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CASTLEVANIA: NOCTURNE is the latest installment of Netflix’s Castlevania series, originally written and produced by Warren Ellis. The original series, starring Trevor Belmont (voiced by Richard Armitage) and Sypha Belnades (Alejandra Reynos), was a loose adaptation of CASTLEVANIA III with Dracula as the main antagonist for the first two seasons. It last four seasons and was generally very well received by both fans of the game as well as newcomers. Making a new series with a new cast seemed a reasonable assumption given the video games’ continuing storyline as well as Warren Ellis being terminated from the project for reasons that you can research on your own.

Fans of CASTLEVANIA: RONDO OF BLOOD will note that this story has very little in common with the video game version of the story. For whatever reason, they chose not to bring back Dracula for this installment of Castlevania and that is going to rub a lot of fans the wrong way. I feel like this was a mistake and hope Dracula will make a latter appearance in the story because for a lot of us, well, Dracula is Castlevania. Still, as an original story, Nocturne has a lot going for it.

The premise is that it is the French Revolution. Vampires have been spreading through the noble houses of Europe and have taken their place among the aristocracy before the people lashed out against them. Maria Renard (Pixie Davis) and Richter Belmont (Edward Bluemel) are young vampire hunters loosely aligned with the Revolution. They believe the vampires are plotting something big, though, and turn to a local Abbot (Richard Dormer) as well as the Knights Hospitaller to get their aid against the undead. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Church would rather side with the powers of darkness than the atheist revolutionaries.

There’s a lot more going on in the story despite this already solid premise. An escaped Haitian slave, Annette (Thusa Mbedu), and opera singer named Edouard have their own reasons to hunt vampires in France. The vampires are a peculiar mix of the deluded self-styled goddess Ersebet Bathory (Franka Potente), the succubus Drolta (Elarica Johnson), and the Aztec vampire Orlox (Zahn McClamon). Orlox has a peculiar relationship with Richter Belmont, having killed his mother Julia but being a man who has far more sympathetic qualities than the other undead.

A lot happens in the first eight episodes, and I would say this is close to the same level of quality as the first two seasons. There’s a lot of complicated character development, use of period politics, and good action scenes. The animation is excellent, and the character designs are extremely well done. I particularly like both Julia Belmont and Tera Renard as they’re adult women in a genre typically defined by teenage heroes. The lack of the original cast is somewhat disappointing but its centuries later so what are you going to do?

The original series went overly hard on their anti-Catholicism, and this takes it up to the eleven with antagonist being such a monstrous self-deluded hypocrite that it is possible he’ll go down as one of the worst religious characters in fiction. However, this is a time when the slave trade had the implicit approval of the Catholic Church so it’s difficult to say any of it is unfair. There’s much anti-colonialist sentiment throughout the series but it’s woven into the story seamlessly. Still, this is a story that will make people with a romanticized view of history uncomfortable and that’s good.

There are some flaws to the story. Maria and Richter being teenagers mean they’re axiomatically more annoying than the adult protagonists of the original series. Yes, this is a theme in my reviews. Seriously, though, they do sometimes seem like their voice hasn’t cracked. A lot of the season is also set up for the next season as well. The so-called Vampire Messiah also seems to be one-dimensional, which is fine since not every baddie has to be. There’s plenty of other three-dimensional characters in the series.

Overall, I recommend the anime and suggest people check it out if you like R-rated horror animation or the previous series.

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