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The Blood You Can’t Wash Off: Colonialism in 'Castlevania: Nocturne'

Vampires are one of the few mythical creatures that have remained a timeless staple of American arts and culture for decades. Whether it be angst-filled teen dramas such as Twilight (2008) or The Vampire Diaries (2009), or comedies like Hotel Transylvania (2012) or Renfield (2023), vampires have cemented themselves as a classic figure in film and television. Notably, vampires are consistently portrayed in American media as having ties to racism, white supremacy, and colonialism. Jasper Cullen in Twilight is a former Confederate soldier, and prior to his vampiric transformation, Louis de Pointe du Lac in Interview with a Vampire (1994) was a wealthy plantation owner. Rarely do these characteristics ever relate to the plot or character development; they are simply sprinkled in with little to no explanation.


The latest piece of vampire media to join the ranks is Castlevania: Nocturne (2023), a spin-off series of the popular animated series Castlevania (2017). Castlevania: Nocturne is set during the French Revolution, 300 years after its prequel Castlevania, following Richter Belmont, the last of the Belmont clan of vampire hunters. Alongside his adoptive sister Maria Renard and the sorceress Annette, he aims to stop the rise of Erzebet Bathory—otherwise known as the Vampire Messiah—as she plans for world domination. Unlike its predecessors, Castlevania: Nocturne thoughtfully explores the influence of colonialism and power through the expansion of vampirism into the New World, the influence of the church in politics, and the vampires’ role in upholding harmful power structures.


In Castlevania, we get glimpses of vampires from other countries in Dracula’s court, and the majority of said vampires come from the Old World, particularly various parts of Europe. This isn’t necessarily surprising, considering Castlevania starts in the year 1455, long before Christopher Columbus even stepped foot in the Caribbean. However, Castlevania: Nocturne shines new light on the issue with the introduction of Olrox, an Aztec vampire. At the beginning of Nocturne, which takes place in 1783, Olrox is in what is most likely Stockbridge, Massachusetts, hunting down Julia Belmont, Richter’s mother, for the death of his unnamed Mohican lover. At this time, Olrox is about 250 years old, which would either put his birth or his turning into a vampire at around the year of 1530, nine years after the fall of the Aztec civilization at the hands of Hernán Cortes on August 13, 1521. Judging by the lack of vampires in the New World up until now and the growing colonization in the Americas, we can assume that Olrox, and likely many other indigenous people, were turned by European vampires that came to take advantage of the colonization of the Americas.


Regardless, as seen by Olrox’s dialogue later on throughout the show, he very clearly remembers experiencing the effects of colonization firsthand, and it influences his decisions in the show. Drolta Tzuentes, Erzsebet’s right-hand woman, tries to convince Olrox to join their cause, and says “Let’s make a new world, Olrox.” He responds by saying, “You see, that’s another one I’ve heard before.” He is cautious when approaching Drolta and Erzsebet and remains skeptical of their plans because he’s experienced the aftermath himself, and knows it’s not going to end well for the world.

Photo Credit: Netflix

Another method that Nocturne uses to portray the influence of colonialism is the way that vampires uphold and reinforce the harmful power structures already present in humanity. For example, the vampires make up the majority of the French aristocracy in Nocturne. In this way, the pre-existing power imbalance between the rich and poor during the French Revolution is now further skewed in favor of the wealthy. It is already difficult to start any revolution, but imagine starting a revolution when the oppressors are immortal creatures with supernatural abilities and their own army of monsters, the odds are nearly impossible. Furthermore, we directly witness the vampires upholding harmful institutions such as slavery. As we learn from Annette, a formerly enslaved sorceress, Vaublanc, a vampire aristocrat devoted to Erzsebet, owns a plantation in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) and is regularly cruel to the enslaved people held there. Annette herself witnessed her mother being killed by Vaublanc, almost branded at the age of 16, chased by him and his dogs, and referred to as his “property.” Vaublanc, along with many other vampires, show no remorse in upholding these institutions because they share the same values as human white supremacists.


Lastly, a major theme of Nocturne is the influence of the church and religion in colonization and other harmful power structures in the show. One of the more obvious examples of this is Emmanuel, also known as The Abbot. Emmanuel is a clergyman of the Order of Saint John who becomes a rookie Forgemaster in service to Drolta and Erzsebet. Emmanuel creates night creatures, monsters made of dead humans, in service to the vampires, who in return use their forces to crush the French Revolution and the growing wave of atheism that follows it. Emmanuel, a supposed man of God, would rather ally himself with vampires who despise humans than give up his power and influence in France’s aristocracy. Another, albeit more subtle, example of the church’s power in colonialism is the image that Erzsebet creates to garner support and adoration from the vampires—that of the Vampire Messiah. Erzsebet is seemingly imbued with the powers of Sekhmet, the Egyptian goddess of war. Using these otherworldly powers, she gives the vampires “eternal night” by causing an eclipse, guaranteeing their support. She sells the image that she’s a “messiah,” having come to save vampire-kind and guarantees their protection, even though she is only after power and is willing to kill off humanity to attain it.


Castlevania: Nocturne does what other films and television shows cannot: It uses vampirism as a method of portraying the corruptive influences of colonialism and power from multiple perspectives. We see this from characters such as Olrox and Annette, who face unspeakable cruelty at the hands of vampires making their way to the New World in the age of colonization. We also see this from Erzsebet Bathory and the Abbot, who use religion as a form of manipulation to put and keep themselves in positions of power. These moments are not there just for the sake of being there; they aid in portraying the characters’ development and the expansion of the vampire world from what we see in Castlevania.

 

Shania is a freshman in the College studying English.

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