‘Castlevania: Nocturne’ is an animated masterpiece that’s perfect for Halloween
Castlevania: Nocturne may not be billed as a Halloween series, but with its cast of vampires and demons — and some truly gnarly body horror — it makes for a perfect October watch.
Nocturne is a sequel to Netflix’s original Castlevania series, which is in turn based on the Konami video game franchise of the same name. Don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with the games (I myself am not) or the initial series, although it is excellent. Apart from a few references to the past, Nocturne is mostly able to stand on its own, acting as both a compelling new series and an enriching sequel.
Netflix’s ‘Castlevania: Nocturne’ crosses vampires and the French Revolution
What is Castlevania: Nocturne about?
Credit: Courtesy of Netflix
The world of Nocturne is essentially “the French Revolution, but with vampires.” Said vampires have allied themselves with the wealthy elite of France, throwing lavish bloodsucking parties and preying on those who fight for liberty, equality, and fraternity.
Among those fighters is Richter Belmont (voiced by Edward Bluemel), the last descendant of the legendary vampire-hunting Belmont family. He fled to France from Boston after witnessing his mother’s brutal death at the fangs of Aztec vampire Olrox (voiced by Zahn McClarnon). In France, he’s adopted by a family of revolutionaries: young idealist Maria Renard (voiced by Pixie Davies) and her mother, Tera (Nastassja Kinski). They strive for a better world, and — for Richter especially — this means a world free of vampires.
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There are others who share their goal. Sorcerer and escaped slave Annette (voiced by Thuso Mbedu) has foreseen the ascendance of the so-called Vampire Messiah, an all-powerful being who will devour the sun. Armed with this apocalyptic knowledge, Annette and her opera singer friend Edouard (voiced by Sydney James Harcourt) make the journey from Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) to join forces with any Belmont they can find. But are the combined powers of Richter, Annette, Maria, and Tera enough to stand up to vampire armies and the god they worship?
Castlevania: Nocturne delivers killer action.
Credit: Courtesy of Netflix
As Richter and his companions work to bring freedom to France and death to the vampires who rule it, they’ll cross paths with a whole host of terrifying enemies. Sadistic vampires, demonic night creatures, and crooked religious sects all seek to bring our heroes to their knees. And with each infernal encounter, Nocturne delivers some of the best and bloodiest fight sequences you’ll see all year.
If you’ve watched the original Castlevania, you’re already aware that animation studio Powerhouse is not messing around when it comes to action. If you’re new to the world of Castlevania, let me just say of the fights: They go hard.
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The appeal of any Castlevania show’s vampiric brawls isn’t just in their heavily stylized violence and gore, but in how versatile and downright smart they are. Nocturne keeps things fresh from fight to fight thanks to its characters’ wide-ranging skill sets. Richter fights with the Belmont family whip, making for a nearly endless combination of swirling, slicing attacks. His friends have impressive magical abilities of their own: Annette manipulates earth and metal, sometimes even forging herself swords on the fly; Maria can summon fantastical animal familiars; and Tera, a Speaker magician, has power over everything from air to ice to fire. Each fight brings about new layers to these characters, with their actions speaking just as loudly as words.
Castlevania: Nocturne gives us amazing new heroes to root for.
Credit: Courtesy of Netflix
Nocturne remains supremely engaging, both in and out of fight mode. It takes its time building its characters, with the rapport between Richter, Maria, Tera, Annette, and Edouard coming to feel like that of two found families learning to trust each other. Bickering and quips ensue, as well as deep conversations about traumatic baggage.
A driving force throughout the season becomes Richter’s struggles with the burden of being the last Belmont. He is unable to access any of the magic he should have inherited from a Speaker ancestor (Sypha from the original Castlevania), and he still suffers PTSD from the night his mother was murdered. These conflicts only grow as Olrox slinks back into the picture, oozing charisma and nurturing a wariness of the Vampire Messiah.
Annette’s backstory is a particular standout in an already masterful season, with Nocturne devoting a whole episode to her life as a slave, including how she nurtured her magic and escaped. Her storyline explores everything from the Haitian Revolution to her practice of Vodou, which is deeply entwined with her magic and her ancestry. Notably, her master Vaublanc (voiced by Alastair Duncan) is also a vampire, tying the supernatural evil of vampirism to the real, human evils of slavery and colonialism.
With heroes like Annette expanding the world and magic of Castlevania, and with the backdrop of the French and Haitian revolutions lending deeper thematic meaning to the fight against vampires, Castlevania: Nocturne proves to be an acutely thoughtful adaptation and spin-off. Come for the vampires and spectacular fights, stay for the characters and conversations that truly stick in your head.
How to watch: Castlevania: Nocturne is now streaming on Netflix.