Castlevania and the Rise of Religious Fundamentalism

Hello dear readers of The ComicBook Imperative! It has been a great time for anime and video games lovers. Netflix launched the much-awaited series Castlevania. Castlevania is an animated show that is based on the Konami video game franchise with the same name and it revolves around Trevor Belmont who must defend the nation of Wallachia from the evil demons and Dracula himself. Because I do not intend to spoil the fun for all of you that haven’t watched the series yet, my entry will be solely focused on the first episode and the premise that builds the world of Castlevania and it becomes the primary force for the progression of the story.

The story begins at 1455 in Wallachia. The first episode of the series, “Witchbottle”, introduces to the audience a young girl named Lisa who wishes to become a doctor. In order to achieve her deepest desire to help mankind move forward, she seeks and finds Vlad Dracula Tepes in his remote castle. Vlad has advanced scientific and technological knowledge and he becomes amused by Lisa’s straightforward approach and her willingness to risk her life in order to become a doctor. In exchange for his help and guidance, Lisa offers to help Vlad to reconnect with his humanity. Vlad and Lisa’s relationship soon blossoms to something more. 20 years later, Lisa found herself accused of witchcraft and got burned at the stake. Upon her last moments, Lisa cries to Vlad that he should be better than the people that burn her and he should show moral character and help them escape from the mist of ignorance that they live in. Vlad, though, was nowhere near her and never heard her last words. Once he returns to Târgoviște, one of the main cities of Wallachia, and finds out about the fate of his wife, Dracula is devastated and decides to wage a war against every single human being in Wallachia, a war against the Church and the Bishop that ordered his wife to be killed. He emerges from the fires that burned his wife and declares a war that would start a year from that fateful day. Dracula warns the people of Wallachia that they should abandon their land or make peace with their fate if they chose to stay. Another year passes and upon the day of Lisa’s death Dracula keeps his promise and releases hell on earth.

Castlevania is really engaging and a show that urges you to watch more than one episode at a time. The writing is intriguing and both the animation and the music score are excellent. One of the central ideas that I want to discuss in this entry is the idea of religious fundamentalism and how it becomes the driving force of the story. Castlevania is drawing its inspiration from the witch trials and the Medieval Inquisition. The period of witch trials was a time of a widespread panic that derived from the belief that witches were trading their life/soul for power that came from the Devil himself. Many people, mostly women, were wrongly accused of being witches and had to suffer through shameful trials and cruel tortures for non-existent crimes. In this case, of course, it would be an omission not to mention the fact that misogyny played a crucial role during the witch hunts and the trials. The god-fearing man could not be blamed for his dark thoughts and sexual desires, so it must be the object of these desires that invokes these feelings against the will of the virtuous and innocent man. Witches entrapped the virtuous men with the help of spells and charms and potions with the guidance of demons and the Devil, so they should be burned for their crimes. It is interesting to note that these feelings echo even in our society. The idea of victim-blaming and rape-culture [women being accused of being dressed provocatively or being intoxicated as the reason for them being attacked] is somehow prevalent and swifts the focus (and the blame) from the person that commits the crime to the victim.

Going back to the premise of Castlevania though, it is not sexual frustration that is the cause of  the witch hunts, but ignorance and religious fundamentalism. The dawn of a civilisation based on freedom and scientific knowledge was deemed as the work of the Devil. The Bishop who orders Lisa’s death to some extent knows that she is not a witch and what he found in her house was nothing more than scientific equipment. And yet, he is more than happy to commit this crime in order to instill fear, control his subjects, get more power. He is creating  the problem (or at least he is helping it become even bigger) in order to then stand in front of the crowd and declare that only he alone can fix it. While he is standing and watching Lisa burning, he discusses how the Archbishop was not going to live for much longer and the way he is going about it showcases his desire to usurp his place and hold even more of the power of the Church. While the Mayor suggests that all clerics should be comfortable with the idea of death and joining God’s heavenly kingdom, the Bishop admits that he is more interested in shaping Wallachia as God’s country if only he had the chance to burn down everyone who he thinks poses a threat to his vision or considers evil (which are equivalent in his perspective). The Bishop is using religion and faith in order to gain power, influence and control over the people of Wallachia the same way religious fundamentalists do. Religious fundamentalists demand absolute faith, they reject modern theories that stray from the literal interpretation of scripts, ideologies etc and proclaim the need to return to a long lost blissful state of being that people lost due to their wickedness or some other reason they pose as the original sin. Fundamentalists often reject scientific and technological process as they view the findings as threats to their absolute belief system. Science is deemed unholy and the people that practice it have to be stopped. 

Castlevania would be just another show that is inspired by gothic literature and the witch trials if only we lived in a world where fundamentalism was not creeping back in our lives. The world seems to be regressing back to certain ideas as a result of the efforts for a more open, inclusive, liberal and just world. One could argue that these periods are almost subsequent of times of great change or turmoil and yet we have to stay vigilant against the new wave of irrationalism, rejection of factual reality and scientific findings. The world of Castlevania may be a purely fictional one, but the danger of religious fundamentalism is a real one, one that is not necessarily that far off reality (as is exceptionally shown in another show this year, the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale).

What do you think about Castlevania?
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The ComicBook Imperative Guy 


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