You’ll be hard-pressed to find a horror nut who isn’t at least tangentially familiar with the Castlevania franchise. Taking heavy inspiration from the Universal Monster movies, the infamous game series can be summed up as “2004’s Van Helsing, but good”. Due to the series’ enormous success, an adaptation has been in the works for decades now, but leave it to Netflix to actually go through with the project, producing what might very well be the best animated video-game adaptation to date with their new 4-episode series.
Castlevania stars Graham McTavish as the legendary Vlad Dracula Tepes, an immortal demonic being who vows to destroy the people of Wallachia after religious zealots burn his wife at the stake. However, Trevor Belmont (played by Hannibal’s Red Dragon himself, Richard Armitage), the last remaining member of the vampire-slaying Belmont family, reluctantly embarks on a quest to slay Dracula as his demonic army lays waste to Eastern Europe.
The early Castlevania games weren’t exactly known for their attention to plot or storytelling in general, but the series is actually one of the more faithful game adaptations, following the basic setup to Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse and building upon established lore. This approach results in a storyline familiar enough to be appreciated by diehard fans, but also simple and engaging enough that newcomers can easily keep up.
Like in the game, Trevor finds himself accompanied by a series of companions, with their own vendettas against Dracula. These additional characters keep things from getting stale, as a direct adaptation of the earlier games would be rather simplistic. That being said, due to the extremely short nature of this season, to say any more about the plot or characters would ruin what little story we have, so suffice to say that the series does a phenomenal job at establishing fan favorites and their motivations.
On a visual level, Castlevania is downright stunning. The animation is gorgeous and fluid, and the action still has enough weight to it to keep things grounded. While the series still retains much of the game’s Japanese roots, the backgrounds, color scheme and general style are heavily influenced by Gothic and Baroque artwork, without losing track of the franchise’s videogame origins.
Nevertheless, it does feel as though this was more of a lucky experiment than an actual season of an animated show. As a whole, these four twenty-minute episodes feel more like an extended pilot than a complete narrative arc, only managing to introduce elements that will be further explored in the show’s future. So far, the main antagonist seems to be the Catholic church, not Dracula, which seems kind of strange considering the source material. Although a longer second season has already been confirmed, I think at least a couple of extra episodes could have strengthened the show’s impact, allowing the story more time to breathe.
Despite this, Castlevania is still an immensely enjoyable, if regrettably short, experience. I can’t recall any videogame adaptation that I’ve enjoyed as much as this one since Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill. While the episodes so far serve more as an introduction than anything else, it’s one hell of a series opener, and I can’t wait to see where Netflix takes the show next. Hopefully, they’ll include fully cooked chicken dinners hidden inside the castle walls in future episodes.
Castlevania‘s full first season is available now on Netflix!