So yes, Castlevania on Netflix is neat! It’s already great to see a legendary game franchise finally getting the animated treatment, but even better, it’s amazing to see said franchise get a WELL WRITTEN adaptation in this format. My first sight of the trailer made it appear as though Castelvania 3: Dracula’s Curse would be the focus and right we were. We got Trevor Belmont, Alucard, Sypha and lots and LOTS of exposition into Symphony of the Night territory with both Lisa Tepes and Count Dracula. All in all, Castlevania is worth a watch and below are my quick thoughts on what’s good, bad and ugly about this new show.
The Good – The Look, Story & Sound: First off, let’s start with the best thing about the show, and that’s the script. Utilizing Castlevania 3 and Symphony of the Night as starting points, Warren Ellis and the gang do an excellent job of fleshing out the backstory of Vlad Tepes, his time in Wallachia and yes, how he meets Lisa. Furthermore, the show goes to great lengths in depicting how HORRIBLE the Church is to EVERYONE, and that maybe, just maybe, Dracula’s bloody reign across the land is ample punishment against an institution that’s as evil (or more) than him. Lastly, I think a good word needs to be said about how well thought out the characters of Trevor, Sypha and Alucard are. Sypha especially gets the Golden Treatment here as a benevolent ass-kicker with magical know-how. Trevor is great as the drunk exile who’s seeking a purpose in life amidst the madness ravaging the land and Alucard….well, we don’t know that much about him, but here’s hoping that Season 2 will do more in that regard.
Speaking of our three heroes, we need to give Sam Deats and his team a round of applause with the Ayami Kojima-inspired character designs. Everyone not only looks great, but they’re damn true to form for an animated video game adaptation, especially in regards to Trevor and Sypha. However, we can’t applaud this show without talking about the action. Let me be clear and say that the action can be sparse at times, but when it shows up, it’s awesome. This is best exemplified in the well-animated battle between Trevor and Alucard, which has a languid fluidity that’s got the trappings of Spike Spiegel’s first fight scene in Cowboy Bebop’s Asteroid Blues. And finally, let’s not forget that Castlevania has some top-notch voice acting. When it comes to Bishops, drunks and even Count Dracula himself, rest assured that we’ve got some damn fine storytelling behind the mic. So all in all, when it comes to the Look, Feel & Sound of Castlevania, I think we’re all golden.
The Bad – No Grant, Sparse Combat and Power-Ups: Mad props to Warren Ellis for his work on this show and all, but one gripe I have with him is that we’re without the presence of the climbing pirate known as Grant, where he feels that he didn’t fit with the overall timeline of the show (and that his name was ‘stupid’). Not the end of the world mind you, but it’s pretty damn unfortunate because if we were able to see Ellis do some nice work in fleshing out the Speakers and the Belmonts, then I’m sure we could’ve repackaged Grant as a thief or bandit with a heart of gold. Also, the man vs. monster action was SPARSE! (I think I said that already) For a show that’s adapting one of the most illustrious chapters of the Castlevania franchise, I was hoping for more vampire whipping and less choir-boy busting, but that’s just me being picky. Lastly, I really didn’t see enough of the fun elements that made the games so enjoyable, i.e. the POWER-UPS. Now we DID see holy water being used during that great fight between the townsfolk and the monsters (led by our inebriated Vampire Slayer), but what about the axe and the boomerang? Hell, what about using the whip to even greater effect? You know, the mainstay weapon of the franchise? These criticisms aren’t deal-breakers mind you, but we’re making Castlevania folks, so let’s remember that adding the words ‘camp’ and ‘video game’ aren’t entirely ‘bad’ things here.
The Ugly – The Blah Blah Blah: If there’s any element about Netflix’s Castlevania that deserves to be in the ‘ugly’ category, then it’s the pacing. You know why? Because it’s ALL OVER THE PLACE! Scenes where drunks make gossip may seem necessary for exposition but they inadvertently drag episodes, which make the long stretches of the show a slog instead of a series of eye-catching reveals. Even Dracula’s ‘walk’ to his burnt home before he goes AWOL is paced so poorly that it makes him look awkward and STUPID which, for that instance at least, undermines how much of a villain he’s supposed to be. Seriously, how is Dracula and the word ‘inaction’ even in the same damn sentence!?
I think we all understand that animation is an expensive endeavor, and although it’s not uncommon to create still scenes with heavy voice work as filler, the Castlevania team could’ve used their resources to visually convey these expositions without having to slowly pan across landscapes while yapping our brains to mush. Aside from the ‘sleeping soldier’ tale, Castlevania not only needs to work on how it paces itself via exposition, it simply needs to inject more mythos into its myths. It needs more mystery. It needs more spooky. It needs more creepy that’s paced RIGHT!
Overall, Netflix’s Castlevania is worth the watch. Despite it’s brief run time and strange, groggy pacing, the show does wonders in adding new nuances to the Castlevania 3 storyline. Furthermore, it’s got great character designs, well-animated fights (when they DO show up), a slick script and a boat-load of voice talent to back it all up. So yeah, check the show out and cross your fingers for a much-improved Season 2.