Everyone is talking about Castlevania, and after watching the series on Netflix last weekend, I can see why. Sometimes my job is hard: lots of research and lots of brainstorming unique ideas to write about. Sometimes I just want to watch Netflix instead. Sometimes I do watch Netflix instead. Sometimes I find an excuse to call watching Netflix “working.” This is one of those times.
Is this just another show about vampires?
According to the IMDB series synopsis, “a vampire hunter fights to save a besieged city from an army of otherworldly creatures controlled by Dracula.” By that description, it could be any vampire movie. But fans of the Castlevania series of video games (which is the number one source material for the show) have certain expectations for this series, not the least of which is wall chicken.
Producer Adi Shankar doesn’t know about the wall chicken quite yet, but he’s not about to let gamers’ expectations go unmet. Expect Easter eggs from the games, and a soundtrack with “the heavy metal electro guitar vibe found in the early games.”
Shankar said in an interview for Collider.com: “The goal is to bring hard hitting anime to the America and be America’s first animated series for adults.”
To an outsider, it may appear that the series is trying to get onboard with the huge audience for dark fantasy (Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings), vampire shows (Angel, Buffy, Underworld), or Japanese anime (Akira, Ghost in the Shell). And maybe that is what made 2017 the time to release this show. But the show was being conceptualized in 2005. That’s right: this has been in the works for 12 years; before the wave of dark, medieval magical beasts took over our entertainment.
It’s an animated series, but it isn’t for children
It may go without saying, but I’m going to say it: this cartoon is not for kids. The creators have called it “R-rated as ****,” and it totally is. Profanity and entrails abound, as one may have come to expect from a show about hunting vampires. The Castlevania target demographic is made up mainly of those who played the original game (Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, 1990), which puts the average age around late-20s at a minimum.
The cast of the show is excellent. Adi Shankar is an executive producer (The Grey, Dredd, Judge Dredd: Superfiend, The Punisher: Dirty Laundry). Richard Armitage (Thorin from The Hobbit) voices Trevor Belmont. James Callis (Dr. Gaius Baltar from Battlestar Galactica) voices Alucard. Graham McTavish (Dwalin from The Hobbit) voices Dracula. The series is written by Warren Ellis, a seasoned comic book creator who has written for animated series (X-Men, Justice League, Wolverine) as well as major motion pictures (Iron Man 3, Red). Emmy-award winning Trevor Morris is in charge of the soundtrack (Dragon Age: Inquisition, Immortals, The Tudors).
The first season only has four 30-minute episodes, but a second, 8-episode season has been confirmed.
How well does it reflect the games?
Season 1 is dedicated to fleshing out the main players in a way that wasn’t really possible in the video game, and I am a fan of the slow revelation of backstory over the course of several episodes.
As far as the soundtrack is concerned, I am reminded more of the Japanese anime series’ the show animation takes inspiration from, rather than the Castlevania games. This may come as a disappointment to fans of the games, as the original music was iconic, and has been reprised many, many times in different styles. A big part of the nostalgia for gamer fans is wrapped up in the original soundtrack, though it is possible the show creators were unable to license the original music from Konami. This may be the reason that the show, despite maintaining the integrity of the original game canon, has garnered some fan comments that it doesn’t really feel like Castlevania.
Even so, it is great for many other reasons: the animation is great, and even haunting at times. Fans of Japanese anime will enjoy the style. The storytelling is deft and rich, and the voice acting is top notch. This is, without a doubt, one of the best video game adaptations to date. A+, highly recommend, would watch again.