Director: Sam Deats
Writer: Warren Ellis
Studios: Frederator Studios, Powerhouse Animation Studios
Started airing: July 7, 2017
When it comes to adapting video game licenses to another medium, nothing but failure seems to abound. Just last year we had the duds of the Assassins Creed and World of Warcraft movies. Hollywood and Uve Boll just can’t seem to get it right. Leave it to Netflix to show them how it’s done. Mostly.
Longtime fans and newcomers such as myself alike will be able to watch this show on equal footing, as no prior knowledge of the games is required, but with enough nods that series veterans will feel rewarded for their loyalty. This is in fact probably the best advertising for the series will get for a long time considering the state of its parent company Konami.
Netflix’s Castlevania is an adaptation of Konami’s extremely popular vampire killing video game franchise. Specifically the Castlevania III for the NES. It tells the story of monster killer Trevor Belmont, Sypho the magician, and one other character whose identity I won’t spoil. They go off to kill the vampire Dracula, who has launched a campaign to wipe out humanity after his wife is burned at the stake as a witch. Castlevania Season One has the task of setting up the world, factions, and characters of the show while remaining enjoyable on its own terms. Unfortunately, it stumbles in this regard for one particular reason you might’ve been able to guess: it’s only four episodes long.
While episodes one and four have a gripping introduction and a satisfying payoff respectably, the season’s pacing absolutely slows to a crawl in the middle. Time is taken away from the main plot in order to focus on a subplot involving corrupt church officials and the persecution of a group of magicians in a town under siege by Dracula’s demons. The one aspect it has connected to the main plot is a myth involving a savior called “The Sleeping Soldier”, which to its credit, has a very nice twist both for the plot and messianic tales in general. Our main lead Trevor Belmont has a rushed character arc in this season, going from a wandering exile who wants to stay out of the affairs of others into the man who vows to kill Dracula. Four episodes is not long enough for this not to come off as forced. Our main villain Dracula, as short as his appearance is in this season, is actually very layered and sympathetic. He is motivated by grief over the unjust execution of his wife, and if it weren’t for the fact the innocent people of Wallachia must suffer for his revenge, you’d probably root for him. Hell, even I did around the beginning. As for Sypho and the other unnamed hero, they have potential but don’t develop at all in this season. They’re voice acting is at least good across the board, with Dracula being voiced with authority and terror by Graham McTavish (the voice of Lazarevic from Uncharted 2).
What no one can fault Castlevania for however, is its animated gore and action and gothic atmosphere. When people die in Castlevania, they do not die gently. Blood fills the streets and heads start flying when Dracula’s demons come. The show’s fight scenes are even better, with easily the best one being the final duel at the end of the season finale. It is tightly directed, mesmerizing, and contains a bit of humor as well. If only there was more of it, but alas what we get is very good. The architecture of Wallachia, the show’s soundtrack featuring ominous Latin chanting and the use of lighting and shadows give a gothic atmosphere to the show that some higher budget affairs fail to achieve. All of this combined with an anime art style that captures the original artwork and spirit of Castlevania.
Overall, Castlevania Season One is good, but good is about it. It’s not great or even very good, but there is definitely potential for greatness here and it’s obvious the people behind this show love it and want to do the games justice. It’s just a shame it all feels more like a teaser for season one than an actual first season. However with a second season already planned with twice the episodes due to the positive reaction by both critics and audiences, the chance to fulfill the show’s promise is still there. All Netflix has to do is trust the team behind it to go further.