Following the release of Netflix’s Castlevania (2017-2021), the long-awaited spin-off to the video game franchise has arrived.
Based on the Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse game released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989. It follows the trio of Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage), Sypha Belnades (Alexandra Reynoso) and Alucard Tepes (James Callis) in their race against time to stop Dracula from destroying the world.
Now set during the French Revolution, Castlevania Nocturne (2023-) follows the whip-wielding Richtor Belmont (Edward Bluemel), the descendant of Trevor and Sypha, in a battle against a coven of blood-hungry aristocratic vampires.
Joined by his childhood friend and sorceress, Maria Renard (Pixie Davis), and liberated revolutionary, Annette (Thuso Mbedu), Richtor must lash his way through terraformed Night Creatures and two-faced priests if he wants to reconcile his lost ability to perform magic after the tragedy of losing his mother to the draconic Aztecan vampire, Olrox (Zahn McClarnon).
300 years after the events of the original series, a new vampiric congregation have arisen led by the enigmatic “Vampire Messiah”, later known as Erzsebet Bathory (Franke Pontente), an ancient vampiress with a killer-eye for haut couture that could only be matched by her fiery fuchsia-haired lieutenant, Doltra Tzuentes (Elarica Johnson).
As opposed to the series’ predecessor, Richter shares some of the same off-handed traits as Trevor. Where lies his difference is the youthful humility and sense of responsibility instilled in him by Maria and her ‘Speaker’ mother, Tera (Nastassja Kinski).
In turn, Maria serves as the group’s leader while mirroring Sypha’s role as the voice of reason when her companions behave aloof. However, she is not without her own dilemmas in her parental relationships. Completing the trio, Annette’s character takes the spotlight with her level of character depth. She offers a much-needed sense of emotionality to the group’s dynamic as she mourns lost (and soon-to-be lost) loved ones while displaying a sense of quiet ferocity.
Furthermore, the party is joined by Annette’s companion and opera singer, Edouard (Sydney James Harcourt), whose imminent future casts a dark shadow.
Speaking of shadows, the creators understanding of lighting creates a distinct sense of space depending on the location.
Notably on the vampire estate in the second episode, there is a vast open for characters to run and fight which is then overshadowed by them eventually being hunted by vampires under eerie candlelight.
The moments when characters- and the audience feel safest- are when we are placed in homely, confined sanctums surrounded by daylight and greenery… until that place is besieged by the antagonists.
As the series builds to its ultimatum, it becomes clear to audiences and the characters that there is no safe haven anymore.
Likewise, with all of Powerhouse Animation Studios’ productions, Castlevania: Nocturne is a worthy torchbearer in terms of its razor-sharp combat choreography.
While not as gory as the original, the series pierces audiences with its fast-paced adrenaline fights that leave you wanting more.
One altercation that took my particular interest is when a character uses a dungeon cage door to block a vampire’s sharp nails. Whether it’s a battle tearing through forests or smashing through church pillars, Nocturne is anything but short of bloody ingenuity.
It would be also negligent to ignore Castlevania: Nocturne’s thematic core as one of hierarchies of power and how, for better or worse, all political, religious, cultural and religious structures crumble with time.
As much as this show is about fighting blood-sucking vampires with magical weapons and familiars, it is also about the horrific realities committed by white European colonists against Black and Indigenous people in the Southern Hemisphere.
In many ways, the show parallels many stifling matters we still deal with today such as racial inequality, the effects of post-colonialism and performative activism.
That said, these qualities may make it difficult for audiences to enjoy Nocturne, but that is more a matter of preference than the quality of the material.
Despite no public announcement of Castlevania: Nocturne releasing a Season 2, it’d be safe to say with the success of the previous instalments that this will not be the last time we see the Belmont family and their companions fight off the things that go bump in the nights. Especially since the final episode that brings back a mysterious fan-favourite protagonist.
Feature image credit: Netflix