Recently Netflix has released the first “season” of Castlevania, a gory, animated version of the beloved Konami series featuring our favorite vampire killers trying to take down Dracula. I am a huge fan of Castlevania, from the platformer NES days to its Metroidvania-style games on the DS; I was curious to see how they would portray the game in a show format. There is definitely some potential if given to the right people. With only being four episodes long, how does show fare with the original material?
Long story short, some work is required but it is a good start.
For the Castlevania fans, the majority of the show takes place during the timeline of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. We follow Trevor Belmont, a washed-out vampire killer who gets wrapped up with Dracula’s act of vengeance against humanity.
In terms of the plot, the show does a good job with not only using the game material but also taking some liberties. As much as I like the Castlevania timeline, there is very little story featured in the early games, including Castlevania III. This series counters this by adding more depth into the world by featuring the perspectives of the terrified villagers and the religious fanatics that use this fear to their advantage. I liked how it points out that it’s not only the demons that are the enemy, but also humanity itself through frenzied religious figures and the mob mentality. I wish there was a bit more development on the Church though as currently their motivation is pretty shallow (“We want more power and control!”).
I’m glad that the series also gave some time to give Dracula some development and explain why he is such an asshole to humans. The first episode focuses mainly on his background, how he met his wife, and the eventual downfall that led him to be so hostile towards humans. You don’t really get much of this in the video games so it was nice to see that there is a bit more to Dracula being bad just because he’s a vampire.
The voice acting was really good in my opinion. Richard Armitage does an excellent job of voicing Trevor and he really adds to the scenes with his tone and personality. The rest of the cast also do great and I didn’t feel any of the performances were flat. I do wish there was more music to the show though. Half the time, I didn’t even notice the music playing and if it was, it just felt dull. And how are there no Castlevania songs featured at all? I felt that was a missed opportunity.
Another thing that didn’t work half the time was the humor. Half the time I felt that it was very forced and didn’t match the mood of the scene. I understand that director must have been trying to lighten the mood but I felt the adolescent humor was just thrown in there for a cheap laugh really killed the mood half the time. One scene that sticks out is in a bar where two relatives are just talking about bestiality that goes on foreeeeeeeeeever. If they want to keep this pattern in the next installment, they need to make less cheap, throwaway jokes.
Pacing was also an issue in the series. There are scenes where you are hooked and are focused on what is going on but then there are other scenes that just drag on for way too long. The bar scene above, meeting with the Seekers, and several church scenes stretch for too long and I was finding losing interest halfway through the season. However, we go back to the great scenes afterward so I felt that things felt a little lopsided. The episodes also felt like they shouldn’t have been episodes and instead should have been combined into a film because some of them just end in the most abrupt way.
Even with all these issues though, I think Netflix’s Castlevania is a decent adaptiation of the video game series. I’m a little confused why it was only four episodes long, currently it feels like it’s just a long pilot episode cut into four chunks. This is also why I’m giving it more of a chance since I feel It’s too quick to judge its flaws until the second season comes out (luckily, with more episodes this time around). I can tell Warren Ellis and Adi Shaknar have put much consideration of this beloved franchises in this series; I was smiling when I saw game references to the show, such as Trevor taking on a cyclops, Dracula’s transportation method, Sypha’s debut, and many others. Fights are well-animated, particularly Trevor’s final battle of the season. If this care for the original material stays intact as well as the great voice acting and animation, Castlevania has the potential to be a great series.