Video game adaptions into other mediums are rarely done successfully, much less are they done with a greater depth and intelligence. Netflix’s Castlevania anime series luckily bucks this trend with style. The anime styled take on the Konami game mines the games for depth and isn’t afraid to ask deep conflicts of belief, magic, and violence.
If you are a fan of the game series the new series takes place as a prequel of sorts to Castlevania III. This can help place the series into the context of the games, however, when approaching the show, it is much easier to take it as it on its own terms. The series is just a brisk 4 episodes totaling around 100 minutes total. Each of the episodes takes time to set up the main characters and provide backstory and motivations for each as the series progresses.
I will avoid getting into a ton of detail as it is such a brisk series that you can binge through in less than two hours. Suffice it to say that if you are on the fence it is definitely worth a watch.
The first episode primarily focuses on Dracula (Graham McTavish) as he courts and falls for his second wife, as well as the turn into pursuing vengeance when she loses her life. The second episode features Trevor Bellmont (Richard Armitage) as the audience learns about who he is, his status within the world and where his motivations are pointing. The third episode further builds upon Trevor’s character while introducing Sypha Belnades (Alejanda Reynoso). The final episode of the season establishes the group becoming a team as well as finding Alucard (James Callis).
The opening set of episodes does a great job of establishing the characters and building the world for the viewer. Unfortunately it is just a taste and never gets to the point where you can sink your teeth into the story, it feels that just when the story ramps up the series is over and you are left wanting more. Luckily for us a second season has already been announced by Netflix with an increased order of 8 episodes. No release date has been announced for season 2 as of yet.
The anime style works well with Castlevania and fits the tone of the show well. While it is not going to break any new ground with its art style, it certainly does a solid job that didn’t detract from the story in any way.
By far the biggest adjustment that could turn off some is the fact that this show is absolutely brutal. The violence is at times off the chart. The Castlevania anime series is one of the goriest and most swear-filled cartoons in recent memory. Heads on spikes are common place in this world, as well as townspeople tossing bodies into ditches creating massive piles, and you see it in great detail. In one of the series most shocking images a demon is seen with a dead baby in its mouth for food.
The violence and gore can be tough at times for those that are squeamish but for myself, it added to the context of the story. It felt intense, it felt visceral. In order for the story to be taken seriously it needed this shock value that clearly says this is an adult story, not some kid’s game.
The script written by comics legend Warren Ellis is strong and solidly makes the Castlevania anime series more than just a generic action hack/slash experience. The story isn’t afraid to cast a spotlight at the dangers of religious zealotry and their attempts to delegitimize both science and magic.
Wisely the story also plays on conventions established by lore allowing for surprising story beats that go in different directions than anticipated. In one instance, in an attempt to gain knowledge to save townspeople an innocent woman goes to the only person who can provide it, Dracula. Playing on the common idea of Dracula as a predator who will kill innocents, this story chooses to flip that idea by having it turn out much the opposite.
The Castlevania anime series is a very enjoyable and solid adaption. It adds surprising depth and intelligence to a series which while cool, has never really been particularly deep. By drawing inspiration from of the more violent and graphic anime and positioning the series for adults was a wise idea. No worries here, the Simon Belmont from Captain N: The Game Master! The violence was not used as shock value but rather as color to the complex story of fighters coming together to fight darkness and do what is right.
If there is anything that I hope they look to improve during the next season is that the pacing at time was a little off, especially with such a small amount of episodes, there are times that it was a little stop-and-start. Pacing issues aside, it was a fantastic adaption that should please fans of the game series and anime fans alike. Hopefully the second season will be fast tracked, until then you can catch up on the first season on Netflix right now!