Castlevania premiered on Netflix over the weekend. Categorised as an animated show, the first season consists of four episodes with each one lasting no longer than 25 minutes. Due to the short length of the first season along with my shared interest with Fox Force Five News’ Editor in Chief, Keven Skinner, we have each reviewed Castlevania from our own perspectives, and consolidated our reviews into one overall rating of the show.
When his wife is burned at the stake after being falsely accused of witchcraft, the vampiric count Vlad Dracula Tepes declares all the people of Wallachia will pay with their lives. His army of monsters and demons overruns the country, causing the people to live lives of fear and distrust. To combat this, the disgraced demon hunter Trevor Belmont takes up arms against Dracula’s forces, aided by the magician Sypha Belnades and Dracula’s son Alucard.
Sean’s thoughts: If you go into Castlevania thinking that you’re watching an extended, hour-and-twenty-minute prologue instead of a television show, then you will be fine; otherwise, you will be left disappointed. Based on the popular Konami video game franchise that started back in 1986 on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Netflix’s Castlevania is the first ever video game adaptation (either in television of movies) that left me satisfied. As a video game, Castlevania has never been about the story; more so, the games have been about venturing through Dracula’s demonic castle as a member of the Belmont clan and using a magical whip known as the “Vampire Killer,” experiencing the different environments and monsters you battle, and finally reaching the end and squaring off against the infamous bloodsucker. But in this Adi Shankar- produced (Dredd) series, the first season plays out as an initial setup before Castlevania (the name of Dracula’s ever-changing castle) actually ever comes into play.
Playing out as an extended prologue cut into four episodes, Castlevania is well done in every aspect. From a story standpoint, season one focuses heavily on setting up its main characters. Dracula is shown as a vampire sympathetic to mankind before unleashing his reign of terror upon Wallachia, while Trevor Belmont comes off at first as a drunken showboat of the disgraced Belmont clan before setting out on his mission to rid Wallachia of terror. Along with a couple of supporting characters (mainly Alucard and Sypha Belnades), Castlevania covers all bases in terms of giving viewers just enough character depth that will come into play in the forthcoming battle we will see in season two. Visually, Castlevania looks just fine as an anime-style show. While it’s certainly not as detailed as many other anime shows, colors like red (which you’ll see a lot of considering blood is shown every couple of minutes) really pop out to highlight the series’ brutality. As for voice acting, Castlevania is on point, dellivering what I expected. Graham McTavish (Preacher) is great as Dracula while Richard Armitage (The Hobbit) is both impressive and somewhat sly as Trevor Blemont.
The benchmark for video game adaptations is pretty low given how many adaptations before Castlevania have been awful (most recently Fox’s abysmal Assassin’s Creed movie). So, it’s not surprising that Castlevania easily exceeds expectations thanks to its strong opening and finish, with more than enough intrigue sprinkled in-between. Dark, often violent, and surprisingly humorous at times, Castlevania is not only worth your time (especially if you love video games), but it also is the easiest thing to binge-watch on Netflix right now. However, that’s also Castlevania’s biggest problem: by the time you finish it, you will be left wanting more because there is simply not enough content (or episodes, in this case). Given how Netflix is just now entering the fold of video game adaptations, it’s not entirely surprising that this four-episode run is seen as a test run for the streaming giant to see how viewers react. And if your show’s biggest problem (according to viewers) is that there aren’t enough episodes, then you know you’re doing something right.
Keven’s thoughts: I haven’t played a Castlevania video game since …… Super Nintendo? I don’t even remember playing it other than I died a lot and I had a cool whip to smack monsters in the face. So to say I’m not the biggest fan of the franchise going into this adaptation would be understated. However – I’ll tell you what I’m a fan of — monsters, bad-ass animation, a wicked voice-cast and a stellar writer by the name of Warren Freaking Ellis. If you are unfamiliar with that name — look him up and then buy his comics. Start with Transmetropolitan and then work your way through his impressive bibliography.
Right off the bat, you can tell that Castlevania is unlike most other adult animated series’, in both it’s tone, production value and outstanding script with equally great voice performances from guys like Graham McTavish (Preacher) who plays Dracula both frightening and sympathetically. I was kind of blown away at how brutal the first episode played out, where we see how this unholy war began and why Dracula is so damn pissed off at the human race… Later on we encounter one of my favourite TV characters of 2017 with Belmont, a drunken vampire hunter who stumbles from town to town getting wasted and ends up in a horrifying place that sucks him into a quest of going after Dracula himself.
Richard Armitage voices Belmont, and I think he did a wonderful job playing the gruff anti-hero. I’m not so fond of Alucard (James Callis), who is the long swoopy haired hero vampire in this tale, but maybe I’ll change my mind as the series continues forward. You may also ask yourself – why only four episodes? And why do none of the episodes really end in what feels like an episodic structure? That’s because Castlevania season one is just an 80-minute animated feature disguised as a TV show because I think Netflix feels they can sell this much easier as a television series rather than a bunch of original movies in the longrun.
Looking back at the classic videogames, I have to say they nailed the tone and even the monstrous enemies that Belmont faces are all part of the game franchise at some point. Cool winged demons, a cyclops, you name it — Castlevania has it and the more I think about it, the more I’m shocked at how great of an adaptation it truly is. If you liked the videogames, I don’t see how you can dislike the show at this point. The brutality and adult content is also staggering… You’ll see demons plucking babies out of their cribs, blood rain, innocent citizens being torn in half, eyeballs being whipped out sockets.. The gore and language are equally ferocious, so don’t expect to watch this with the faint of heart — Castlevania is an R-Rated animated slice of deliciousness. Even though I was confused at some of the pacing early on, season one definitely did the job and set up what could be an unbelievable series that actually pleases both fans of the game and casual action-horror nuts like myself.
Fox Force Five News’ Overall Rating: