We are currently in the wake of Netflix's #Castlevania, a four-episode animated saga based on the namesake long lasting video game franchise, originally created by comic book favorite Warren Ellis. Personally, I prefer to write articles on subjects I'm familiar with or whose research is possible using the means I have available. That said, I have no console to play nor time to delve into the entire franchise that is more than 30 years old. So this is a review completely from a point of view of an average Netflix-watcher, who is very much into Dracula and vampires.
The duration of the show is surprisingly short: the entire first season is less than a 100-minute long, divided in four episodes. A season two is already confirmed for 2018 and it'll be twice as long. Apparently, it was originally intended to be a series of animated films based on the game Castlevania III, which stars hunter Trevor Belmont and a company of misfits, including a sorcerer, a pirate and a third character whose identity I'll not spoil since it's part of the season's mystery.
I'll refer to the animation as anime, even though I understand some people wouldn't, since it's not a Japanese production, although it's clearly influenced by it. In fact, one thing to be said about this is how generic the animation and drawing style is. Contrary to what we see in Japan, where each anime has particularities regarding the creator's own style, this one is produced by a company, therefore lacking any authorship on its aesthetics. Sadly, this is what we get from most animated films made this side of the world.
Episode 1: Witchbottle
The first episode briefly introduces us to Lisa, a woman of science who is attracted to Dracula's castle due to its many technological advances. She instantly wins Vlad Tepes over, with her beauty, honesty and eagerness. They bond and become lovers, which helps to bring the infamous Count Dracula to a peace with humanity. Years later, thanks to a wonderful decision of a catholic bishop, Lisa Tepes is condemned to burn at the stake for witchcraft, aka science. Obviously, the vampire of vampires becomes enraged and swears vengeance upon mankind in its entirety.
The entire build up of the episode is to set Dracula as a sympathetic villain, whose motif we might come to understand. However, the entire introduction of Lisa's character leading to her death is rushed, in a way it's hard to connect as deep as we were supposed to, since the show's core is built around this event in particular. A lot happens in this first episode, which makes it both choke-full of stuff and quite action packed and exciting.
It's hard for me to tell where the story or even Dracula's depiction fit inside the Castlevania canon, however, one thing is for sure, he's one powerful sob. It's like what we see on Dracula Untold, but on steroids. Some people might not be to drawn to this version, since we're often accustomed to a more contrived portray and here we have the guy doing some astral projection on fire. For the ones who enjoy it, I highly recommend searching for Japanese animation Hellsing.
Episode 2: Necropolis
If the first episode introduced us to the not-so-villainous villain, the second one presented us to the not-so-heroic hero Trevor Belmont, dubbed by Richard Armitage and his powerful and unforgettable voice. Trevor is a typical anti-hero, who has renegaded his role as a savior because his family, the Belmonts, was excommunicated by the catholic church and deemed heretic, when they were, in fact, monster hunters.
The world has fallen under the claws of evil, after Dracula released hordes of hell beasts upon humanity, to have his revenge for the loss of his wife. During his travels, Trevor remains alianated from trouble, living as a complete outcast, fighting drunk in bars. It's a relatable and fun character, that'll definitely hold the show.
In this episode, a group known as the Speakers is also introduced. They are an opposing force to Dracula's evil that believe in self sacrifice in order to help others. They are a key element in this season, especially for motivating Trevor to join in the fight against Vlad Tepes. The speakers are magicians that hold a lot of important knowledge on mankind's history, which is also a reason why they are so important.
Episode 3: Labyrinth
The character of Belmont is further explored in this chapter and we get to know more about the Speakers. Apparently, under the city of Gresit, where they stand, there's a sleeping soldier, who was predicted to join the ranks of humanity and change the outcome of this mortal combat.
One of the highlights of the season is the fight between Belmont and the Stone-eye Cyclops, a beast who can fire a laser beam from his one eye that transform people into stone. He's really skilled when he is not holding back and the animation on the fight is great. It's here that he meets Sypha, a powerful conjurer who stand among the Speakers. She's a key character in the war to come, and her presence was also foretold in the same legend who mentioned the sleeping soldier.
By episode 3 it became clear the intention of this first season, which is not to show the fight itself, but to set up the world and introduce its main characters. We barely hear from Dracula again ever since episode 1, and that remains for the final episode.
Episode 4: Monument
This last episode will definitely remind some people of 2004's Van Helsing, starring Hugh Jackman. After being scorned by the population, Trevor Belmont has to organize a militia to fight off the vampire horde that befalls upon the city. It's the most action packed episode of the bunch, and works as some sort of climax for the ridiculously short season. It's also important to emphasize the violence of the shows. There's a lot of gore, blood and baby-killing (okay, not so much of that one). Netflix did not hold back the violence at all, so we're served with a good dose of vampire mayhem in this one, which is always commendable. The last thing we need is another vampire flick without blood (Dracula Untold, I'm looking at ya).
Once again, a lot happen in the short runtime of the episode (the entire season has an average 23 minutes per episode). There are major plot elements being solved and revealed here, which I'll not spoil. It's the most entertaining episode and it really ends the season with a bang. However, it's hard not to be disappointed with the fact that what we get is a less than two-hour long film, divided into four parts.
As previously mentioned, Dracula himself mostly appear in the first episode, being Trevor the full-fledged protagonist of Castlevania; From the little I know of the games, it seems to be a faithful approach.
It's impossible for me to say where Castlevania stands among the game franchise's universe. However, as a stand alone piece it works quite well, since it's not depending on any form of previous knowledge. It's a self sufficient series, that'll definitely appease horror fans or anyone into some vampiric fun times. It definitely could have been longer, maybe a couple more episodes would have helped to slow down the rushed rhythm of the first and last ones. It's already considered the most bingeable show on the streaming service.