Castlevania: Nocturne (Season 1): The 2017 animated series Castlevania is arguably taken as one of the few video game adaptations considered to be actually really good. Created by comic book and video game writer Warren Ellis, produced by Adi Shankar (The Grey, Punisher: Dirty Laundry), and directed by Sam Deats with Powerhouse Animation in charge of bringing the worlds to life, it follows three protagonists—vampire hunter Trevor Belmont, sorceress Sypha, and Alucard, the son of Dracula—in a war against Dracula and his host of allies as the trio try to defend the nation of Wallachia. Castlevania became hugely popular because it successfully adopted Dracula and Alucard’s backstory from the 2005 video game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which led to the creation of one of the best iterations of literature’s most fearsome monster. Under the voiceover of Graham McTavish, Dracula is terrifying, yet he is compelling; as a result, viewers are drawn to Dracula’s plight and are in a dilemma about whether to support or oppose his actions. Couple that with Ellis’s penchant for dry sardonic humour, and you almost have a perfect marriage of animation and storytelling, with compelling characters leading the pack.
The spin-off, created by Clive Bradley with most of the same production team returning, has a hard enough job capturing the original’s tonality. What works in its favour initially is that it adapts two of the most beloved games in the Castlevania franchise: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The fact that the animation team remains the same maintains continuity within the universe in which the story is taking place, even though this is not a direct sequel to the show but set 300 years later, during the French Revolution, and follows Richter Belmont and Maria Renard.
Castlevania Nocturne (Season 1) Recap:
Episode 1 – A Common Enemy in Evil
The story opens in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1783, as we see Richter Belmont being spirited away by his mother, Julia Belmont, in the dead of the night. They are out of luck as Julia is finally stopped by the vampire that had been chasing her, Orlox (Zach McLarnon). His revenge against Julia is personal, and the vengeance almost leaps off the frame as the battle between the vampire and vampire hunter is kinetic, colourful, and bloody, until Orlox, in a gigantic dragon form, manages to overpower Julia and finally kill her. Like all great fantasy heroes with a dark origin story, this is Richter Belmont’s origin story, as he sees his mother die right in front of him.
Nine years later, we find a grown-up Richter Belmont with his friend Maria Renard in a meeting with the revolutionaries as the French Revolution is underway. As the meeting, led by a passionate Renard, goes underway, we are laid witness to another action scene where Maria and Richter face off against vampires. The vampires are gathering at the nearby chateau in anticipation of someone they call the new “Vampire Messiah, Devourer of Light”. Richter and Maria unwillingly seek the help of the clergy, the Abbott Emmanuel of Machecoul, and there is tension between the clergy and the revolutionaries, with Abbott not hesitating to brand them off as a “godless mob”, but he promises to look into the matter as both the revolutionaries and the clergy are in a common battle against evil, and thus the Marquis might have given shelter to the vampires.
The show doesn’t keep it a secret whether the vampires are holed up in the chateau, because the show begins itself by showcasing the revelry in the chateau, with the party-goers all brandishing long canines. Later at night, when the drunken guard Jacques is ambushed by one of these upper-class guests of the Marquis, the connection between the vampires and privilege is pretty readily apparent.
At night, Richter, Maria, and Maria’s mother, Tera, who is also a witch like her daughter, are attacked by Night Creatures. As introduced in the original Castlevania series, Night Creatures are reanimated human corpses grafted with demons from hell, who are extracted from hell via different methods. The wizards capable of this mechanism are, ironically, humans called the Forgemasters. While the battle occurring was fierce, they were running the risk of being overwhelmed until they were rescued by new characters Annette and Edouard. These new warriors and members of their vampire-hunting team had come to France from the Caribbean island of Saint-Domingue because they had information regarding the vampire Messiah, and Annette had specifically been informed to search for Richter Belmont.
In the final scene, we also see a new player entering the game who turns out to be an older enemy concerning Belmont, Orlox, the vampire responsible for the death of Julia Belmont, who now apparently has come to meet the Vampire Messiah.
Episode 2 – Horror Beyond Nightmares
It is fascinating how the creators of “Castlevania: Nocturne” are weaving in real-life events like the uprising of slaves against their masters or the French Revolution, and the royalty’s efforts to ensure that the status quo remains the same are seamlessly connected with the vampire’s growing movement to get back to the top of the table. The opening monologue by the Abbot of Malechoul reveals the arrival of a new “Joan of Arc”, one who would take charge of the movement and lead the righteous towards the path of redemption, not bend their knees towards the movement of the godless. But while this monologue is occurring and gives an apparent introduction of a godly figure, her introduction in the shadows is anything but holy. This messiah is not a son of God.
This is the episode where the backstories of the world and its characters are established incrementally. We learn that Annette is the daughter of a descendant of the African gods, the Orisha, which grants her powers of sorcery. Edouard, meanwhile, is an opera singer who helped Annette escape her master. Of course, lest we forget, all these colonialists and owners of the plantations are vampires. Annette explains that she had been trained by a powerful sorcerer, Cecile, who had instructed her to search for Richter Belmont, the current representative of the Belmont clan, famous for hunting vampires. The vampires had always cosied up to the aristocracy to maintain their influence across the world. The new vampire Messiah intends to do away with this established order so that the vampires remain solely on top, utilising humans as figureheads, with them controlling society and pulling the strings. The Vampire Messiah is a sadistic immortal vampire with the name of Countess Erszebet Bathory. The name terrifies Tara, who reveals her connection to the countess.
Bathory’s monstrosity had always existed, even before she was introduced to vampirism. She delighted herself in torture and keeping her victims alive as long as possible, traits that she had carried over once touched by the blood-soaked immortality. Tera revealed that she and her sister belonged to a clan called the Speakers. As had been revealed in Castlevania, the Speakers were a highly educated, nomadic group of scholars charged with maintaining oral traditions. In the original series, they had been persecuted by the church. Sypha used to be one of these speakers. Tera reveals that her sister had been captured by Erszebet, and she had to kill her sister herself before escaping and fleeing Russia.
As a result, Richter, Annette, Edouard, and Maria go at night to investigate the revelry at the chateau. While sneaking around, Annette discovers that the Comte de Vaoublac is alive and has been the vampire responsible for the enslavement of her mother and herself and the death of her mother. He had also been one of the only surviving colonialists who had escaped from Saint-Domingue. Her anger helps her draw power, which attracts the attention of the group towards the vampires. While a fierce battle occurs, the group finds themselves overpowered, and they start escaping. As Annette constructs a bridge to cross the perennial river, Edouard is attacked by vampires from all sides and captured, much to Annette’s dismay. The episode ends with Edouard’s body being thrown in a wheelbarrow filled with dead bodies to be sent to the forgemaster to create more Night Creatures.
Episode 3 – Freedom was Sweeter
This is the episode that serves as the origin story for Annette. As a child in Saint-Domingue, Annette witnessed her mother’s death at the hands of Vaoublac. She had been descended from Ogun, “the god of iron,” and her powers became uncontrollable. She had been able to escape her mother’s fate until she managed to hide out one day in the dressing room of an opera singer who was revealed to be Edouard. He hides her and gives her clothes and shelter, and Annette learns that Edouard is a freeborn who entertains the colonisers while utilising the rewards to help runaway slaves escape.
Edouard introduces Annette to the Maroons, the insurgency group of escaped slaves. There she meets Cecile, who helps her harness her magic powers by connecting to her roots and her godly powers. In return, both Annette and Edouard help the Maroons attack and destroy the outposts of the Colonialists, along with their oppressive hold on the plantation. It is during these skirmishes that Vablouac escapes by turning into a bat. The liberation of the Saint-Domingue from the tyranny of human and vampire colonisers should have been the end, but Cecile is plagued by a vision—the appearance of a vampire Messiah in Europe. Troubled Cecile orders Annette and Edouard to travel to France and get in touch with Richter Belmont to take aid in attacking Countess Bathory.
Back in the present day, we see Orlox keeping a watch on the clergy and confronting the Abbott’s right-hand man, Mirzak, and asking him why the Abbott is creating the Night Creatures for the Messiah, and even trying to make Mirzak understand that the Countess is a different breed of sadists, even among vampires. What stands out and what will eventually be proven too is that Orlox is not entirely with the Messiah train here, that even among vampires the hierarchical battle exists, which bristles Orlox.
The episode ends with the revolutionaries being introduced to Annette as part of the uprising by the Maroons against the colonialists. As the speech is being held by Annette, they are attacked by Night Creatures, among whom is now a transformed Edouard, whom Annette recognises due to his eyes. Edouard had been transformed by a machine constructed by the Abbott after making a deal with a demon to forge the night creatures. The Abbott has sided with the messiah and constructed his ideology such that the vampires could aid him in crushing the revolution.
Episode 4 – Horrors Rising From the Earth
The cold open of the episode shows the Abbott berating night creatures for acting against the commands and saving Annette. We realise that the night creature in question is Edouard, which recontextualizes the night creatures as sentient creatures or managing to reach sentience, which adds a new wrinkle to this world and also slowly and steadily chipped away at the black-and-white outlook the show had started as. Perhaps this show truly shares some DNA with its illustrious predecessor concerning nuance.
One of the fascinating characters of this season who might share the same level of complexity as Vlad Tepes in the original Castlevania is Orlox. Devoting so much of the time to his character development, the episode shows a surprising turn in showing Orlox sharing a bed with Mirzak, the Abbot’s faithful right-hand man. It is both disarming and yet important in keeping with the context of the time that this is set in, where homosexuality is outlawed and seen as deviant behaviour. So Orlox is a forbidden fruit for Mirzak, both because of his sexuality and also because he is a vampire. A different reading would be equating vampirism and different sexual preferences, but that would be a bad take.
The right-hand man of the vampire messiah, Drolta Tzuentes, with all her dark, sexy, alluring glory, quite adept at manipulating the upper class and cozying up to the vampires. She has very tough skin while jousting against the vampires’ obvious aversion to sunlight. Drolta, however, is here to take a tour of the premises and check on the night creatures.
Meanwhile, the gang is divided on their plan to attack. Annette is driven by her quest for revenge, while Richter wants to go a much safer route, which is unlike him, but it is obvious in this account because of his lesser investment in both the revolution and an emotional connection with Edouard and the Night Creatures. Tera finally reveals that she knows a secret route inside the church, which she reveals through a lever hidden in the outside wall. Tera coming along personally helps matters, but predictably, the foursome finally gets waylaid by the Night Creatures, and as the battle begins, they are also waylaid by Drolta and the clergy. Drolta charges Annette, who had been trying to free Edouard and is hit with grief upon realising his sentience. As the battles gain intensity on all sides, Richter suddenly hears a silky voice calling the Belmont boy. Almost immediately, Belmont is that little boy who had seen the death of his mother, and Orlox’s presence made him that kid again. His PTSD kicks in, and he starts running away towards the passageway, which sours him and Annette, who are ultimately forced to retreat. The episode ends with Drolta referring to Orlox as the “Aztec” and saying that she is expecting him.
Episode 5 – The Natural Order
This is the episode that shows Castlevania: Nocturne and how far it is willing to go to show its protagonists’ vulnerability. It opens with Richter Belmont having escaped from the dungeon, sitting on the banks of the lake, and crying. Meanwhile, Maria had been critically injured in the battle, and Annette had been trying to patch her up. Finally, Annette uses the patch of cloth that had her blood and uses magic to sew the wounds by psychically imprinting an impression of her hand in the cloth. It shows off her psychic prowess.
But it also showed how disappointed Annette had been with Belmont’s escape. Her rebuttal to Tera’s logic to understand Belmont’s perspective is pointing out that if she had run away from her own past, she wouldn’t be standing here at the moment, having survived slavery or embraced her powers. But Tera and Maria both try to stop her from intervening back at the church, to which she agrees to not except reconnaissance. But as soon as she walks out, she sees Drolta meeting with Orlox and starts following them.
Fresh from attending the funeral of the marquis, who had been killed in the skirmish in the last episode, Drolta is managing to extract humour from the marquis’s wife carrying around her husband’s head. She chooses to interrupt Orlox’s sucking off blood from one of the upper crusts and explains to Orlox how, unlike the rest of the world, the vampires are still in a tentative alliance with the humans until the Messiah’s eventual entry into the equation. Sekhmet, an ancient Egyptian god, was reincarnated as Bathory, and she is trying to block the light from the sky to permanently cover Earth in darkness.
Annette overhears this conversation and almost coincidentally gets into a confrontation with Vaoublanc and chooses to take revenge on him by fashioning the bars of the graveyard into crosses and lining them up surrounding Vaubloc in the shape of a cage. With Vaubloc imprisoned, Annette learns that the messiah actually drank the blood of Sakhmet and thus commands enormous power and allegiance among all the vampire clans, both willing and unwilling. Annette finishes the conversation by saying the sun is rising, banishing the darkness, and that is the natural order of things, as Vaoublanc bursts into flames.
Two interesting events happen besides Annette’s adventures. For one, Tera and Maria are visited by Abbott Emmanuel, who wants to make amends with Tera because she has been severely disappointed by his actions, as he is completely in bed with the vampires. However, between their confrontations, he accidentally reveals that he is Maria’s father. Meanwhile, at a pub, Richter is trying to buy some food when he meets an old man who fills his tab. The old man is suddenly confronted by a stranger, and the old man immediately takes Belmont’s whip and makes mincemeat of the eventual bar fight before giving the whip to Richter, berating that he should have taken better care of it. When Richter is surprised about his identity, the old man reveals himself to be Juste, Richter’s grandfather.
Episode 6 – Guilty Men to be Judged
As it turns out, Juste Belmont had been watching over Richter Belmont his whole life, and even Tera, who is revealed to be Richter’s cousin a thousand times removed, knew about Juste’s choice to not be involved in Richter’s life. Juste also reveals to Richter while having dinner with him that he too, like his ancestor Sypha, had one of the strongest magic-harnessing abilities of his generation. However, he lost the power after his wife and friend Maxim were killed by the ruthless vampire Lord Ruthven.
Meanwhile, Orlox is quickly becoming the sample experiment for Castlevania, managing to humanise its villains. Here, Orlox begins to become more fleshed out as he reveals to Mirzak that the reason he has an enmity with the Belmont boy is that Julia Belmont had inadvertently murdered Orlox’s love, a Mohican whom he had transformed into a vampire so that they could survive for eternity. Mirzak points out that Orlox didn’t give him a choice and asks whether that was to be his fate as well, to which Orlox wryly reassures him not to worry as he isn’t in love with him. It also helps that Orlox isn’t on the side of Erzebet Bathory completely, even though Bathory’s arrival in Paris is met with a completely brainwashed mass clamouring for the revival of Joan of Arc. It is fascinating that the mass doesn’t notice the imprisoned woman used as a snack for Bathory, periodically helping her feast on her blood. As the celebration occurs due to the Countess’s arrival, Drolta sees a strange sight: the Abbott meeting with Maria and trying to reconcile their relationship with her, and her rebutting it, although not as strongly.
Back at Juste’s hut, Juste and Richter are slowly managing to connect when suddenly they are attacked by Bethory’s vampire horde. A cornered Richter sees his grandfather being overpowered, and at that moment he chooses to persist even at the cost of losing everything he holds dear, and suddenly his magic powers are activated. With it activated, he manages to destroy the vampires with extreme prejudice and relative ease. When asked by his vampires how he had been able to do it, Richter hits back, stating that he had people in his life left to love, something his grandfather had never allowed for himself.
Episode 7 – Blood is the Only Way
Richter returns to Tera and Maria and reconciles with them, helping them defeat the vampire horde attacking the mother-daughter duo and making mincemeat of them. His reconciliation with Annette arguably should have taken longer; however, Annette had meanwhile managed to have a conversation with her mentor and her ancestors in the spirit plane, where she learned and was able to understand the reconciliation of grief and the resolution of trauma and how it occurred at its own pace. Even though Europe is advancing with the values of liberty, equality, and fraternity, they continue to be painfully blind to the suffering of the local colonised populations, including Annette and her community, who are shunned by the very Europeans who uphold morality with ardour in their own country. Cecile challenges Annette to embrace her true potential as the defender of her community’s way of life, which includes a religion, belief systems, and culture that date back to the dawn of human civilization. This helps her calm herself. As she realises that, the viewers also realise that something is brewing between Richter and Annette.
The four of them, now reunited, have a plan to storm the church, but they are unable to understand how the Abbott can forge these night creatures. Orlox suddenly appears towards them in a cloud of smoke and gifts them a book, which describes in detail the machine by which the Abbott had been creating these night creatures. The book is written in Enochian, the language of Hell. What is even more fascinating is the interaction Orlox has with Belmont, where he reveals that, ironically, to defeat the countess’s machinations, he would need the help of Belmont.
However, Maria makes a mistake. Something that would make her churchgoing father proud: she chooses to go back to her father and reveal to him that they are planning to destroy the machine and that he should come with her. However, the Abbott is now completely at the thrall of the countess, and as the countess reveals that she knows about Maria’s parentage, she reveals that he would have to sacrifice someone he loves to ensure his place in the new world. Now Abbott finally makes his choice and captures his daughter. This is the bridge-too-far moment for Mirzak, who chooses to desert Abbott and join up with the vampire hunters.
Back at the hunters, Tera figures out that the machine couldn’t be destroyed but could only be banished to hell. But Mirzak tells them about Maria’s abduction and inevitable sacrifice. As they race towards the church, darkness starts falling as the Countess begins her ceremony of ascendancy to the higher form, and the sun begins to be eclipsed, the devourer of the sun beginning to reveal herself.
Episode 8 – Devourer of the Light
The eternal darkness manages to transform Bathory into her Sekhmet form, the 7-foot-tall Egyptian vampire goddess. At the abbey, Drolta and Richter face, while Annette goes downstairs towards the dungeons to free Edouard. Meanwhile, Edouard has managed to convince some of the sentient Night Creatures, including the transformed Jacques, to his side. As he reveals to his friend, he believes that his singing has power, and he is not ready to go back yet. His work is not yet done, but he points in the direction where the machine has been kept. Annette rushes over to the room and starts an incantation to open a doorway to hell, repeating the same incantation muttered by Tera from above.
Tera, meanwhile, is confronted by Abbott, who compares the sacrifice of Maria towards God to the moment when Abraham chose to sacrifice Isaac. She pushes him back and threatens him, trying to remind him that there isn’t a ram that he could sacrifice to a god in place of his son. That is because this isn’t the vengeful god of the Old Testament. This is just cruelty taking form, a nightmare taking shape, and manifesting around the world.
The tables turn, however, as Bethory enters the battle. She proves to be too powerful for the hunters, completely stopping their advances from attacking, while Bethory uses her magic to thwart Annette’s magic from banishing the machine of the Night Creatures back to the portal. As the hunters find themselves outnumbered, Tera makes her final move and sacrifices herself in exchange for her daughter. A horrified Emmanuel looks at her, and as he proclaims his love for her, she responds, “God has given you the ram”.
Annette finally manages to climb out of the dungeon and uses her magic to use a broken pillar to destroy the wall. As Bethory starts biting into her neck and weakening Tera, the hunters manage to take Maria and escape out of the abbey. As they escape, we see the masses throwing sticks and stones at them. Mirzak joins them and asks where Tera is, to which they reply dejectedly, “She chose to stay back”.
Castlevania: Nocturne (Season 1) Ending Explained:
Did Alucard come to assist them?
Drolta and her horde of vampires chase the hunters in the valley. While Mirzak is transported by Orlox in the nick of time, the Hunters finally make their stand. The vampires, including Drolta, had evolved into their true demonic selves and started attacking them. Orlox, meanwhile, had tried to extract Mirzak because he wanted to protect him from the inevitable destruction, as she was too powerful to be stopped. But Mirzak rejects his advances, rebuffing Orlox as a soulless monster before rushing towards the fight.
As the vampires fly in to attack them, a sword suddenly comes out of nowhere and pierces through the chest of Drolta, killing her. The sword flies back to its owner, revealed to be the damphir (half vampire, half human hybrid) Alucard, son of Dracula and the human doctor Lisa. He reveals his identity to the vampires, who immediately get scared and run away, realising that this enemy is almost generational.
It is generational because Alucard is old enough that Anette and this generation of vampire hunters are unaware of Dracula’s reputation. Except Richter Belmont, who knows all this history because of his clan. And that’s what Alucard points out, as he recognises that this is a Belfort, “complete with a whip”. And then he points out that he might be just in time because they need assistance.
And as the season closes out with a huge cliffhanger, the show leaves an unenviable place for the protagonists, and as the stakes have become almost insurmountable to cross, they need all the help they can get, even if it is Alucard or other new additions.
Castlevania: Nocturne (Season 1) Review:
This show had a hard act to follow, and Clive Bradley and his writing team took the task by placing the show right in the middle of the proceedings. It leads to a jarring effect made all the more jarring by the show’s insistence on not delving into the backstory until absolutely necessary, coasting on the action set pieces gorgeously animated by Powerhouse Animation. It is in Episode 4 that the show starts to finally delve deep into the politics and religion it is commenting on, while also playing in a genre sandbox. And while Bradley is not as strong a writer as Ellis, he is capable enough of channelling the strongest trait of Castlevania—humanising the villains. Castlevania: Nocturne also manages to craft a fantastical character arc for the protagonists, be it Richter Belmont and his origin story disguised as a coming-of-age story, Annette and the reconciliation of her powers and her own cultural heritage, or Maria Renard and her familial connections. Where the show falters is clearly developing the big bad of the show. Countess Bathory, voiced by Famka Potente, is a terrifying physical presence, but as a compelling villain, she leaves something to be desired. That slack is, however, held up by Zach McLarnon’s turn as Orlox, who might be one of the more compelling antagonists on this side of Vlad Tepes.
It’s the potential and the clever ways in which Nocturne incorporates history and fairy tales into its storytelling that help it stand out. The Castlevania brand already promises a darker, more violent brand of anime, and Nocturne doesn’t disappoint on that front. Here’s hoping that the characters get fleshed out more, because now the show is free to spread its wings. If Castlevania was the original Star Trek, Nocturne has the potential to be Star Trek: The Next Generation of this franchise.