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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, April 17, 2024

‘Castlevania: Nocturne’ provides revolutionary thrills, but still needs more bite

This sequel series still needs to find its footing.

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The logo for "Castlevania" is pictured.

A “Castlevania” television show was never supposed to work.

The legendary video game series achieved its reputation not through its stories, but through an incredible mix of stylistic, musical and gameplay prowess. To take this kind of setup and create a television show around it sounds like a recipe for the same level of disaster that so many video game adaptations had been before 2017, but “Castlevania” (2017–2021) shattered all expectations by not just being good, but excellent. To follow up this vampire-slaying, death-defying, blood-soaked animated marvel was always going to be a challenge, and “Castlevania: Nocturne” (2023–) does an admirable job, even if it hasn’t fully found its mark just yet.

Taking place over 300 years after the original series, “Castlevania: Nocturne” picks up in a France that is neck-deep in the French Revolution. The king is imprisoned. The peasants are revolting. The nobles, many of whom are secretly blood-sucking vampires (touché, Netflix), are beginning to hail the arrival of a “vampire messiah” who will bring about endless night and crush the Revolution in its crib. Richter Belmont (Edward Bluemel), the latest of the vampire-slaying Belmont Clan that serves as the franchise’s primary protagonist, and his allies must stop the emergence of said “messiah” and save France from the bourgeoisie vampiric hordes.

The original series was at its best when it was working with both the trappings of “Castlevania” and its own ideas to tell a mostly original yet gripping story. The original series’ focus on characters  namely that of Trevor Belmont, the monster hunter; Sypha Belnades, the Speaker magician; Alucard, the Son of Dracula; and Dracula himself  was key to its world-building and later complexity. The audience cared about the increasingly complex plot because of these grounded characters and their quiet moments of both solidarity and failure, aided by a largely incredible script courtesy of now (rightfully) disgraced writer Warren Ellis and a sensational voice cast.

Our new band of heroes and villains have yet to reach this level. It’s clear that this series is not attempting to replicate the feeling of the original, and that’s honestly commendable. But the drawback is that this new strategy often seems to be focused on breadth rather than depth. Richter Belmont’s struggles are understandable and his moment of self-realization provides for perhaps the most standout fight and character moment in the entire season, but his overall arc feels less impactful than Trevor’s initial one felt. Ultimately, there is a lack of things for Belmont to actually do until the end of the season. His adopted sister Maria (Pixie Davies) and mother  Tera (Nastassja Kinski), are also given good backgrounds, but their arcs feel stuffed into an already overloaded show and cast. The villains fall to the same fate a shame given the quality of the original show’s foes like Dracula and Carmilla. 

The standouts here are Annette (Thuso Mbedu), a magician who escaped slavery and fought in the Haitian Revolution, and Olrox (Zahn McClarnon), an Aztec vampire who has a history with Richter and his own aims regarding the “vampire messiah.” These two maintain the tragic circumstances that surround nearly every “Castlevania” character, but also retain the original series’ complexity and moral dubiousness that kept every character feeling human  whether they were actually human or not.

To say the animation is impressive here would be redundant. Every single season of “Castlevania” has worked to drastically improve its look and sense of motion thanks to the magic-workers at Powerhouse Animation, and they have once again pulled off a wonder here. The action is fluid and exquisitely planned, and a variety of types of physical and magical combat make each fight flashy and interesting all at once. The smaller moments too, such as a character simply enjoying some bread and meat, display the obvious care the animators had for this project and deserve praise for keeping the show engaging even when its script and characters occasionally let it down.

In a streaming landscape that seems increasingly faulty and unsustainable, especially in its attitudes toward animated shows, it’s a minor miracle that “Castlevania: Nocturne” came out at all  let alone as good as it did. While it may not live up to the original series just yet, the foundations laid here combined with the stellar end tease for a second season makes it clear that “Nocturne” may have the ability to meet its predecessor’s quality in the future. Believing that a “Castlevania” show could work at all was already a big ask. It’s much easier to believe this new show can get better in the future.

Summary Though a good follow-up to its predecessor, “Castlevania: Nocturne” still needs some time to find its footing and leave its own mark.
3.5 Stars