An American produced Anime based off a 1989 video game that was the third entry in a relatively niche franchise that many seasoned gamers aren’t even all that familiar with. You’d be forgiven for assuming that anything that came out of this mix would be terrible. I assumed the same. However, Netflix’s Castlevania animated series defies all expectations by being genuinely pretty damn good. It’s not without it’s flaws, but there’s a lot to love here.
Based on the aforementioned 1989 game Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, the series scraps a veritable tome of convoluted series lore, instead opting for a simple opening. After his wife is burned at the stake after being falsely accused of witchcraft, Count Vlad Dracula Tepes promises revenge, stating that all the people of Wallachia will pay with their lives.
They do, and the slaughter begins, with Dracula’s army of demons laying waste to the land, murdering droves of innocents in horribly messy ways. Disgraced Demon Hunter Trevor Belmont reluctantly takes up arms against Dracula’s forces, along with the help of a few allies along the way.
It’s a simple premise to start, but where the show thrives is that it’s not afraid to tackle adult themes, and add buckets of visceral and grisly gore. While it’s easy to assume that Dracula is the villain, things don’t feel quite that straightforward in Castlevania, and over the course of it’s brutally short first season - just four episodes - you’ll find yourself struggling to decide where your allegiances lie. In fact, it soon becomes apparent that it’s perhaps the church who are the evil ones.
It’s not a new idea, but Castlevania puts it across with real panache. Dracula is a sympathetic character and a real bastard. A charismatically scary, evil monster, but with a real justifiable motivation for his behaviour. Elsewhere, Trevor Belmont is in many ways, an anime protagonist cliche. He’s powerful, confident, sexy, and always drunk and hungry. He seems like a bumbling fool until he tears your eye out with his whip. He doesn’t care about anyone but himself but someone ends up helping everyone else anyway.
It’s short running time allows Castlevania some real time to pull you in, setting up the world and the characters nicely. While the animation is usually high quality, it occasionally suffers from it’s anime style. It consistently feels like a homage rather than the real deal, cutting corners in animation and style the way weekly Shonen anime does.
The character designs are relatively uninspired, and the animations are occasionally ropy and lazy. It’s a shame, when the voice acting and the script are so fantastic, often being let down by flat animations and cliched characters.
The second season has already been confirmed, with eight episodes on the way, double the length of this season. Hopefully a second run will allow more time and budget for the visuals to be polished up. Castlevania Season 1 is an exciting debut from a Netflix original that we had no reason to expect anything special from at all.
It leaves you wanting more, and despite it’s flaws, it feels like it’s all over a little too quickly. Castlevania is an engaging, thrilling watch, well written, funny, and brutal, despite its relatively one dimensioned source material and occasionally lacklustre visuals.