Castlevania Review

Posted July 11, 2017 by Panda Emily Jarrell in Nerdy Bits

Although Konami’s Castlevania series of horror/fantasy action-adventure video games is pretty popular with people in my age group, I’ve only ever had a passing familiarity with it myself. I’ve always been a fan of vampires, especially Dracula, but this was one of many cultural touchstones that just happened to have passed me by. Nonetheless, when I first saw the trailer for Netflix’s Castlevania, I was very excited to see what they would make of it.

That which would become Netflix’s Castlevania began production back in 2007 as an attempt by Transmetropolitan writer Warren Ellis to adapt Konami’s Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse into a straight-to-DVD animated film. The game itself has a fairly minimal narrative, and as such its story was partially re-written and expanded upon to fit into the series’ chronology. It would eventually be retooled into a four-episode series, animated through a partnership by Frederator Studios and Powerhouse Animation Studios and distributed by Netflix. The series, like its source material, follows the exploits of disgraced 15th century nobleman and demon hunter Trevor Belmont as he is somewhat roped into taking up arms against the vampire Dracula and his demonic forces.

Trevor comes from a long line of demon hunters that have evidently been excommunicated by both the church and society for their use of supernatural abilities, and at the point we meet him in the story, he couldn’t want anything less than to deal with his family’s controversial reputation. Unfortunately for Trevor, he is an archetypal grump with a heart of gold, and he eventually finds himself embroiled in a conflict between the church, a group of individuals called The Speakers–clerics who devote their lives to the accumulation and dissemination of the oral histories of civilizations—and the notorious vampire Dracula himself. The first episode centers around Dracula and his eventual motivations for waging war against the people of Wallachia, but the rest of the series’ three episodes primarily focus on Trevor as he begrudgingly helps people on his quest for food, a place to sleep, and—most importantly—a few stiff drinks.

The most remarkable aspect of Castlevania is by far its animation. Although the series only being for episodes does leave the viewer wanting more, it feels like its shortness is actually a strength; whereas longer series have to appropriately budget the most of their resources for the most significant parts of an episode, Castlevania is able to have stunning animation all throughout. The fight sequences are as dazzling as they are gory, and I found them absolutely thrilling to watch. According to the people I watched this with, who are fans of the games, the series is sprinkled with references to the game and its mechanics, such as items and attacks used by the characters. Additionally, each scene is perfectly scored by gorgeous orchestral music, expertly setting the proper mood. The voice acting leaves a bit to be desired, but for me, that barely detracted at all from my enjoyment of the series.

I only really have one minor complaint, without venturing into spoiler territory, and it’s that I might have preferred an additional episode dedicated to Dracula and his backstory. Although the telling of it does comprise a fourth of the series’ overall story, the event which sets the series in motion could have been more emotionally impactful if the viewer had been given the opportunity to spend more time with the characters involved. As it is, it felt a bit rushed.

If you’re a fan of the Castlevania games, Japanese-inspired animation, vampires in general, or you’re just looking for something you can quickly binge-watch in a cool 100 minutes, I can’t recommend Netflix’s Castlevania enough. It’s dense with both plot and beautifully macabre animation, and it’s already been renewed for a second season which will feature twice as many episodes as the first. All in all, this series is definitely a landmark in terms of video game adaptation, a genre that has long suffered from attempts ranging from mediocre to downright abysmal. I can only hope that this will usher in an era of video game adaptations that aren’t widely derided by fans of video games and entertainment media in general.

About the Author

Panda Emily Jarrell