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On the Use of Religious Tropes

Father Abel with a steampunk-esque bible. The illustrator of Trinity Blood has a real technology fetish. The more ornate the better.

Besides those amazing AX priests and nuns, another reason I get such a kick out of Trinity Blood is its obsession with religious references. It’s pretty much inescapable. Among them are:

  • The vampires are not called “vampires.” They are the Methuselah (I suppose this makes sense because they are the long living ones).
  • The crusniks are Cain, Abel, Seth and Lilith.
  • Cain and Abel are the leaders of two opposed factions.
  • Because Abel works for the Vatican and seeks peace, he is the brother “more pleasing to God.”
  • The Vatican is the primary representative of the human race.
  • The Vatican’s greatest warship is called The Iron Maiden.
  • Sister Esther Blanchett is the lost heir to the throne of Albion, a nation that exists independently from both the Vatican and the Empire. Esther has a remarkable star-shaped birth mark and it is she who is able to broker the peace between the Vatican and the Empire, thus saving the human race. This fulfills some sort of prophecy about the Star of Hope that would bring peace to the world (despite the fact that Esther’s name means “star” and she has the star birthmark, it takes 24 episodes for anyone to put that all together). Esther eventually becomes the Queen of Albion and releases all the vampires who were enslaved in a vast underground city, making advanced technology for the Kingdom of Albion. Thus Esther, the Star of Hope, is the savior of both the humans and the vampires.
  • Cain appears as an angel of light, deceptively beautiful.
  • The vampire terrorist faction is called the Rosenkreuz Orden. It has this “secret society” feel to it that seems to be so popular with the whole Da Vinci Code crowd. It sounds a whole lot like Rosicrucian too.
  • Cain is the leader of the Rosenkreuz and his minions call him “Contra Mundi.”
  • The Inquisition is alive and kicking.
  • Abel is killed by Cain
  • Abel is resurrected to save everyone from Cain.

There are more little details here and there but these are the highlights.

I find it beyond interesting that the Vatican works as the both the political center of the human world as well as the headquarters of AX. I wonder if part of it is an aesthetic choice? Everyone, and I mean everyone, is dressed in these lavish and complicated gowns and regalia. You can get a sense of that from the pictures. (The images here, by the way, are by Thores Shibamoto. Shibamoto illustrates the Trinity Blood novels but not the manga or anime.) And they certainly seem gothic because of how sensual and lush they are. But it seems that one wouldn’t necessarily need the Vatican in order to have gothic costumes and weapons. The Empire has there own fancy formal dress, after all.

I suppose it could do with ritual. There are masses and vespers and religious services galor. The Pope, who is a timid 14-year old boy and son of the previous Pope (I have no idea how that works…), prays for and blesses people too. And the source of all that gothic angst comes from the need to atone for some unforgivable sin.

But AX doesn’t seem to be particularly religious or to espouse any particular faith, despite the prominence of crucifixes and so forth. Father Abel, when asked why he defends the Methuselah, will usually say “because we are all God’s children,” but that’s not exactly a theological commitment. The knights of the Inquisition, in contrast, are quite bombastic and are always declaring that they are the right hand of God, a tool of His wrath, etc. But they seem strangely honorable and sincere in their thick-headedness. In one episode, for example, Brother Petro, the head of the Department of the Inquisition, realizes that in order to be faithful to his duty to protect the Pope, he must protect a vampire Imperial messenger despite his sworn duty to kill all vampires (the Inquisition both punishes heretics and kills vampires these days. To be a vampire is a kind of embodied heresy). Faced with this conflict, Brother Petro decides that since the Pope is God’s representative, if he doesn’t stay loyal to the Pope and thus protect the vampire, he would not be a true followed of God.

If anything, AX is loyal to Cardinal Caterina, the head of Ministry of Holy Affairs and sister to both the Pope and to Cardinal Francesco di Medici, the head of the Inquisition, and to peace as a kind of general and humanistic concept (We want peace! Ok, but what does that mean? The suppression of fighting or a revolution of the system that produces the fighting? Unclear). The novel series, which came first, is said to be much more explicit about faith and religion so the anime may appear as it does because its creators wanted to strip out the religious content and leave the iconographic religious trappings in place. And I do think that part of the appeal of the Vatican and AX is simply popular interest in religious secret societies and such. Those are probably the most likely explanations but I’m still not entirely sure why we have the Vatican versus the Methuselah or why the main conflict revolves around Cain and Abel. Unless, of course, it is because religion and the Vatican are meant to function tropologically as opposed to literally.

 Father Abel with his crazy scythe. Esther looks particularly Elizabethan in this picture, I think.

Father Abel with his crazy scythe. Esther looks particularly Elizabethan in this picture, I think.

As metaphor, situating Trinity Blood in a catholic world is a pretty efficient way to set up the metaphysical and, ultimately, political stakes at play. As Cardinal Caterina secretly tries to broker peace with the Empire, something that could get her arrested for heresy, and her AX agents work to track down the elusive Rosenkreuz Orden and the Contra Mundi, it’s easy to read the story as cosmological battle as much as anything else. The Methuselah are all about explicit demonstration of power. They see themselves as the “one true race” because they are stronger than the humans. Simple as that. Also, the Empress of the Methuselah, their Great Mother, the Creator herself, is still around. She has never left the throne. Therefore, because of their superior strength and superior technology, and because their leader is not a representative of a greater power but is in and of herself that power, we might say that the Methuselah are materialists or empiricists, interested in the physicality of things. They are not interested in the transcendent. Moreover, their greater strength makes the matter of whether or not humans are the natural prey of the Methuselah a simple matter: yes. Of course the Methuselah should consume humans. They are the stronger. They are the Ubermensch pure and simple.

The humans, in contrast, are headed by the Pope but not only is he a puppet for his brother and sister, he is already considered a representative of a greater power anyways. He has no power in and of himself. The “true power” behind the Vatican is either the ultra secret AX with Abel, neither human nor Methuselah, as their ace in the hole, or it is ultimately something that cannot be located or pinned down. References to this power, things like Brother Petro’s claim that he is the instrument of God’s wrath, are used to justify the Vatican’s actions or use of force. They may appear weaker than the Methuselah but that is only because they are mere representations of the greater power that is behind them. So the Vatican and the Methuselah are each other’s opposite in that one is about that which one can’t see and the other is about physical things (Nietzsche would have a field day with this one). It’s no wonder then that these two empires are a war — they represent entirely different ways of understanding being and reality. And that’s why we need a third kingdom, Albion, to settle this mess.

Of course, as we all know, things can never be quite this simple. The Vatican is ultimately just as ontological as the Methuselah and that even the beloved Empress of the Methuselah, the Great Mother, cannot be directly apprehended. Indeed, the Empress only ever appears and speaks to the Methuselah from behind a veil. This veil conceals the fact that the Empress is none other than Seth, Cain and Abel’s little sister and the third crusnik. And the Pope eventually learns that even though his manipulative brother might use the fact that he is a mere representative in order to control him, he ultimately is responsible for the ethical possibilities of his own choices and he can use Cardinal Francesco’s logic against him in order to promote his own agenda. Two can play the “I’m only following God’s will” game.

Or, maybe it’s just a cool vampire anime.