Castlevania Season 1 and 2: An RTF/Play It LOUDcast Review
For over 30 years there has been a entertainment medium that has been on the rise. Nowadays, it is one of the most prolific and beloved industries in the world. With the title of this very special piece, you can safely deduce that I am talking about video games. Amazing visuals, fantastical and interactive landscapes, riveting characters, captivating stories and escapism are only some of the reasons why we love this pastime.
Though part of the conversation between gaming circles for years; the idea of adapting video game stories or properties has become a huge topic among film studios that are looking for the next hit franchise that will set the box office on fire. With these ventures producing mostly poor and mixed reviews among fans and the general audiences alike; Netflix‘s first foray into adapting a video game property is a breath of fresh air. Or should I say… blood?
A franchise spanning a whopping 40+ titles through a variety of platforms since its debut on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1986, Castlevania has been one of the most iconic properties from industry giant Konami. With an almost endless plethora of characters and dense lore, fans were at the edge of their seats when it was announced in 2015 that producer Adi Shankar, writer Warren Ellis and streaming giant, Netflix, picked up the production rights for Castlevania. As of this review, Season 2 of Powerhouse Animation Studios‘ take on Castlevania has been released and well-received by fans across the board.
Utilizing an animation style that is influenced by Japanese anime, Netflix‘s Castlevania sees Vlad “Dracula” Tepes wage war against humanity after his mortal wife is wrongfully accused as a witch and murdered. As the rage of the vampire king is felt throughout the continent of Wallachia; Trevor Belmont, the last in a long-line vampire hunters, joins Speaker/Magician Sypha Belnares and Dracula‘s first-born, Alucard, as humanity’s last line of defense.
The voice-over cast is led by the remarkable Graham McTavish who plays the tragic Vlad “Dracula” Tepes. The depth, longing and ferocity that he brings to his portrayal of the King of the Night is one of the highlights of the show. The series sets out to present a relatable, tragic take on Dracula by providing him a gripping story arc and clear motivations. This exploration of grief, loss and rage portrayed brilliantly by McTavish are one the reasons Castlevania is more than a gore-fest creature feature.
Richard Armitage (Trevor Belmont), James Callis (Alucard) and Alejandra Reynoso (Sypha Belnades) lead the cast of heroes in this adventure. They share excellent chemistry with each other and the banter between Alucard and Trevor, especially, is superb. Armitage’s portrayal of Trevor’s jaded and carefree demeanor is clear right from his introduction. As he is represented so consistently throughout, it makes his heroics truly rewarding whenever he rises to the occasion. Alucard’s stoic nature and presence capture the viewer immediately and James Callis’ performance leaves fans with a masterful portrayal of one the franchise’s most beloved characters. Alejandra Reynoso’s Sypha was a character that caught me by surprise and holds her own against Callis and Armitage. The balance of curiosity, genius, agency, quips and bad-ass magic make Reynoso’s Sypha a series’ highlight.
A supporting cast that ranges from the likes of Matt Frewer, Tony Amendola, Peter Stormare, Theo James, Adetokumboh M’Cormack, Jaime Murray and Emily Swallow round out a cast of that distinguishes itself in the animation genre. There are no weak links. Every characters individual narrative intertwines effortlessly with the overarching story in a satisfying way. The writers did a great job in mining the source material for deep-cuts from the games and developing them as complete characters that help the story and the series’ leads.
The anime aesthetic is one of my favorites, because of how it lends itself beautifully to capturing fast-paced action sequences and illustrations of grandeur. Powerhouse Animation Studio creates a frightening, yet enchanting, landscape that is a pleasure to watch. The way the blood and gore is presented is fitting for the subject matter while emphasizing the sense of wonder, fantasy and terror that Castlevania is known for. In honor of the legacy of Dracula’s castle in the games, the massive edifice is always presented as a monument that instills fear and awe from all who see it.
To those looking forward catching up with this brilliant series, may I suggest the following method. This format collects all 12 episodes of Castlevania and converts them into 3 feature-length movies.
1. Castlevania: The Call
94 mins (Season 1: Ep. 1-4) = Dracula’s rage is felt throughout the continent of Wallachia as his horde of night creatures invade the city of Gresit. With only darkness in the horizon, will the heir of long-line of heroes turn his back on humanity or answer the call?
2. Castlevania: Legacies
101 mins (Season 2: Ep 1-4) = Loyalties are tested as Carmilla arrives at Dracula’s castle and shakes the war council, led by Dracula’s forgemasters, Hector and Isaac. With betrayal and confusion in the air within the castle; our heroes make their way to the Belmont Estate in search of a trump card in their battle against the king of the night.
3. Castlevania: The Hunt
104 mins (Season 2: Ep 5-8) = the hunt for Dracula is on as the mystical castle is attacked from all fronts. Brotherhoods are forged in blood and stone as the final confrontation against the immortal that waged war on humanity begins!
When this show first got announced, I was immediately on the bandwagon. I was a fan of Adi Shankar’s other projects he produced, Warren Ellis would be writing, and it was freakin’ Castlevania! And it was going to be an adult-themed, animated show! And it was going to be on Netflix! Could this be the first good, dare I say, even great video game adaptation?
Well, I’ve recently finished Season 2 (which featured eight 25min episodes, compared to Season 1’s four episodes) and I can firmly say this is the best adaptation of a video game franchise. What was the secret? Is animation the key vs. live action? Is it being an episodic series vs. a film? Could it be that the people involved are good at what they do and really care about the franchise? Or is it just that Castlevania has a pretty rich, deep backstory and lore that lends itself well to telling stories? Maybe it’s all or a combination, but boy, did they nail it.
I pretty much agree with everything Brandon said in his review, so I won’t rehash it all here, but I do want to call out a few observations:
● For a show that gets so much right about the franchise, and the people involved are clearly fans of the series as there a nice chunk of Easter Eggs for gamers, they really dropped the ball on the series’ music. Now this could totally be something to do with licensing the music from Konami, and not because of oversight or creative decisions, but the music of that series is so iconic and part of the DNA of Castlevania. For it not to be present is a bit of a letdown. That said, there is a moment in Season 2 where they do get a fan-favorite in and, perhaps because nothing was recognizable up until then, it had me audibly cheering at my TV.
● Peter Stormare absolutely steals every scene he is in as Godbrand, the viking vampire.
● Some of the ‘F-bombs’ feel forced, as if someone was like, “We need it be more adult, write-in some more F-bombs!” At the same time, I also appreciate them as they are sort of endearing in that ‘B-movie’ way.
● They did a great job building the universe out in Season 2 and setting it up for future installments (we now know we’re getting a Season 3!). I’m really impressed with what they were able to mine from the franchise.
● The action and fight scenes were epic, appropriately violent and I want more of them.
● I liked Castlevania 64 & Castlevania 64: Legacy of Darkness and I think Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was a good game and had cool lore. Don’t @ me.
Brett and I loved this series and are really looking forward to what the future holds because we have been very impressed and delighted this far.
What do you think of Castlevania: The series? Did you love it? Did you hate it? Are we crazy to call it the best video game adapadaptation thus far? Tell us what you think in the comments below or on Twitter @lexanalvarado or @BTMiro.
– Brett Thomas Miro and Brandon Alvarado, The Scarlet Fan