After about a decade of rumors and speculation, Castlevania has finally made it to television in the form of a Netflix original program. While the first season is only four 25 minute episodes, it still manages to tell an interesting story and set up the plot for the next season very well.
The first episode sets up the plot for the season quite well. The scene opens with a woman named Lisa approaching Dracula in his castle, asking him to teach her in the ways of science and medicine. Dracula takes an immediate interest in her bravery and curiosity, agreeing to teach her. Fast forward to the Church burning Lisa for the crime of witchcraft. We quickly learn that Dracula and Lisa had wed, so the Church has unwittingly killed the wife of the Vlad the Impaler. In light of this, Dracula is quite upset about and gives the people of this country a year to make their peace as he will rain down the armies of Hell to salt the Earth of their existence.
The show’s story is well presented and gives the viewer adequate context to get invested in the world. We are given a surprisingly sympathetic view on Dracula’s hatred towards humanity. At the beginning of the story, he admits to Lisa that he has stopped impaling people and has taken a much more passive way of interacting with the world. Lisa implores him to travel and see how the world has changed instead of staying in his castle and judging humanity from a distance. While we know little about Lisa as a person, her execution hits hard as it is the reason that Dracula decides to commit genocide. The story starts off slowly but begins to kick into gear during episode two. The story itself is quite contained. The main focus of the plot is about Trevor and a magician named Sypha trying to save a small town from getting wiped out.
While later games in the franchise have more story focus than the early titles, the show manages to take a few aspects from some of the early game’s plots and make them work for this short series. It focuses on a drunk and jaded Trevor Belmont; a man who is the sole heir of the Belmont clan. His family name, once renowned for their ability to slay demons, has since been dragged through the mud by the Church. With the demon apocalypse at hand, Trevor and a few other warriors may be all that stands in the way of the world being consumed by fire and blood. The story is fairly straightforward but surprisingly effective. It puts the various characters together in a way that sets up their mutual goal of stopping Dracula. None of these reasons are overly complex but each of them still feels distinct and brings something different to the table. While the hell beasts are a clear threat, the Church serves as an antagonist as well. Their self-interest in controlling the masses puts the heroes in as much danger as the demons do. The whole “man is the true monster” plot is nothing new, but it is used to fairly good effect. The characters themselves are all interesting but unfortunately, do not have very much time to develop. Trevor himself has a bit of an arc as he confronts his own reason to fight, most of the other main characters have little time to flesh out their personalities.
The pacing of the story works fairly well, but there is more than one instance of the characters essentially stumble into major plot points. It is an odd way to quickly move the story along and odder still that it happens multiple times. It is understandable given the limited time for the show to tell its story but it still feels strange the second and third time it happens.
The voice acting is quite interesting in this show. It is oddly understated in many cases. Rather than screaming or suffering from bouts of maniacal laughter, Graham McTavish (Preacher) takes a bit more of a subdued approach to portraying Dracula. He goes for more of a rage that boils under the surface. This gives him a sense of menace that is quite chilling. Richard Armitage’s (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) does a great job of bringing Trevor to life. He is a foul-mouthed drunkard who is clearly trying to forget the struggles of his past. Armitage is able to inject a satisfying swagger into Trevor while still maintaining a level of gravitas to his words when he gets serious. Alejandra Reynoso (Winx Club), brings a fierce energy to Sypha. As a member of the group known as The Speakers, she feels it is her duty to help those in need. She risks her life to fulfill her duty without hesitation and bolsters others around her to do the same.
The animation in the show ranged from fairly average to incredibly impressive. The colors are fairly muted during many scenes, but when carnage and flames are enveloping the land, the bright oranges of the fire, as well as the crimson tones of blood and viscera, stick out well. The scenes of violence contrast with the more dull browns, grays, and blues seen in most of the show. These visuals themselves are incredibly grisly. Castlevania does not shy away from intense violence. There are quite a few scenes of townsfolk being slaughtered by demons as well as Trevor himself taking on opponents. The intense violence works well for the series as it adds to the feeling of doom that hangs over the characters. The various action scenes throughout the show are beautifully animated. The fluidity of Trevor’s movements while fighting show that he is a seasoned warrior who is skilled at improvising. He often has limited tools when he is in combat but he manages to use them in interesting ways. As expected of a Belmont, Trevor’s skills with his trusty whip are incredibly fun to watch. Thankfully, the animators understood the importance of this weapon to the Belmonts and made sure that these scenes display his finesse. The beautifully drawn fire and magic stand out incredibly well against the muted colors I mentioned earlier as well.
As a long running Castlevania fan, it would be remiss of me not to discuss some comparisons to the game. The biggest disappointment in the show is the music. While the score is fairly moody and dark but it is a missed opportunity. I was hoping the show would manage to work in some remixes of iconic Castlevania songs from games. The eclectic mix of music featured in the game would have actually fit many of the situations in the show quite well. Another missed opportunity is the use of Monsters. Over the years, Castlevania has built up an incredible bestiary of creatures, but the show went with fairly generic demons. To be fair, they looked quite creepy and seeing them kill civilians is quite grotesque but it would have been cool to see some monsters based on the beasts from the games.
Castlevania is a great show. Its four episodes do a great job of telling a short story about the renowned vampire hunter. It sets up the next season very well and left me wanting more. As a fan of the games, there are a few omissions, but as a short series, this show is very successful. The action looks fantastic and the characters while lacking depth, are fun to watch as they are all so distinct and have great designs. This show is an easy recommendation for anyone who is a fan of animation, Castlevania and dark fantasy stories.