Nocturne’ Review — Spin-off Offers a Promising Start

When Netflix first released Castlevania, it brought to life a beloved video game franchise with stunning animation and a star-studded voice cast. It was a slick series that capitalized on the fantastical nature of the game without sacrificing any of the grimdark themes due to the medium. After a successful four-season run, it only made sense for Netflix to build on the success and continue with Castlevania: Nocturne. This time, the spin-off adapts the most well-known entries of the franchise: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Created by Clive Bradley (completely separating the sequel from the problematic Warren Ellis, who created the original) and produced by Kevin Kolde, Castlevania: Nocturne has all the hallmarks of the first series: the same animation style, the same deft storytelling, and the same ruthlessness when it comes to the action. Set about 300 years after Trevor and Sypha’s story, we follow Richter Belmont (Edward Bluemel) as our brooding protagonist, who is vampire-hunting during the height of the French Revolution. At his side is the mother-daughter duo of Tera (Nastassja Kinski) and Maria (Pixie Davis), both powerful magic users and French revolutionaries. Along the way, they meet a sorceress named Annette (Thuso Mbedu) and her friend Edouard (Sydney James Harcourt), an opera singer.

‘Castlevania: Nocturne’ Reimagines Its Characters For the Better

Annette in Castlevania: Nocturne
Image via Netflix

Nocturne is working with more recognizable franchise faces like Richter, Annette, and Olrox (Zahn McClarnon), but the series isn’t afraid to rework some of the characters. It’s not easy for Richter to fill the shoes of Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage), who was a bit more roguish and charmingly sardonic. While Bluemel does a good job with the new character, it’s hard to match up to Armitage’s tone and timbre.

The real star of Nocturne, however, is actually Annette, and Mbedu does a fantastic job embodying the character’s range of emotions while the series gives Annette a total reimagining. In the games, Annette is very much the pale, pretty girlfriend of Richter, often put in the position of a damsel in distress; in Nocturne, she is an ex-slave from the Caribbean who has come to France on a mission. Her power stems from her ancestral line, and although everyone seems to be able to use magic in this series, hers is particularly special and powerful.

Annette has the most interesting development as the show follows her escape from her vampire masters, her friendship with Edouard, and the eventual tragedy that strikes when the two of them arrive in France. Similarly, Edouard’s journey adds complexity and layers to a character who was initially little more than a sidekick at best. His relationship with Annette and his character arc is one of the most compelling and offers something new to the mythology of the series.

Meanwhile, the villainous Olrox is given an origin story; making him Indigenous is a stroke of genius, and McClarnon proves his chops as a voice actor for the role. There is an undeniable menace to Olrox, a powerful vampire magician who is Richter’s sworn enemy, but as his story slowly unravels, he becomes far more than just another bad guy for our heroes to kill.

RELATED: When Can You Watch ‘Castlevania: Nocturne’ on Netflix?

‘Castlevania: Nocturne’ Needs to Put More Focus on the Vampires

Olrox and Richter in Castlevania: Nocturne
Image via Netflix

After watching the series and revisiting Castlevania, what’s missing in Nocturne is the vampires themselves. The original series gave us vampire queens and vampire Vikings, not to mention Alucard and Dracula. They were multi-faceted characters who didn’t shy away from the menace that comes with being a bloodsucker. However, Nocturne largely plays the vampires as one-note. Even Olrox sometimes leans into the mustache-twirling villain trope a bit too much.

The most interesting villain is also the one that we see the least of. The vampire messiah, a figure that the vampires tout as their savior, is mentioned throughout the season, but Erzebet Báthory (Franka Potente) only really makes her appearance toward the end of the series. Anyone who knows the story of the real-life Erzebet, better known to English speakers as Elizabeth Bathory, will know she’s a fantastic substitute for Dracula’s absence in this series. A serial killer noblewoman who became a figure of myth, Bathory is mythologized to have bathed in the blood of virgins and was a potential inspiration for Bram Stoker‘s infamous Dracula — and when we meet her, she’s every bit as terrifying and enigmatic as you might expect. If only we actually had more of her in the show.

‘Castlevania: Nocturne’ Is Setting up a Bigger Story

Richter in Castlevania: Nocturne
Image via Netflix

Nocturne emulates Castlevania‘s first season in that it largely seems to be setting up a bigger and more consequential second season. It ends on a huge reveal that gives hope for the future of the series, but leading up to it, there’s definitely something lacking.

The most interesting parts of the show come toward the back half of the season, when characters like Erzebet are introduced or long-lost family members make an appearance — but leading up to that, the team is rather aimless at times. Tera and Maria feel like obligatory characters included in canon, with nothing to do until the final act of the season when their story becomes better folded into the main conflict. Similarly, Richter becomes far more interesting when he’s given more to actually do.

Despite its drawbacks, and there are definitely more than expected, Castlevania: Nocturne is still enjoyable and an exciting addition to the franchise. Powerhouse Animation Studios simply can’t be matched when it comes to their signature style for the series. The action sequences are mesmerizing to watch and exemplify the best part of the medium. Something like this simply couldn’t be made in live-action, and that’s what makes it so good. Season 1 of Nocturne is largely setting the stage for more, but in spite of that, it’s still giving just about everything we love about the franchise.

Rating: C

The Big Picture

  • Castlevania: Nocturne continues the success of the original series with familiar animation, storytelling, and intense action.
  • The reimagined characters, particularly Annette and Edouard, add depth and complexity to the story, while the Indigenous origins of Olrox make him a compelling villain.
  • However, the spin-off lacks the presence of vampires that made the original series memorable, and the season feels like a setup for a potentially more consequential second installment.

Castlevania: Nocturne premieres September 28 on Netflix.

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