Castlevania: Season 1 Review

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Castlevania-Netflix-Logo-and-Vlad-1-750x422Hollywood isn’t known for adapting popular video game franchises to film or television that ever become fan favorites.  For the most part over the years video games that have come to the big screen have flopped at best.  Every once in a while though you have a little gem like Castlevania come along that brings life back to this genre.

If you are an 80’s baby you probably played Castlevania as it is one of the most iconic video games ever created!  With the series based off the Castlevania games it draws very heavily from the 1990’s Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse which follows Vlad Dracula Tepes (voiced by Preacher and Outlander’s Graham McTavish) has returned and unleashed a horde of demonic monsters against the peasants and clergymen of 15th Century Wallachia, and only a motley crew band of monster slayers which includes a discraced nobleman Trevor Belmont (The Hobbit’s Richard Armitage), magician/scholar Sypha Belnades (Alejandra Reynoso) and Dracula’s half-breed son Alucard (Battlestar Galactica’s James Callis) have the power to restore peace to the land.

Overall the Castlevania games are exploration in the world than story and plot, and this story isn’t one you’d think of when it comes to making an animated adaptation of. So why makes Castlevania different, and why did it have success? A lot of it had to do with who ran the show and who was in charge.  Executive producer Adi Shankar has sort of built a second career out of crafting unauthorized, adult-oriented reboots of popular franchises, including 2012’s Punisher: Dirty Laundry and 2015’s Power/Rangers. If you want to craft an R-rated overhaul of a popular video game franchise while still retaining the core appeal of that franchise, Shankar is the man you call!

Good shows come down to not only directing, producing, and people in charge but an amazing team of writers as well!  Writer Warren Ellis, a man known for blending high-concept science fiction and black, nihilistic humor in his stories, but he’s primarily known for his comic book work (Planetary, & Transmetropolitan).

Seeing the teaser for Castlevania immediately had me excited, but also cautious at the same time as adaptations like these are almost never done well!  So I waited, and waited, and waited some more before finally parking in front of the screen to hit play and Castlevania starts off on the right foot by focusing not on the Belmont family, but Dracula himself. The series opens with a fateful encounter between the reclusive vampire king and an aspiring scientist named Lisa (The Mentalist’s Emily Swallow). That opening scene nicely sets the tone for the series, establishing Dracula’s tenuous connection to the human world and giving him real motivations for terrorizing the land of Wallachia. While Dracula has little overt presence in the series after the first episode, it’s satisfying to see Ellis treat his main villain with depth.  Dracula has at least a shred of tragedy about him in any incarnation, but that angle is really played up here, and it’s done very well!

In addition to creating a sympathetic villain in Dracula, the early portions of the show help establish the general themes that dominate the episodes.  This adaptation is as much about fear and the reasoning of people, as it is man and monster.  Both Dracula and the monster hunters are forced to choose whether they believe humanity can rise above the dark age this show thrusts you into.  I love how the show pulls you into the live of Trevor Belmont which is the last surviving son of the disgraced family, one who’s tempted to simply sit back and let those who wronged his family suffer their just fate.

Netflix pulled out the stops and spared no expense to get some amazing actors for the voice cast, forgoing the familiar names in the voice acting world in favor of some very big-name actors. For the most part, the actors do justice to their characters. McTavish and Callis in particular stand out as they channel the pathos and suffering of their undead characters. There are times when the actors (Armitage especially) speak too softly and become drowned out by the music and sound effects, but there is a passion to the performances that you don’t always find in projects like this.

Amid all the crazy character drama and clashing between science and superstition, Castlevania never loses sight of the classic appeal to the game series. There’s plenty of action to go around, even though we don’t get to see a lot of the monsters from the game. The series does an amazing job of pulling the world of Castlevania to the screen for our eyes to see. This series may draw mainly from Castlevania III in terms of plot, but it’s far more influenced by games like Symphony of the Night when it comes to the lovely art style.

 

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