This ICHF was written by Sir K, who you can find at https://www.deviantart.com/sirkaijuofvaudeville. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!
Last year I did a Watchathon of Made in Abyss with myself and a couple of my friends including the likes of TyrantisTerror (editor’s note: that’s me!), RiftWitch, Noryubug, AkityMH and others. This Watchathon encompassed the entire 13-episode anime but also the third Made in Abyss movie: Dawn of the Deep Soul which acts as a followup of the anime’s ending episodes.
And to say it left an impression was an understatement, as for the last few days afterwards, my friends could not stop thinking about it and got into particularly heated debates over the nature over one figure. One friend maintained that said character is not evil because he had genuine love and belief in what he did, whereas another friend adamantly rejected the assertion that maintaining the figure in question was unquestionably evil, motives be damned (editor’s note: that was also me). Yet others DM’d me days, even weeks afterward unable to stop thinking about the character in question. And all unable to really come to a consensus of their feelings towards the figure other than the fact that immediately said figure dominated and held firm in their minds far after the anime had reached its conclusion.
Needless to say: The Lord of the Dawn, Bondrewd, is one of the most complex, contradictory, wicked, yet compelling characters I have seen in any anime in a long, long time and an instant classic villain in the making.
When we are first introduced to him it is in flashback. We see Nanachi’s childhood in another country, a snowbound orphanage that looks more like a desolate ruin. When we see Bondrewd, he addresses all the children present in a jovial, paternalistic manner. Offering them a chance to leave their horrible lives there for a chance to be pathfinders of humanity in the Abyss. He learns all of the children by name and treats them with utmost care as he takes them to the Fifth Layer of the Abyss via large elevator contraption. For the children it seems as if they are going on a life-altering course from horrible cold orphanage to being adventurers in a story book.
However, the illusion shifts as Nanachi, looking for Mitty, overhears Bondrewd talking with another person… who is concerned about the whole ordeal:
“Well it’d be different if they were cave raiders… but taking children who could never survive the trip back is… as a matter of human rights it’s….!”
“Ah, then there is no need to worry. For I am not making use of them as humans, you see.”
And that is where we are introduced to the monstrous duality of Bondrewd the Novel… on the surface he is rife with charisma and is caring, nurturing and loving as the best adoptive parent at first… yet at the same point… he will not hesitate to turn the child he was doting on moments prior into a horrible agonized existence. Having most of their organs and body parts removed surgically, only to be stitched back together in a fleshy/organ strewn sack and sealed inside of a cassette like cartridge where they are still fully conscious, and having drugs pumped into them fueling their terror, fear and ecstasy as they are used to help power him and conquer the Abyss…
And for Nanachi and Mitty, this comes in the form of an early experiment to test the nature of the curse of the Abyss… by forcing the curse into one elevator shaft so the other shaft is spared, but only so long as the person in the other shaft doesn’t die first… yet when accused of trickery, Bondrewd is taken aback and insists there was no deception. Afterall, they are assisting the world in making them pathfinders of exploration.
And the horror that would befall Nanachi and Mitty would serve as the driving force behind Nanachi’s narrative and their quest for not only revenge, but ensuring their newfound family is protected from the monster that blocks their entry to the depths of the Abyss…
Yet as they encounter his adherents, they are treated cordially and respectfully even going so far as returning a lost relic of Riko’s to Reg and warning them of a field of deadly monsters. And when they meet him in person once more, they are treated with the same cordiality and pleasant demeanor of a host welcoming pilgrims to their hostel and praising Nanachi’s quest. No malice, no indignation of their escape. And is perfectly willing to just let them pass, but since they don’t have the necessary key of passage, they are stuck there, unable to really ascend due to the curse of the Abyss, all the same. Since in order to go deeper, they need a white whistle of their own making… which requires a sacrifice of one person’s life for another, turning them into a life-reverberating stone which creates a White Whistle. Rendering Riko, Reg, and Nanachi trapped with the monster who made Nanachi into what she is.
However, everything seems…cordial. They are given rooms and food free of board, even though Nanachi knows better and keeps themselves and Reg on high alert for any funny business. Eventually, Bondrewd parlays with Nanachi, offering to talk things over and try to bury the proverbial hatchet between them. Bondrewd talking of his adoptive daughter he now has (more on her later) and invokes the idea of found family when Nanachi chafes against the idea of him having a daughter. “Families are built by strangers who cross paths and come together. Having Souls that love each other is what makes each other family.” he postulates. Bondrewd then implores Nanachi to return by his side as his assistant as his research is reaching its final phases. Nanachi, desiring no ill will to happen to their own found family agrees, but only on the condition that no harm come to them:
Bondrewd’s response, I shit you not: “Whoops.”
Needless to say, Bondrewd takes the lack of autonomy of Reg up to 11 and regards him as nothing but an unprecedented relic and key to their research… in all the horror that entails. In a scene that parallels Reg awaking in an electric chair, he well… less said the better but is maimed for the first time in the series from the experience. The duality of Bondrewd shows once more but this time in the form of an impulsive child not waiting to open a toy on Christmas, albeit opening a living being up.
Which culminates in the struggle of our three heroes against the Lord of the Dawn, his legion of nightmare soldiers called Umbra Hands and his never ending supply of relics. However, our heroes are clever and seemingly manage to kill him once and for all in a graphic display of ingenuity, forcing the monster to meet the same fate he forced Nanachi and Mitty into, before crushing the corpse under a boulder. However, as one of the Umbra-Hands approaches the body of the Lord of the Dawn, they discard their helmet… and take the helmet off the corpse and put it back on, their body and clothes being ripped apart as standing there once more is the Lord of the Dawn, long ago rejecting his own humanity, become nothing but a body-shifting phantom, identified only by his helmet.. If his body dies… he can simply take the body of another one of his adherents, rendering him, effectively, immortal. Effectively invoking the feeling of being trapped in a haunted house with a monster or slasher… if said monster was a mix of Josef Mengele and Iron Man and the Predator.
Armed with a impressive arsenal of powerful relics From lasers that can cut through anything (including poor Reg), to instant binding spiderman goo, to battle tail, to eyes of scrying to the giant plant-like artifact that allows him to body hop from body to body like a soul-equivalent of an information cloud. Bondrewd is a terrifying monster to face for any hero, nonetheless three children. You cannot simply kill him. He must be defeated ideologically or so thoroughly and devastatingly that it is impossible for him to counter you further.
Bondrewd in a way invokes the real-world horror of the doctors who work at concentration camps, specifically of one Josef Mengele. The real monster who did horrible atrocities to children in particular, forced one potential victim to be his personal mortician, and treated and doted on children like a kindly old uncle before in a moment sent them away to their deaths the moment, they had no more use to him. The affable persona and single-minded drive for perceived progress and perceived scientific enlightenment from the atrocities being committed is both eerily similar and makes Bondrewd more terrifying and horrific for his parallels with the real-world horrors that have been done to children.
Like those eponymous real-world monsters. Everything is on the table for what is needed to advance his research and solve the mysteries of the Abyss, there is no loftier or morally just goal for him. So much so, that it is the reason he has not went on his “last dive’ as other delvers have… he is dedicated to allowing the world at large to experience the depths of the Abyss below by figuring out the curse and allowing everyone to experience the curses and blessings of the Abyss. Of which Bondrewd fully expects everyone to be as enthusiastic and gung-ho about his efforts as he is.
Yet his efforts are all focused on one goal, understanding, and conquering the curse of the Abyss. Every atrocity, every dead (or worse) child, are all necessary sacrifices to that end. However, when our heroes lash out and demands that if he wanted to solve the curse so bad, he should have experimented on himself and turned himself into a cartridge… he agrees! He would if he could. But given he sacrificed his old human body to make his White Whistle, the Abyss doesn’t consider him ‘human’ so using himself as a means of warding off the curse is fruitless. He has no scruples of using himself as a test-subject and expects everyone else who covets the Abyss to have the same lack of scruples as he. There is no hypocrisy to the Lord of the Dawn in this regard, he sticks by his own standards of honor even at the expense of himself, especially in regards to his fatherhood.
And speaking of fatherhood, one cannot talk about Bondrewd without discussing his adoptive daughter, Prushka. Amongst the Fifth Layer, she is a child slightly older than Riko and shares Riko’s enthusiasm and drive for adventure. And she loves her father very, very deeply… and in stark bewilderment to everyone present and most anime fans… he responds to that love in kind.
In the grand history of anime villains, it is a ever-present struggle to really stand out. Its arms race of ever-increasing power scaling to a point where in any given Shonen battle anime, villains capable of being planet or galaxy busters and faster than light speed are the common norm. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you receive pure schlock where villains imply sexual assault to the female lead in the very first scene in a vague attempt to be dark, angering, and edgy. Its an arm-race to be either as powerful or over the top as possible or as fucked up as possible.
Of note are the villains who invoke paternalistic fear. The audience’s angering betrayal by a parent figure towards those dependent on them is one thing that many iconic anime villains have in common and what allows them to stick into the public consciousness and memes. Shou Tucker from FMA, Gendo Ikari from Evangelion, Ragyo Kiriyuin from Kill la Kill, Gambino from Berserk and so on. They are figures and villains that even in the span of one episode permeate and stand out, invoking a resentment and fear that all our inner children shiver at and we as adults rally against with such visceral and understanding rage that they stand proud in our collective lexicon. The betrayal of a parents’ love for their child is one of those core things in any given modern society that immediately invokes rage.
In the post-ironic age of the internet, these ‘parents of the year’ stand apart in memes and in jokes but all to help assuage that primeval rage we have at their existence by invoking that rage in other people who get the joke. Between classics like Shou Tucker and Gendo Ikari, it would take a serious contender to really make them pale in comparison.
And with Prushka, Bondrewd does just that. Yet… does so not out of malice, abuse, neglect, resentment or financial exploitation of their child, but one out of pure love. Which is where one of the most compelling contradictory elements of Bondrewd’s persona lies.
Which makes analyzing him on one level so frustrating as Bondrewd is seemingly a walking contradiction. On one level the sheer level of horrible atrocities he commits would make him far and beyond one of the most despicable monsters ever put to screen. Yet on the other hand, he does so with complete lack of malice. Everything he does, he does with complete moral clarity. He is not without conscience, nor without love, rather those things do not impede him. He will care and love for you deeply, but at the same point if it meant advancing his goals, he would not hesitate from inflicting a fate-worse than death upon you while thanking you for your sacrifice… the end goal comes first.
And the love he has, both for his daughter, and his affection for Nanachi is not just for show, it is legitimate and genuine. If anything, Bondrewd is a being that is completely without malice. Even when everything is impeded and all his work undone, he would bid his destructors a fond farewell and a blessing in that they may find the secrets of the Abyss that he could not. Every horrible action he commits it is done without ill-intent. The level of detachment Bondrewd has from basic concepts of humanity is terrifying yet at the same point compelling.
Its not that he doesn’t understand emotions, love, or any of those things. He does and does so completely. He knows how to feel love, attachment, and paternal affection. Yet the value he seems to put of them is far outweighed by his end goal of reaching deeper into the abyss, and he feels sacrificing or using that love he has for that end is as wonderful as blessing he can give to someone. Every child or person he warps or uses he still treats and dotes on. Even when they are sealed inside of a cartridge or turned into an agony blob, he still memorizes each of their names, their dreams, their ambitions… and he has love for each one of them, even in their warped states.
Which is where the most compelling aspect of Bondrewd lies… is his love. He loves everything and everyone he develops a bond with… he just uses that as the rationale to use that to do horrendous atrocities to them in the hope of conquering the Abyss. For him… it is like an anime villain who realized the power of love and friendship and fully grasped it by the horns in trying to use it. Love is Bondrewd’s entire motus operandi, from the elevator ride from hell that turned Nanachi and Mitty, to the cartridges to even the fate of his daughter, all derives from developing and nurturing as much love and passion and desire out of people as possible so that power can take people deeper into the Abyss.
At no point does Bondrewd malign our heroes. At every point, he seems to genuinely care for their well-being. From trying to save them from a nest of vicious monsters (of which Nanachi was using to lure him into a trap with) to trying to guide Riko and offer to assist her in getting her ‘worth’ in the form of her white whistle despite everything else going on, he never once drops his charismatic, affable, paternal demeanor. Even when fighting an enraged Reg or Nanachi’s stream of (justified) verbal abuse, he is never once angry or bitter and still genuinely cares for them.
If the eponymous White Whistles are born from willingly sacrificing your life for another person, then surely that theory has merit. Value, Bonds, Love… all things that those who brave the depths of the Abyss the best have in spades. Bondrewd is the logical extreme of this. The compulsion of the Abyss taken to its fullest extent. He doesn’t just want the depths for himself, no he wishes everyone else to experience the blessings and curses in equal measure, be it him or children or anyone else.
This in turn makes him a compelling antagonist for each of the three main heroes of Made in Abyss. For Reg, Bondrewd embodies the complete and utter lack of respect for his autonomy as a person. Bondrewd regards Reg as nothing more than a wonderful relic and desires nothing more than to learn everything he can from him and see Reg push himself to his fullest. Reg is a test-subject and the worst possible manifestation of human disregard for his personhood. Operating much like a twisted version of an older-sibling, Bondrewd wrestles with and provokes Reg to prove his worth.
For Riko, he is a dark reflection and Bondrewd projects a lot of himself into Riko’s decision making. He values her intelligence and her similar compulsive drive to figure out the secrets of the Abyss. However, unlike Riko, Bondrewd’s pursuit of knowledge has no greater moral peer. When Riko gazes into the metaphorical Abyss, Bondrewd is the dark reflection of what her future might hold and is a stark mirror to what she was at the start of the series with her disregard for Reg’s personhood and her drive to be a White Whistle. Bondrewd represents the moral event horizon that terrifies her to her very core. In this way, Bondrewd is the form of mentor or teacher, a dark reflection of what she may become and is obsessed with all the the things she loves and values and may one day be what she herself can become.
As for Nanachi, Bondrewd is their personal demon. The boogeyman, the nemesis that Nanachi at one point wishes to die fighting against in a joint murder-suicide of revenge and despair. Bondrewd is responsible for the suffering in Nanachi’s life and turning them into what they are and Mitty and countless other children into agonized abominations. Likewise, Bondrewd invokes the feeling of an abusive parent for Nanachi, constantly lavishing praise and affection for them while making them engage in horrendous acts of inhumanity. Yet despite this still lavishes and praises Nanachi even when everything he built up comes crumbling down.
Bondrewd is a perfect child-villain. As he invokes and straddles the line of Adult-Fear to near perfection and how he twists the concept of an authority figure, be it older sibling, Teacher or Parent. Even the Umbra Hands, many of which were Bounty Hunters or authority figures sent to kill or arrest Bondrewd, were all eventually swayed by his charisma to join his thrall. And yet does so by never once lashing out, never once growing cold, resentful, or angry. Every horrible action he does with genuine love and care and honestly believes what he is doing is just and even when he is beaten and broken, is overjoyed that he can experience their journey vicariously through them, believing that they will accomplish what he could not. He was a stepping stone in their journey into the depths, and he is overjoyed with that fact. In a way he is the ultimate evil authority figure, yet one who is not malevolent, evil, yes but not malicious.
Bondrewd in a way is a complete lack of a person, if Riko, Reg and Nanachi are a complete trio whole, Bondrewd is the thing lacking in all three of them but together they overcome. Bondrewd is love taken to almost eldritchian extremes, but through genuine love and compassion his twisted, inhuman version of it is defeated, because Bondrewd does not have an ego in that he seems to lack a sense of self. He is just a mask, an identity that switches between bodies who is driven by a goal and his twisted version of a concept and feeling that is deeply human. Riko, Reg and Nanachi are the family Bondrewd so claimed earlier, the true essence of a found family and as such the whole person that Bondrewd could not and probably never be.
And Bondrewd is overjoyed by this. Even in his defeat, he adores and cherishes our heroes. And wishes them many blessings… and curses upon their journey. Which, much like Josef Mengele, Bondrewd seemingly escapes reprisal. His base destroyed, his umbra-hands decimated, his relics depleted but his body hopping ability still in-tact, yet unable to hamper the heroes further, not that he would. Which ultimately left a bittersweet taste in everyone’s mouths to find out that in the end, he is not wholly destroyed, much like a certain Angel of Death who fled to Argentina after the news of his crimes came to light. And yet despite a decades long hunt, he died in as anti-climactic and non-just way possible…
Yet with Bondrewd, even if we did destroy him, we would not be satisfied wholly. Which further adds to the infuriating nature of Bondrewd, as no matter what you do to him, how hard you struggle, how hard you berate or abuse him… he is happy for you. His entire demeanor, his charisma and his undeniable charm and gravitas as well as intent, contrasts with his actions granting him a dual, yet seemingly contradictory and frustrating nature. Yet, like anime villain greats like Griffith before him (they even share the same Japanese VA!) his complex nature and the humanity in his inhumanity and the entire nature of his seemingly dual-serial killer esq. contradictory existence elevates Bondrewd far past most of his present contemporaries, and in general Bondrewd has laid a new standard on how to introduce a villain and how to present one in the medium.
Bondrewd is as despicable of bastards as they come, yet as the debates between my friends to this day indicate, It just indicates a truly standout horror and villainous performance that many series will strive to emulate for years to come. And for a childhood villain, he is up there with the likes of Pennywise for terrifying boogeymen for kids to contend with and be tormented by. Elevating and showcasing the sheer level of adult fear we can place in media and raising questions on the inherent nature of what we can or should tolerate fictional children endure in media, especially with how Bondrewd invokes the various levels of Childhood antagonists all in one fell-swoop and in a way that makes him truly stand out from the rest without needing to go so far as to go full schlock with the adult-terror like most anime invoke.
And in that regard, may he grant blessings… and curses… on the genre for years to come.