Months ago Netflix announced an animated series based on the beloved video game franchise Castlevania from Konami. Today, the Dracula-slaying series has finally whipped its way onto the streaming service. As advertised, the series is R-rated, featuring plenty of bloody, monster-fighting action. But does it deliver otherwise? Well, that might depend on who you ask and what you expect from the series. At four episodes and just over 80 minutes total, Castlevania’s a short series that ultimately leaves a lot to be desired.
Castlevania was written by storyteller extraordinaire Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan = Life).
Castlevania begins with a woman, Lisa, who befriends Dracula in the hopes that he will teach her ancient “magic” secrets otherwise known as science. Dracula and Lisa fall in love and marry. Soon after, local townspeople take Lisa and burn her. Naturally, this pisses off Dracula who vows revenge on the town and all humanity one year from the day. A year passes, the people did nothing to appease the vampire lord, and all hell breaks loose. Cue Trevor Belmont, a member of a disgraced family of monster slayers who gets wrapped up in what’s going on even while the townspeople despise the Belmont lineage and he, at times, seems uninterested in helping.
The first thing viewers will notice about Castlevania is the obvious — the animation. Castlevania is beautifully rendered, while it’s not groundbreaking, the mood and atmosphere of the show come alive and are ever-present in the artwork. Action scenes are clear and impactful and, as mentioned before, there’s plenty of guts and gore.
Castlevania was written by storyteller extraordinaire Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan = Life. Ellis typically combines so many interesting elements into his story. Here everything is pretty straightforward and in part, self-defeating. From the early moments, Ellis creates a sympathetic villain who is supremely powered. It’s reminiscent of Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness. It seems to be an attempt at blurring the good versus evil lines, especially since Ellis writes other, human, characters as a-holes. Blurring lines of morality is practically essential in modern storytelling but a story still needs someone to root for and someone to root against.
Fans of Castlevania will appreciate the in-jokes referring to the third game in the series, Dracula’s Curse, on which this series is heavily based.
One of the most disappointing aspects of Castlevania, though, is the lack of any complete narrative. There is a definitive beginning that slips into a middle that never ends. At four, twenty-minute episodes, the series ends before it ever really gets going. In fact, the “cliffhanger” ending introduces us to an entirely new character (familiar to those who know the franchise). The entire series takes just over 80 minutes to tell a quarter of a story. Yes, Netflix already renewed the series with more episodes, but it doesn’t change the fact that these four episodes serve as a glorified commercial for the rest of the show with no real resolution in and of itself. And any hope of resolution won’t come for another year. It begs the question, why didn’t Netflix just do a whole arc instead of barely half of one?
Fans of Castlevania will appreciate the in-jokes referring to the third game in the series, Dracula’s Curse, on which this series is heavily based. Anyone unfamiliar with Castlevania won’t feel like they’re missing anything, but they also won’t feel like they got much. It’s an action cartoon with little intrigue that ultimately tells no real story. In the end, Castlevania is a fraction of a narrative that doesn’t do much more than any of the video games.