Castlevania is a classic series, one that was born from a love of all things gothic and mainly for a desire to give gamers the chance to fight the hordes of Dracula. Starting off as a simple game on the NES, the series quickly became an instant classic still adored to this day if you talk about everything but the newest additions. A series beloved by many with a family that has been immortalized much like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Playing as the Belmont’s, as their allies and even as Dracula’s own son, these games have birthed a history that while it hasn’t been the most complex is still told through numerous installments. So after a long time we finally have ourselves a Castlevania television series released on Netflix of all things. Another video game adaptation, and potentially another missed mark in the long line of adaptation failures. Yet much like the family of Belmont, could it be the saviour we all have wanted to happen long ago?
Castlevania is an adaptation of the third mainstay installment in the series, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. The story follows Trevor Belmont, the last in the long line of vampire and demon slayers as he plays the reluctant and battered hero. Excommunicated by the church, he wanders the war-torn land of Wallachia looking to just find some good drink and a good tree to sleep by. Vlad Dracula Tepes is plaguing the lands with his armies over the death of his beloved at the hands of man. We see Trevor tested as not only a man, but as a warrior as he tries to do his best living in such a time of hell. This story definitely fleshes out the ideas of Castlevania’s earlier work quite well. Giving us more of an understanding about Trevor as a character and even allowing us to sympathize with Dracula. This takes a game that originally was really lax with its story, and actually makes something out of the lore.
Trevor Belmont is a terrific lead and one that literally came out of nowhere. With a great vocal performance by Richard Armitage, Trevor balances masterful wit and a bleak view of humanity to create one of the better tired heroes I have seen in recent memory. There is this sense of arrogance with his family name that also haunts him for all the grief he has been given by those who threw his family away. He is entertaining yet will never turn away from people in need and set straight those who are doing wrong. Entertaining and resourceful, Trevor easily is one of the best if not the best Belmont I have seen interact with others. His character progression may have been a bit fast for some, but I feel as if the events that transpired were the perfect storm in order to push him to where he wanted to go. Yes it is convenient but within a four episode season that was about one hour and thirty minutes long it could have been really sloppy. I am perfectly fine with decent or effective especially in terms of video game adaptations.
His allies and the antagonists on the other hand are a bit flatter than I would have liked. The Speakers and their methods are interesting and learning about the culture and meeting Sypha Belnades was nice. Belnades was not particularly a highpoint of the series as she opted for more a spunky attitude and that seemed a bit overplayed especially with one joke which is quite noticeable for how awkward it is. The other Speakers showed a nice balance of motivation and resolve especially with Belnades’ father as the elder. Dracula on the other hand is actually given a very relatable motivation this time around and rejects that cartoonish villain persona he has in the games. This is a man wounded by humanity and they dedicate a fair amount of time to his rage and set him up quite nicely as the villain wronged by humans, and that is more than I can say for the Bishop of the church in this season. The Bishop seemed to take on the one note persona of Dracula, but from the church’s perspective it is all about control and power. Yet while his character wasn’t nuanced or gave a good balance to the church, he has this impressive presence and a great chilling vocal performance by Matt Frewer (you may know him as Panic from the Disney version of Hercules) that more than makes up for it. There is the mysterious Sleeping Soldier that shows up near the end and while he can be an interesting character down the line so far all we had was a cool fight sequence for him.
Speaking of fight sequences, Castlevania is one dang flashy piece of animation. The fight choreography is pretty imaginative, especially when Trevor is fighting utilizing everything and combining weaponry for unique attacks. While it doesn’t always seem too probable, they never cease to be entertaining adding this type of comedic delivery in some moments to hold one over past all the brutality this series can offer. Yes this is one gory affair and they are not holding back at all. You need some light-hearted humour here and there as people are ripped limb from limb or having their body parts flayed from their body by human and demon alike. It is quite the dark world, one that the animators create with painstaking detail of the fear one should have in this time and place. Don’t expect much to brighten the tone and atmosphere of the show for most of it and expect to see some gruesome imagery.
They never do shy away from the humour in most scenes when one thinks about it, effectively using this dry wit most of the time creating for more fun moments than tense moments. I remember laughing during the bar fight, the final fight against the Sleeping Soldier, and many others because of just the terrific line delivery from all of the cast. Which of course can only happen because of the great dialogue written for them, so kudos to the production for making this series not too dour or not too light-hearted but balancing both quite effectively.
What sold me on this series was the promise it holds for a sequel, but also how enjoyable its main tale was. There was nothing too complex, it kept the action engaging and entertaining, and there was no point in the season where I thought that there was a particularly weak spot. That also goes for the opposite as well. There was moments of comedy that shone brightly for me, yet I found myself more twitching at the excessive nature of the violence than particularly enjoying it. It feels more like Hellsing rather than Vampire Hunter D in that regard. It basks in the violence which can at times overstay its welcome and why I feel like Trevor Belmont is such a welcomed addition to the story. He makes each scene easier to digest because of not only his roguish attitude but his relatable struggles and demeanor. We all want to run away from those who harm us, deny them help, yet it is the heroes who remind us about the humanity of helping all those in need. Trevor fits the role perfectly and is kind of the lynchpin for the show.
Castlevania proves one thing to me that the age of good video game adaptations can still happen. This won’t be perfect, it won’t fit everyone, but what it does offer is a good entertaining adaptation that understands the meaning of the word adaptation. It understands the source material, yet doesn’t hold itself directly to it and takes liberties to create a cohesive story. It creates a short enjoyable journey that will hopefully grow with further installments into something with more depth to it. Taking the building blocks it has laid out and the fun elements this show has and move forward into a more introspective direction to give us more meat to the story. It has what it takes to be more with its characters setting up an interesting band of heroes and an intriguing world worth delving deeper into. It knows the path it is on and we know the future trajectory of this dark filled world of despair Dracula has created from his hatred.
It doesn’t need to be perfect right now, it doesn’t need to be a pillar of what other video game adaptations should follow, but right now it is one of the best video game adaptations I have seen and a step in the right direction. Or should I say whip in the right direction? Oh…I am so punny…
Oh I really do hope that this is the moment we get a lot of solid video game adaptations. What we have with Castlevania is a good step in the right direction which could in its second season be the true step in the right direction for Western television/film. I won’t deny that I am a tad bit hopeful for the future, but with films like Assassin’s Creed and every Uwe Boll film ever made you really can’t help but be hopeful.
So have you seen Castlevania? Have you played the original games? What are you expecting from this Netflix series? Feel free to leave a comment down below and don’t forget to have yourself an Vladtastic day! Oh…I need to stop with this…