Sex and the Castlevania series
So you may have all heard by now that the new seasons of Castlevania will have more gore and sex involved in the series. And for me at least this is a bit of a surprise. Not because Castlevania has not had sex as part of its storyline, (how else are the Belmonts going to be born), nor that nudity would be shown (see the Succubus for example) but in how it’s going to be used.
As a player of the games, one thing has always stood out to me about the Castlevania series and the idea of fan service and sexuality and sex itself, it’s never used as a means of just titillation. There’s always a meaning behind it. And the reviews have me wondering if this is going to still be the case with the show, or is it going to be used as an “Oooh look how edgy we’re being this season.” because that’s not what sex in Castlevania is about.
Sex, or the idea of intimacy between two romantic partners, has always been at the heart of the backstory of the Castlevania series. From the outset there’s has always been a sense of family and love and devotion in Castlevania. Even with the Arcade edition of Haunted Castle in 1988, the addition to the story of Simon was that he was newly married to his bride Selena, who was taken by Dracula. Years later Selena and the Mysterious Woman in Simon’s Quest II were mixed to create Linda Entwhistle who was Simon’s girlfriend in the book series based on the games.
Years later during the more story-driven games that came out, sexuality and intimacy became part of the game in how it was presented. Namely the use of sex as a way to pull the innocents to the darkness ala the Vampire Brides in the original Dracula, and the loss of innocence (as with Lucy in the novel) and the idea of devotional love that conquers that darkness and temptation.
In this sense, we’re seeing the use of the deadly sin of Lust acting as a temptation to the heroes as a means of making them be killed for their wanton desires. Yet love and intimacy also plays a huge part in fixing issues in the story and leading to tragic and happy endings.
So with that in mind, I want to do a quick walkthrough of the way sex and love is used in these games and discuss why the idea of sex and violence shouldn’t be on the table with Castlevania as a metaphor as much.
Let’s start with the timeline, rather than the game order because it makes more sense that way.
The story of the Belmont Clan and Dracula are intertwined for all time, this is just a fact of the matter and not just some random accident. And Love plays a huge part in this story as the cannon story stands right now. Prior to this, Castlevania was a fun romp through the idea of beating up Old Universal Monster Movie characters (every one of the main bosses in the first game was tied to some form of Universal Horror Monster and it even has some Hammer Horror connections as well). But with the growth of the franchise, it was clear that a story needed to be told, so over the years, that story had evolved until in the early 2000s we got the very first story in the Belmont vs Dracula timeline in the form of Lament of Innocence.
Now Lament isn’t just a story about the loss for Leon and his world view that there is nothing lurking in the dark. It’s the loss of friendship and of love, but also it’s the reinstatement of belief of the good of people and that there are those that can and will stand up to the darkness and that even as one loses everything, you don’t have to lose your soul in the processes.
But let me start from the beginning in this case. Leon Belmont was a knight templar in the crusade. He was best friends with and cared deeply about his fellow Crusader Mathias Cronqvist. Now Mathias was a man of science and of learning and of a lot of things, he wasn’t a fighter the same way Leon was, so he was more into spells and magics, something that his family kept mostly from the Church at the time.
Both Mathias and Leon were in love and devoted to the women that they felt deeply for, that being Leon’s fiance Sara Trantoul, and Mathias’s wife Elisabetha. Leon’s devotion to Sara was known by everyone, especially Mathias and this is very important since it’s Leon’s Love of Sara that drives him to abandon his cause with the Crusades and pretty much take up Vampire Killing for the rest of his life, training his children and their descendants, on how to defeat the man that took that love from him.
Mathias, on the other hand, was emotionally devoted to Elisabetha, and, given the way he speaks of her, it’s clear that the devotion and love was returned. So much so that his love for her basically poisoned his mind and made him into the monster that would later come to regret his actions. As it was, Elisabetha died due to illness and Mathias abandoned the Crusades, became ill, and holed up in his home unable to be reached by any of his friends, Leon and Sara. It’s only when he learned that Sara was in danger from Walter Bernhard that he was able to get out of bed and warn his friend Leon of the danger, but, by then, it was too late and Sara was captured and taken to Walter’s castle.
Now one of the huge parts of the story of Lament is is that it deals with devotion, honor, and the choices we make based on love. So while Leon is trying to save Sara he meets up with an alchemist, Rinaldo, who had lost his daughter Justine to Walter and was unable to save her.
Leon renounces everything; his baron title, his home, his lands just so he can cast off his duty to go and save Sara. His love for her runs that deep that he’s willing to go into the Castle of Walter with just a sword and prayer and god save anyone that gets in his way. Rinaldo is far more of a pragmatic person and in this way juxtaposes Leon’s love of Sara. Whereas Leon is far more optimistic about his chances against Walter, Rinaldo knows the bitter truth, that Sara has no hope of making it out of the castle and not becoming a vampire in the process.
This becomes an important part of Leon’s story as he traverses the castle to try to locate Sara and comes across a number of characters that play a part in the story and the idea of love. Medusa, though not a sexualized being in this one, mentions that the whip he’s using is far more powerful than that of the version that Rinaldo used to save his daughter.
Now, why is that? One could speculate that Rinaldo lacked the will to save his child, or that he knew the truth and couldn’t bear to have to take his daughter’s life. His feelings, however, whatever they lacked, caused the Whip to fail in what it needed to do, and thus he was forced to kill his own daughter. Leon on the other side of things has nothing but the will and drive to save Sara, and his love for her and desire to bring her home urges him on. This love, this need to help her, is what makes that whip work. That need for protecting something, it’s why Trevor needed to find Sypha and Alucard to eventually come to a reason why the Vampire Killer came to him.
Joachim is an interesting one in regard to love in this game and how it is presented. Walter seduced the young man with the idea of immortality and when Joachim gained his Vampire state he realized that Walter was above him and rebelled. This lead to Walter putting him in captivity and driving him mad, for his own amusement. But how is this love? It’s a very dangerous and bad form of it, as Joachim both loathes Walter but also seems obsessed with him. He hates him with all he is, and at the same time wants to overpower and control him. This same sort of hate and love is what drives Mathias as well in his story.
Then there’s the Succubus, the one character that really hammers in the idea of desire/Sex and love in this game and the differences between them. So the Succubus in Lament is an actual boss, vs. just being an enemy. She has no name, but her role is critical in understanding what’s going on in Walter’s castle. This succubus had previously disguised herself as Justine for Rinaldo, allowing him to lower his guard and possibly may have harmed him in the process. His rejection of this form of his daughter may have to lead him to make some critical mistakes. Mistakes that Leon doesn’t seem to make. Namely, after a bit, he sees through the Succubus using Sara’s form to trick him.
Leon recognizes that the woman isn’t Sara based on her actions and way of moving, showing that though his connection with Sara he can’t be tricked and lured in by kind words from a monster. This is the opposite of what happened to Mathias.
As I said there’s a tragedy to the love and sex in this game and the use of it. Walter luring Justine away with his beauty and her desire for him lead to her downfall, which leads us into Mathias. (We will circle back to Leon, I promise.) For Mathias Elisabetha was his whole world and when she died while he was away it leads him to reject all of his desires for hope and love and feelings. He lost his way and decided to renounce God and live as an immortal as revenge for God taking away his beloved wife. In order to get what he needed, he made a deal with Death, and the two decided to use Sara as bait for Walter and Leon was to be his sword. Mathias’s own devotion to Leon, and some of his humanity as well, shows up later in the story where he sympathizes and connects with Leon in regard to his own loss. Showing that they’re the same and that Leon should join him, which Leon rejects.
This moment in the game is interesting because by this point in the story Leon has learned about how to defeat Walter and that Sara was bitten. In a lot of Vampire lore, biting is used as a way to indicate, in some cases, a sexual desire or a need that is fulfilled in a more intimate way. After all the neck is a body part that is known for being very much something that can be used for erotic aspects of lovemaking or showing desire. Which brings us back to the fact that Sara didn’t want to be turned. This wasn’t a choice on her part, unlike Joachim, and it leads to her rejecting the idea of wanting to remain a vampire. She desires death over having to be a monster and leads to Leon, at first vehemently rejecting Rinaldo’s order to kill her, and then accepting Sara’s desires to become one with the whip.
It’s an important moment because it shows that Leon is willing to ignore his own desires for that of Sara’s, again showing his selflessness in putting what she wants ahead of his own, showing his love and devotion in a more adult and complex way. Sara’s own love is what fuels that whip and her need to protect Leon are the quintessential factors of Love (Leon) to the opposing one of Lust (Walter) and in this case.
Trevor and Sypha come next in regard to the issue of love and sex and while the show is clearly going to be showing more of their romantic escapades, it should be noted that the game doesn’t really make much mention of it at first, as Sypha in the game has a bit of a love triangle going on with Grant and Trevor as the main choices, although it seems like she only had eyes for Trevor. We know the two eventually had children but Sex, or lust, in the game never was a thing. Their devotion to each other in the show is telling, and in other games, both do pair up frequently, even in Judgement there’s an underlying tension between them.
It’s of interest that in the show, we get to see the two of them acting as a couple, much like how Lisa and Dracula were shown acting like a couple. But actual sexual acts are, as with Lisa and Dracula, put on the side and in the case of Trevor and Sypha it’s only hinted at and not a full on display. Which falls into the same idea that most Castlevania games seem to have, the hero’s love interest typically is not shown engaging in sexual activity, or rather, only after bad things happen.
I’ll jump to Richter and Annette, because that seems to be the next one in regard to how sexuality is used heavily in Castlevania. So in Rondo of blood, Dracula has Shaft take Annette since she is engaged to Richter Belmont. In a scene with him during the game, Annette threatens to take her own life rather than have relations with Dracula who intends to drink her and turn her into his bride. For the original version there’s a dramatic moment where Annette is talking to Dracula and he tries to lure her into becoming immortal to stay with him. She says she will not fall in such a cheap manner, the implications there are more along the lines of sex and him taking her physically from her fiance Richter. In the PSP game, if you take too long or go the wrong route you get the bad end where Annette has been transformed into a vampire and is placed in an overtly sexual outfit, down to a thong and bodice. Her hair goes down rather than the updo she has when she’s not turned and she very certainly is meant to be a temptress and a signal that Richter failed to save her from the deviousness of the vampire.
This idea of sex, or the sexual, being used as a temptation and a devious thing in Castlevania has been around for a long time. However for every moment of some devious succubus being in the way of the hero, there’s always a moment of love that shows the positive side of it’s nature vs. the lustful side. Again, looking at Annette and Richter we get a moment when he frees her of her embracing him and happy that he’s there to be with her. That she knew he would come and that everything will be okay.
Sexuality plays a heavy role in tempting Gabriel Belmont in his game, Lords of Shadow. During the game, as he tries to get to see his dead wife with a specialized mask. During the game he meets the Vampire Carmilla who offers to him a chance to become a vampire and enjoy the idea of a lustful existence. Every inch of her in the game is designed to pretty much be a temptress and lure Gabriel from his path to finding a way to see his dead wife. Yet it’s in this moment that we get to see how deeply his affection for his wife runs as Gabriel rejects this offer even more violently than with other Lords of Shadow that he’s faced. It’s a pretty strong moment for him as a character, and shows a deeper feeling in regard to his connection to his late wife.
The reason I bring all these moments up is because even in the games where there’s hints of the sexual, as Vampires now are associated with Lust and temptation, the show uses sex as a means of connecting it with violence and some pretty dark ideas. Which contradicts the idea of how Love is the most powerful thing to defeat the darkness in Castlevania.
Take Hector’s story right now. In the show we have his sexual encounter with Lenore which is contrasted with Isaac’s battle with Legion. The idea here is to show that both Isaac and Hector are being used, one being brought to his knees via false affection and entrapment by a woman who doesn’t love him and is using him as her own pet, who later slips the ring on him to collar him as she would a dog or cat. While the Isaac, even though he’s doing a good thing in defeating Legion (and i’m still damn sure that woman is Death in a false form) was used to destroy the wizard in the tower, releasing the village. In both cases manipulation was used in order for the opposing party to achieve their goal.
For Lenore it was to get Hector to trust her enough to trap him and use him in her own way and for her own needs. She controls him now, making it impossible for him to escape from them, or so we are told to believe. On the other hand you have Isaac who, while used, acknowledges that he was so, accepts it, but is free to move on as the use of him wasn’t against his will, nor was it something changing him down. Rather the manipulation was used to not only stop something terrible, but also show him that there were others out there that were worth saving. Thus, in the poster, we have Lenore holding onto a bound and trapped Hector, and Isaac not quiet twisted up in thorns.
The use of violence that we see shows that there’s a thin line in this world causing people to become entrapped by their own desires. For Isaac it was his revenge, for Hector it was his need to feel human again. Which brings us to the point where Rosaly comes into play in regard to Hector’s story. In Hector’s game Curse of Darkness, we see how his life drastically changed when he and she connect. From where he was in the story she brought the idea of hope and light to him, vs the darker aspects in the game that hint at someone who was cursed to believe he is a monster. In this way, I hope that if they bring in Rosaly we can see the opposition to Lenore’s way of using him for gratification and chaining him to her.
On the other side of things, and something a bit easier to get at, is the idea of trauma through the use of sex as shown in Alucard’s story. In the show we get to see Trevor and Sypha in bed, but it’s clear what’s happened there and the idea is that it’s less about their sexual encounters with one another than about their growth as a couple and how they interact outside of the bedroom and how they show love for one another. We see also they have a sense of betrayal when dealing with the Judge and the idea of Sypha’s world going from it just being fun and doing the right thing, to realizing the world is not black and white, and that not all people are good.
In Alucard’s case we see the idea of the twins (I’m using the term as it’s easier for me to call them this, it doesn’t mean I’m saying they are twins just that they look alike) as filling a void and clearly being a representation of Trevor and Sypha (They even share the first initial of their names) that Alucard is looking for. Through their interactions we see that Alucard is, like Sypha in the other town, trusting them regardless of how many red flags they raise. The whole issue comes to a head when, after sharing a lot of things with them, Alucard is seduced by the two while trying to sleep. During the scene, as with Hector and Isaac, we see the sex as being connected to the violence of the battle that Sypha, Trevor and Germain get into. The twins end up wrapping Alucard in iron rings, much like Hector is imprisoned by Lenore with the ring, so to is Alucard. We see then that like Hector he’s betrayed and harmed by the emotional aspect of the betrayal. But unlike Hector who feels trapped, Alucard now feels anger at those that hurt him.
The sexual act leads into the idea of him no longer trusting humans, especially with his heart. This of course is being used to drive Alucard to decide to lock himself back to sleep until the time of Richter and Maria (the warrior and the Mage), three hundred years later. The idea here is that the physical act of it is being used to show people being harmed in vulnerable states, and that sex is used as a tool to harm or destroy others just as certain acts of violence can.
Yet, part of the story line of Alucard is that Maria chooses to go after him even after he says he’s cursed. Again, like Hector and Rosaly, showing that love is more of a counter to the anger and hate that seem to embolden those that would do bad in the world of Castlevania. So then, I must ask, why is the sex in the show being used not as it should be, showing how love can change someone, but rather as a connector to the violence. That wasn’t the idea of Castlevania, so I have to wonder what Warren is driving at here.
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