There’s a long history of video games being adapted to television shows and movies. While there are a few standout examples, generally speaking, they don’t usually turn out very well. It’s at a point where simply saying that a movie is based on a game is enough to get people to write it off before even taking a look. Weirdly, that doesn’t seem to be the case with the new Castlevania animated series that premiered on Netflix a few days ago.
(Mild spoilers below)
I’m not entirely sure why people actually got excited for this one. Maybe it was simply the fact that the Castlevania franchise had been dormant for awhile, and Konami doesn’t seem too eager to make new entries. Maybe it was the fact that it was written by Warren Ellis, a very popular and very talented comic book writer. Or maybe it was the way the trailer showed they weren’t toning down any gore or religious themes to be more widely accepted. In any case, people seemed genuinely excited, and although I didn’t follow the news too closely, I looked forward to seeing the final product.
My heart sank when I loaded up Netflix and saw how many episodes were in this first season. There are only four episodes, and they’re all only 23 minutes long, as if needing to take into account commercials, even though there’s no need for that in a Netflix series. This means that this entire season is just barely over an hour and a half long. That’s not automatically a bad thing though. There are really good movies that are of a similar length after all. Maybe they’ll use the time to tell a mostly full story, leaving open something for another season of course.
What we end up with instead feels like a long pilot episode. And the thing about it, it it’s not bad. The show is specifically based off of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, which makes a lot of sense. Dracula’s Curse, is one of the earliest games in the chronology of the series, and unlike the first couple games, has a decent cast of characters to work with. Those games didn’t have a whole ton of story though, which meant that a lot of the story had to be rewritten.
For what it’s worth, I really like what we do have. The first episode does a great job of introducing us to Dracula and gives us reason to sympathize with him. His motivation is actually the same as it is in the game, the church accusing his wife of being a witch and burning her at the stake, but seeing it all play out is considerably more effective. I also like that the actual conflict is a lot more complicated than “Dracula’s back, go get him”, like we’ve seen a million times. Here, not only is the church at fault for starting Dracula’s war, they also go to great lengths to place blame on anyone but them. This results in our hero, Trevor Belmont, actually fighting more humans than monsters.
While that is an interesting approach, it does result in the show feeling less like Castlevania. Castlevania is a game where you run through a castle and whip skeletons. Trevor fighting corrupt clergymen, while justified in the story, just doesn’t feel like Castlevania. But, maybe it doesn’t need to. After all, how many stories can you tell from just “run through a castle and whip skeletons”?
One of the highlights of Castlevania III was multiple playable characters, and by the end of the season, we’ve been introduced to three of them. I’ve already mentioned Trevor Belmont, who is the last of the Belmont family or legendary monster killers. There’s also Sypha Belnades, a magic user who in the show is associated with a group called the Speakers. And finally, fan favorite character Alucard, who is Dracula’s son. Trevor and Sypha’s chemistry is a lot of fun, as they both don’t seem to like each other very much, but understand the value of each other’s company. Alucard doesn’t get enough screen time to really get much of an opinion on.
And that’s the real problem with this show. It’s over so fast that it’s really hard to get a good opinion of. What’s here is good, but it’s over before you know it and not a lot is actually accomplished by the end. If this was the first four episodes of a longer season, that’d be okay. But instead, it’s the whole thing. Thankfully, a second season that’s twice the length has already been confirmed, but it’s going to be awhile before we get any more.
I’m hoping that the popularity of the show will lead to a better production next season. Castlevania’s art looks gorgeous in still images. All the characters are well detailed and distinct, and the villages and catacombs are all beautifully drawn. Unfortunately, the animation itself is pretty choppy, making the whole thing look kind of cheap, especially in fight sequences. Now that it’s clear that there’s an audience that wants to see more Castlevania, maybe they’ll be willing to shell out for higher quality animation.
While not amazing, Castlevania is absolutely worth a watch. It’s clear that the writers and producers believe in the show and want it to be worthy of the games it’s based on. It’s just a shame that it’s so short and the wait for more is long.