This post will contain spoilers for Castlevania: Order of the Ecclesia; read at your own risk.
While I was playing OotE, I was wondering about the implications of Shanoa’s sex and her relationship with Albus, who admits feeling like a big brother to her. I’m sure my interest in such serves as a surprise to the readers of this blog.
It takes no stretch of the imagination to see a female protagonist who uses magic, and in fact that’s her only weapon. We’ve already seen her like in Charlotte and the sisters Lecarde in Portrait of Ruin and Maria Renard (who is actually playable in an alternate mode of PoR). This is fairly common in videogames in general. In this capacity, Shanoa is no different nor particularly remarkable.
Of interest is how she gains this magic, which may be the most sexy sprite I’ve seen in some time. She obtains her powers through glyphs, which she absorbs through a magic symbol inscribed on her own back. This means whenever she wants to gain new magic she lifts her hair, turns her back to the screen to put on display a very revealing dress, and invokes her own powers. I was fanning myself — it’s quite racy for a woman of the mid-19th century.
This is in contrast, and in fact complements in many fashions, her emotional unavailability. She is part of the Order of the Ecclesia, seeking to keep fighting Dracula in the absence of the Belmont clan and presumably lacking knowledge of Alucard. They were going to use the Dominus glyph to counter Dracula’s next return, but Albus stole it before it could be used, leaving Shanoa emotionless and with amnesia.
Over the course of the game, one finds out that Albus was in fact protecting Shanoa, as the Dominus glyph was actually constructed by Barlowe, the order’s leader, in order to resurrect Dracula. When Shanoa finally kills Albus, she absorbs the last Dominus glyph and with it Albus’s consciousness. This is when he admits a familial devotion to her.
Which is where things start to make me raise an eyebrow. Albus entreats her not to use the Dominus glyph, as it will kill her. However, in her last encounter with Dracula, she has no other choice and chooses to sacrifice her life in order to stop Dracula. But wait! Albus decides to sacrifice himself instead, what with being just a disembodied consciousness now.
Pragmatically, it makes sense. Barring Albus finding a replacement body, Shanoa is the most capable of continuing her work in the world. The matter becomes complicated when he has one last request for her:
Shanoa: …You’re taking my place!? Albus, no! You’ve already done so much, and I haven’t repaid you!
Albus: No arguments, Shanoa. This is my role.
Shanoa: No, I…!
Albus: If you want to repay me, then you can grant one final wish.
Albus: Smile for me. That will be enough.
Albus: Please… before I fade away…
Albus: Beautiful. I… I can finally…
By itself this would be a cause for celebration. She is once again a whole person. Leave it to me to remain skeptical.
As I stated, she’s already been fairly sexualized. This in turn relegates her once again to a status of being fully feminine, emotions and all. It should be of note that during the mid-19th century women (ones of status, read: wealth, I should note) were quite commonly diagnosed with hysteria, a throwback to the Ancient Greek belief that the female uterus was capable of evil to mankind, including an overabundance of emotions in women. While it would reclaim massive popularity when Freud would start theorizing, there exists a whole body of artwork that even shows women in these states of ennui, listlessness, and hysteria. Emotionally, women were not considered the sex capable of emotional expression except in the most obscene sense.
In this context, Shanoa has to be taught by a male how to properly express her emotions again. Except for a brief scene with Albus at the very start of the game, we don’t know anything of Shanoa from her previous life, what with amnesia being visited upon her. Albus is the one who has remained pragmatic and always had logic and reasoning one step ahead of Shanoa, who would have (and it is possible to receive this ‘bad ending’) retrieved Dominus and unwittingly resurrected Dracula.
Don’t leave a woman to do what a man has to do, and if you do, make sure he’s riding along in her subconscious capable of instructing her on how to be and protect herself from her own decisions. This includes her brief breakdown when she no longer knows what to do, having retrieved Dominus and not sure what further purpose she could have. You as the player, regardless of your sex, are controlling a woman; both of your agencies are directed by the male figures in the game–the choice between the good male who was evil or the evil man who was good (more on this tomorrow).
Shanoa seems a self assured woman capable of standing up stalwart in the face of adversity unflinching, but it is prefaced by her being pulled along in the story by one male figure or another. Then again, this is the 1800s, and I’ve been contemplating more and more the role of historical fiction and gender in videogames. What can we expect?
However, while Shanoa is the protagonist and the party required to be capable to progress the story, the plot shows her as inept and foolish, falling into the common female stereotype of the times in which the game takes place. It takes an abnormality in emotions and guiding ‘big brother’ for her to win the day in the name of humanity. While this may have been the expected role of women, she is hardly in the same position as other women of the time.
Tomorrow I wish to take a closer look at Albus.