CASTLEVANIA has been in development hell for more than ten years, and if that isn’t fitting of the hellish, horror trope filled video game series, then I don’t know what the word ‘irony’ means.
As an avid fan of the video game series, I have been fervently anticipating the adaptation, especially when it was billed as a tried-and-true animated action show much akin to the adult oriented anime from Japan. Helmed by American studio Frederator, in conjunction with Powerhouse Animation, the show was finally given a spot to shine on Netflix as a mini-series. This was partly due to American audiences’ thirst for dark fantasy in recent years.
From the get-go, it becomes clear that those who worked on this new adaptation are fans of the series they’ve been assigned. The imagery elicits the fantastic art style given to us by Ayami Kojima in the later installations of the video game. The animation competently harkens to the classic horror it’s inspired by with a color pallet from the original games and monster designs that feel distinctly Castlevania-esque.
When watching this series I got the instant vibe of Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, with the style of animation and writing that can conjure a dramatic plot whilst supplying a good stock of levity that keeps the audience on their toes. There is a great bit of humor in this show for a Van Helsing-like gore-fest.
This is a very short series for Netflix, topping off at four 25-minute episodes. Part of me wishes they had just cobbled them all together for a movie but that wouldn’t properly follow their binge-model, so I’m not too surprised. I will admit that this short-lived series left me less disappointed and instead filled me with a desire to see more, which is exactly what they were going for with the progression the story follows the band of characters we see towards the finale. There isn’t so much a rushed feeling to the storyline, but a drastic cut-off when you realize that the season is already over. Nevertheless, there is certainly a lot to dive into and a lot to look forward to whenever Netflix releases season two.
The series starts by following Dracula, oddly enough, living his secluded life of luxury within his titular castle. Only the impaled skeletons that line his front yard keep him company before a brave young woman comes knocking at his door. The young woman is a doctor named Lisa, who seeks counsel with Dracula in her search for new scientific methods to treat people properly. She fears that society brushes medicine aside as witchcraft and has now braved the treachery of Dracula himself in her search for knowledge. Dracula himself is initially standoffish but soon falls in love with the tenacious woman before we jump years into the future to the once fearless woman being tried at the stake for witchcraft. This becomes the inciting incident for Dracula’s wrath upon the people. Having set up a sympathetic Dracula it would seem more than the church which incurred this curse would be seen more as the antagonists, which is mostly the case for the rest of this short season.
As episode one sets up the unfortunate rage of Dracula, episode two sets up what eventually becomes our season’s protagonist, which in classic Castlevania fashion is a House Belmont ancestor, in this case, Trevor Belmont. Down on his luck and ousted by the aforementioned church, Trevor roams the land from meal to meal with his aristocratic fur cloak to keep him warm under whatever tree he falls unconscious under. Trevor is set up as a loveable scoundrel as the first we see of him fighting is not to protect a family from demons, but in a bar fight which he eventually loses. Points for originality in a genre that usually sees this character as a source of hope in a damned world, but as is a staple of the dark fantasy, we are to see the arc of his character consist of him facing the responsibility that comes with being a Belmont. Belmonts hunt monsters, and Trevor is no exception.
Trevor, although a ragamuffin of a strapping hero, does eventually stick his neck out for his fellow man when the church starts to persecute a group of monks in the town, insisting that they are the cause of Dracula’s horde. They believe an ancient soldier slumbers beneath the town, and they have sent their most capable member to the catacombs to find them. After reluctantly agreeing to save them, Trevor is thrown into conflict between the church and the monks, and decides to fight for what is right.
The latter half of the season picks up with Dracula’s horde laying siege to the town and Trevor tossing his cloak aside for some very impressive action sequences that actually manage to call back to the game series incredibly well. Trevor tosses axes, holy water, and knives just like he does in the game, without being too pandering to the crowd of preexisting fans. The progression may seem a little slow for those who want non-stop action, but when the action happens it is well-earned. The reluctance that Trevor feels is all the more necessary when he ultimately stands his ground as the evil-battling hero we expect him to be. He isn’t some perfect knight of justice, but a veteran of the evil that humanity refuses to acknowledge. This, coupled with his teaming with the equally competent Sypha, the granddaughter of the monk Trevor’s been helping. Her graceful handling of elemental magic makes her a powerful ally to Trevor and the two eventually do discover the legendary “hero” that slumbers beneath the catacombs.
Alucard has become somewhat of a poster-child for the series, he fulfills the type of character the series had needed, which is why it’s frustrating that he only gets to shine for the final fifteen minutes of the season. As the vengeful son of Dracula of half-vampiric blood, his addition to the cast gives him a satisfying insight into the types of magic this series delivers. Delivering tasteful quips between each other, Trevor and Alucard share some fantastic dialogue. This comes as no surprise as both actors, Richard Armitage and James Callis, have proven themselves as some of Britain’s best actors.
By the time all of this picks up, and the posse for defeating Dracula is gathered, the credits roll, which is quite infuriating for a platform that insists on providing entire stories in one burst. Thankfully I can excuse this only because all four episodes were tight from start to finish. In an industry where video game adaptations have always been lousy to horrendous, this is a breath of fresh air. The series takes the story of the third game and brings it to life with a certain level of faithfulness that can only be written by fans of the source material. The characters are loveable and quick on the uptake with the surrounding chaos but have flaws that lend themselves to the overarching plot. The progression may seem a bit rushed at times, but this isn’t so much a drawback as it is a necessity to condense the game into three act structures.
One of the only complaints I have about the show is on the technical side, with some animation that feels stuttery and sometimes flat at times. It is a hard task to disperse the animation budget evenly with dialogue and action scenes, but the latter always shines as an example of flawless choreography from Frederator and Powerhouse.
Though there has been an announcement for a second season, no date has come forth as of yet. There is a possibility for a 2018 premiere, which would be great if we were to get some new episodes by Halloween. Regardless of when I am excited to see how the trio we’re left with will fare against the beautifully wicked evil summoned by Dracula.
Season 1, Episodes 1-4
Castlevania is now streaming on Netflix
Kevin Charbonneau | Intern