idofront, is set up
in a former religious ritual temple. Coupled with the way Bondrewd focuses
on children, it to me seems quite reminiscent of the controversy
surrounding the Catholic Church in Ireland, which were brushed under the rug . . .
for far too long. Of course, this specific interpretation
is a vague one based on loose connections and is something I doubt the
bank has specifically had in mind, but it’s unnerving nonetheless. Bondrewd’s
status within the world of Made in Abyss shines a light on a more sinister
side of its setting, as well as a problem that is ever relevant in the real world, that is the problem of well-regarded public figures and organizations doing
morally reprehensible things, and being allowed to get away with it, because of
their achievements and or status within an industry or otherwise, and strengthens
our engagement with the series by personifying said issue. Bondrewd is a
formidable villain, one whose thematic and emotional significance and
connections to real world problems makes him an intensely interesting character. But there’s an aspect to his writing that makes him stand above a typical
antagonist, and that is the fact that there’s no escaping his influence. Each
of the main characters in the story has been both mentally and physically
scarred by him. Riko is broken by the fact that, in the
end, Bondrewd turned Prushka into a cartridge, and ends up with Prushka’s
heart as her own white whistle. Reg is tortured by the Praying Hands as they
experiment on him, and ends up having one of his arms sliced off as a result.
Nanaki was not only transformed into a Narehate because of Bondrewd’s experiments, but was forced to watch her best friend mutate into something beyond
words. And it leaves us wondering, if this is what a white whistle on the fifth
layer is like, than how twisted will the other ones be below? And, more importantly,
how deranged will Riko’s mother be, down at the very bottom of the Abyss. Bondrewd’s influence on the story lingers long after we and the children have
moved on from it. Bondrewd’s duality as a madman and a
father figure, coupled with his immense ambition, acts as a dark reflection of
the story’s characters that forces us to reconsider the world we’d gotten so
attached to, and whose impact on the story and it’s characters is tangible. He
shows that a great villain isn’t just an interesting obstacle for a protagonist
to overcome, but should act as a deeply complex and morbidly fascinating
reminder of all the parts of ourselves in the world around us, that we’d rather
keep behind closed doors. And yeah, those are my thoughts. Tell me
what yous think, if yous agree, disagree, who your favorite villain is, what you think
makes a good villain, etc, and thanks for watching! If you enjoyed this, and wanna
see more, check out my last video, where I talk about Violet Evergarden and why its slow
pacing and emotional storytelling makes it so fun to watch. Or check out the last
episode the Storyteller’s Notebook, where I breakdown Ruby Volume 5’s fight scenes
and see what they get horribly wrong, and fantastically right! And don’t forget to
like, comment, share, and of course, subscribe to Come With Me! You can also follow me
on Twitter for more updates about this channel and other stuff, and hopefully, I’ll
see you later!

16 Replies to “Made in Abyss & the Derangement of Bondrewd the Novel (or, what makes a good villain)

  1. To think that he’s the tamest of the 5 (counting him and Ozen) white whistles… than there’s the issues of the “eyes and mouth” (see the map of the abyss for what I mean)

  2. I thought it was safe to assume they destroyed his relic after they crippled his boss body in the last battle? Even if they didn't show it I doubt they'd leave it be. And the whole point of showing his empty soulless looking eye was to show how they basically pacified him and the praying hands. Unable to spread himself any more and most likely most of his will dying with the current body the remaining praying hands are just sprinkles of Bondrewds will since previously it was pointed out how they were pretty slow compared to the main body he inhabits even if they're all his will.

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