Castlevania getting its own original web animation sounds like a TERRIBLE idea. But it’s surprisingly watchable and even enjoyable…
|Studio||Frederator Studios, Powerhouse Animation Studios, Shankar Animation, Project 51 Productions, Mua Film|
|Genre||Action, horror, fantasy|
|Number of episodes||4|
You know that one video game series you liked. Then when you see news of a TV or movie adaptation of it come up, you groan in annoyance? That’s because most of those adaptations were mediocre at best, and absolutely dreadful at worst. So when I saw news of a Castlevania animated series sponsored by Netflix, I was very skeptical.
The Castlevania video game series had been quiet after the release of Lords of Shadow 2 in 2014. Not too long after, game developer and publisher Konami made a series of controversial decisions that ultimately hurt the image of the company:
- The cancellation of Silent Hills, a joint effort between game designer Hideo Kojima, movie director Guillermo del Toro and actor Norman Reedus
- Pulling out the well received Silent Hills demo (P.T.) off of the PlayStation Store
- A restructuring of the company resulting in Kojima leaving the company
- Rumors of unethical treatment of employees
- The shift to mobile gaming
- Wastefully using the company’s best-known game IPs for Pachinko and Pachislot machines; yes, including Castlevania
- The company generally distancing itself from the gaming industry
So, yeah. Konami used to be a beloved name in gaming, and that all changed in the year 2015. Kojima Productions is now an independent company and Konami’s reputation went down the drain. It all went down as one of gaming history’s most infamous moments.
So an animated series based on Castlevania set to air in the year 2017 is both surprising and uncomfortable. However… this series was in the works since 2007. Yeah, ten years of development hell, due to lack of funding.
So we got an adaptation based on a video game IP by Konami that had gotten through a long production cycle. And it’s a program exclusive to Netflix with only four episodes. All of this raises SO MANY red flags! It’s just bound to fail, right?
But giving the benefit of the doubt, let’s see what this slow-acting time bomb brings us.
Castlevania begins with… kind of an origins story for Vlad Tepes (AKA Dracula), where he bonded with a woman named Lisa. The two found common ground in their interest in the advancement of science and medicine in the year 1455, and eventually married. However, the Eastern Orthodox Church of Wallachia falsely accused Lisa of witchcraft due to her medical practices, burning her at a stake in Targoviste.
This event provoked Dracula’s wrath, where he swore revenge against humanity in the nation of Wallachia. Using his dark powers, Dracula forged an army of demons intent to annihilate mankind within one year. But in that one year, the Church gained more power over the people, convincing them that they are all good and righteous. But like jackasses, the members of the Church underestimated Dracula’s abilities and celebrated their murder of an innocent woman. The Prince of Darkness launched his attack, ending with a bloody and fiery massacre of the people of Targoviste.
Seriously. This is some of the most graphic and intense imagery that the Castlevania series had ever provided. This show had mutilations, limb dismemberment, beheadings, flayings and even infanticide. It does NOT hold back the brutality. The art and animation were well done, possessing elements of anime and comic book art. The voice acting was pretty immersive too.
But we’re still on one 20-minute episode and we’re definitely moving things along here. I mean, we literally spent a few minutes on Vlad Tepes and Lisa before Lisa got killed off. Then the episode ends on a cliffhanger, where we see our hero. But we’ll see how the rest of the show is like.
We meet our hero of this story: Trevor Belmont, the last member of the Belmont clan, who was excommunicated by the Church. Though he’s a capable fighter and a vampire hunter, his current situation places him at odds with the local townspeople and members of the Church.
No, seriously. We’ve seen this guy getting kicked in the balls for being a Belmont, in a scene that can be summed up as, “We don’t like your kind round here.” Except it’s with Cockney-accented peasants, which doesn’t make much sense considering we’re at Romania…
Interestingly enough though, these scenes partially match up to the events of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse for the NES. In the backstory of the game, it was explained that the Belmont family was feared for their powers, therefore they lived outside of society. But in this show, the Belmont family was excommunicated by the Church, again in fear of their powers. And of course, Trevor was mistreated by the local townspeople similarly. So in a way, you could probably consider what happened thus far as the events leading up to the story of Dracula’s Curse.
So Trevor ends up at the town of Gresit, where he gets into trouble with the Church. He also allied himself with a scholar group known as the Speakers; among them is a sorceress named Sypha Belnades, who did appear in Dracula’s Curse as an ally (and eventually, lover) to Trevor. Her role is pretty much the same here
And I’m just going to stop the synopsis here and let you catch up on the rest. Even though this first season of Castlevania is only four episodes long, the pacing is pretty good for the most part and the violence is at a level similar to Ninja Scroll. But when you consider it, this iteration of the events before Dracula’s Curse feels more in place with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, with its anime look and dark themes. There is generally more of a dark fantasy and adventure tone in the pre-SotN games.
Though the animated series doesn’t have that same corniness of Symphony of the Night, there were a few humorous moments that could be described as cheeky—such as Trevor being this gritty, but smart-alecky, guy who tends to make petty complaints to himself. And for some reason, a comment from a peasant at a pub on… goat-fucking…? Really, we’re bringing up bestiality in Castlevania?
I guess this show is trying to push the envelope with some adult themes. Even some of the gratuitous violence can be rather silly at times. Everyone seems to bleed in humorous ways from just a light tap in this show, like their skin is made of paper or something.
Even though Dracula is the established antagonist, he comes across as more of a justified tragic villain than this evil dark lord of sorceries we knew from Dracula’s Curse. I mean, let’s face it. Most of the humans portrayed in this series so far are assholes, with the Eastern Orthodox Church being the biggest culprit. Not to mention we had that whole pub scene, where the villagers assaulted Trevor for no other reason than him being a Belmont.
So far, we’ve seen some of the major established characters of Dracula’s Curse. We got the sorceress Sypha Belnades, who was a member of the Church in the game but a member of the Speakers in the show. Adrian Tepes, also known as Alucard, appears towards the end as a rival and new companion to Trevor. Right now, we’re just missing the acrobatic thief Grant Danasty, though it’s unlikely he’ll ever show up, sadly. Trevor even fought a cyclops, who was one of the first bosses in the game.
While the voice acting is consistently good, the soundtrack is mostly generic and underwhelming. Come on, now. We need remixes of the leitmotifs that the Castlevania video games were known for! We need “Vampire Killer,” “Bloody Tear,” or hell… “Beginning,” which you could say is Trevor’s theme song in Dracula’s Curse.
With some cool action sequences and a fairly likable cast of characters, the animated Castlevania actually succeeded in being decent. It’s littered with some clichés, but nothing bad enough to derail the story. You can tell that there was some uneven pacing, due to the story originally being intended for a Castlevania movie rather than a mini-series. And the events so far are mostly buildup to the events of Dracula’s Curse, ending on a cliffhanger.
But because the series did well and got plenty of positive reception, it’s renewed for a second season with more episodes! Castlevania definitely has some good talent behind it and it’s got a strong potential to become this fantastic dark fantasy/horror/action show. And I’m hoping it does, because the Castlevania video games are pretty much dead at this point. Plus with all the terrible adaptations of video games out there, we need more talented people with good ideas to give a whack at it. We can’t just keep handing the rights over to people who thought making something very different from the source material is somehow going to turn out any good…
So for now, I recommend you give a watch and give your own thoughts about it. Until then, let’s hope that Season 2 will be more solid and cohesive.
Castlevania: The Animated Series
- Enough gory action sequences to make any fan of adult animation satisfied.
- Trevor Belmont is a wonderful mix of machismo and drunken smartass.
- Dark and moody colors with an anime/comic book art style.
- Good voice acting and script for the most part, though there are some performances that felt out of place in a Romanian setting.
- Some funny lines and scenes if you're into the cheeky type of humor.
- Uneven pacing at times.
- Generic musical score that could've used official Castlevania tunes instead.
- Due to the brevity of the first season, characters needed to be more fleshed out.