Noblesse, a unique twist on the vampire legend (not to mention werewolves and Frankenstein), is a long-standing favorite manwa on Webtoons.com. It even got an anime OVA, which you can watch on Crunchyroll. (It’s surprisingly good!) In this week’s chapter, Episode 495,* a fascinating conversation takes place between the handsome and congenial First Elder—he can even make a mohawk look sophisticated—and the
gorgeous beautiful Super Saiyan even more handsome Frankenstein.
The First Elder’s good looks and manners belie him, as he’s unquestionably the Bad Guy.** Frankenstein’s more wild appearance and ‘bad boy’ character are in tension with the fact that he’s one of the main Good Guys.*** Sandwiched between attempts to beat the snot out of each other and their companions, the following dialogue ensues:
Frankenstein: Who are you…?
First Elder: I’m the king of the humans. … And you people, interfering with my work and attacking us, are the enemies of us humans.
Frankie: … Your main goal is for your Union to drive out any non-human species and lead the humans to be the center of the world, right? … But you know, you may act like this is for the sake of humans, but humans themselves have caused more harm to humans and killed more humans than anyone else. That’s you guys.
FE: Shut up! Our Union’s vision isn’t so trivial that you can babble about it like that!
Frankie: That’s right. The Union had a different goal at first. But the Union changed. They kept rambling on about doing things for the sake of humans while a few people with power like you just wanted to obtain greater power and longer lifespans. Listen, you self-proclaimed ‘king of the humans’: Don’t blame others while you commit even more terrible crimes because of your own greed. And don’t talk nonsense like that as if you have some noble intention.
Throughout the nearly 500 chapters of Noblesse, the Union has been the primary antagonist. This shadow power has virtually unlimited resources of wealth, production, technology, and political influence among human nations. One of their key projects is the modification of humans (and other creatures) in attempts to transcend the limits of human nature. Transformations, power-ups, hybrids and chimeras, energy blasts, and all the usual anime-esque superpower tropes come into play. Imagine My Hero Academia‘s League of Villains if it had been run for centuries by the Sith from Star Wars, and you’ve basically got the Union.
Ironically—and this is a major spoiler if you’ve not read the series yet—all of the Union’s great advances and breakthroughs are merely crumbs of knowledge left over from the research of… Frankenstein. Yes, like his namesake in Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein sought to push the boundaries of human knowledge and power; but unlike Shelley’s protagonist, Noblesse‘s Frankie experiments on himself. Frankie is a one-man Union until he meets the Noblesse and has a change of heart. Now he lives and fights for the Noblesse and their comrades in a truly selfless, if not always virtuous, way.
One might almost wonder if Frankenstein—or the series’ creators, Jeho Son and Kwangsu Lee—at some point read C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. A short book based on three lectures Lewis gave, The Abolition of Man basically lays out the Union’s perspective, the habits of thought that give rise to it, and the logical consequences. Lewis argues that the ideal of subjecting nature to human beings may sound noble at the outset, but will inevitably turn into the subjection of some humans to other humans. The end result will be a handful of powerful people—Lewis calls them the Controllers—who attempt to mold all of humanity into whatever they want, eradicating whatever might have been considered ‘human nature’. This is the Abolition of Man.
It’s a trope that’s been played out thousands of times in science fiction and fantasy stories: the attempt to better people’s condition sometimes comes at the price of abandoning humanity in whole or in part (which eventually leads to in whole). Unlike with Frankenstein’s literary cousin, Faust, this typically doesn’t involve an obvious deal with the devil. It’s a more subtle Faustian bargain, but the end result is usually the same: A man may gain the whole world, yet lose his soul—or if you prefer, himself, or his humanity—and end up the loser. The end may seem to justify the means, but it never justifies the cost.
In the world of Noblesse, what Lewis calls “nature” is represented in the non-human intelligent species, the werewolves and the “nobles” (elves/vampires). The humans originally banded together to protect themselves from the more powerful species, and the result was the Union. As Frankenstein points out, however, the Union changed: Its goal became the domination of other species, and even of other humans. Instead of protecting human beings, the Union sacrificed them in its pursuit of power (as long as it was other human beings getting sacrificed). And as our dear Frankie observes, that’s not a noble ideal at all.
And now that Frankenstein has demonstrated that his is the superior philosophy, he can go back to curb-stomping the enemy and rest assured he will emerge victorious.
* I wasn’t kidding about the “long-standing” part.
** So far. Evildoers in Noblesse have a tendency to redeem themselves eventually.
*** At least, he’s trying to be well-behaved now. See previous note.