When the Castlevania Netflix series was first announced, many fans were excited (I KNOW I WAS!) but overall skeptical since the quality ratio of video game adaptations to TV and film has been average at best. At the risk of beating THAT dead horse into the ground, fans breathed a sigh of relief when it was revealed cult-hit producer Adi Shankar was involved and he was using Warren Ellis’ script and storyline.
The result? Castlevania on Netflix is an overly violent, sometimes too story heavy animated series that ends up doing a great job setting up the universe and characters. The animation is top-notch and the voice work is outstanding. Most importantly, it doesn’t condescend its target audience or compromises its source material in any way. It’s a shame it’s only four episodes, though.
Caution: minor spoilers ahead.
Castlevania continues the trend of great Netflix Originals
Warren Ellis wrote the story back in the mid-2000s and based it off of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. Although, as the story progresses, elements of Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night are sprinkled in. The series starts off with Lisa visiting Count Dracula’s castle to learn how to be a doctor. The two actually engage in some sort-of sweet chemistry together and romance blossoms. Unfortunately, Count Dracula’s late wife is soon burned at the stake for being a witch and Dracula swears revenge on all of mankind by unleashing hellish monsters on the land of Wallachia. Somehow, the disgraced Trevor Belmont gets involved with a resistance involving the mage-ish Sypha Belnades and Dracula’s son Alucard. And then it’s…over?
The animation is very much in the stylish-anime aesthetic that appears to be taking after the DS games Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, and Order of Ecclesia. It works and becomes free-flowing during the major action scenes. When Sypha and Trevor take on the cyclops in the 3rd episode, it’s incredible with the movements.
It’s also never too over-the-top with style, but violence is a tad ridiculous. Seriously, within two episodes there is enough decapitations, dismemberments, and testicular trauma (although, the rest of the bar fight in the second episode is pretty funny) then you’d expect.
Voice work is outstanding. Richard Armitage is, without question, the best actor of the bunch. His portrayal of Trevor as a burned-out, ashamed vampire hunter is entertaining but also adds more depth to a character that really didn’t have much. Aside from his Sasuke Uchida-hairstyle, he’s an awesome character who not only acts like a total badass but manages to get some good one-liners out there.
Graham McTavish, whose voice you may recognize as Zoran Lazaravic or Charlie Cutter in the Uncharted games, is great as the Count even if he’s not in it for too long. Alejandra Reynoso’s Sypha is great as well and doesn’t fall into typical “lead female role” trope. In fact, she partakes in more action than Trevor or Alucard and gets to use a ton of awesome spells.
The length and weird script of Castlevania are the only minor problems
With only four episodes, the series manages to cram enough lore to keep fans frothing at the mouths. But its over right before it all kicks off. It’s nothing against the series itself, but it ends on a cliffhanger that rivals Halo 2. Also, a lack of the pirate Grant DeNasty is a shame for many longtime fans and the subplot with the church is just kind of there. It does get a good conclusion, but it just hangs there in front of the major conflict with Dracula.
There are some random bits of comedy thrown in, and while some of it is welcome, a lot of it just doesn’t work. The biggest offender is the quick joke during the climactic fight at the end of episode 4. Also, some lines of dialogue sound a bit too “modern.” It doesn’t destroy or hinder any of the episodes’ momentum, but it just comes off as a producer’s attempt to make it funnier. At least the majority of Ellis’ vision is retained.
Castlevania on Netflix sounds too good to be true, but it is. It’s a quick and sometimes super awkward, but overall a solid, solid first season. It’s great to see the games being represented in such a great way without having to compromise itself.
It’s good to know Netflix greenlit a second season the same day the series came out.