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Castlevania: The Anime – A Review

castlevania_netflixRemember when you first played Castlevania and you had to deal with the Catholic church persecuting you and then, after completing that two hour introduction, the game finally gave you your first and final boss fight for about ten minutes?

You liar. That never happened. You don’t remember anything!

I’d call myself a fan of the Castlevania games without having played all of them. Under my belt, I have the first three games from the NES, the first two Gameboy Advance titles and Castlevania: Lament of Innocence for the PS2. I like the series and if more was available for the PC, I’d play it. All of which to say, I was excited for this Netflix-produced anime.

screenshot-49-800x450This show is four episodes, making for a less than two hour movie in actuality. The first episode starts off well enough. We meet Dracula, who is smitten by Lisa, a local doctor looking to learn more from the Count’s library. The two get married and things don’t go well, sending Dracula into a rage that kills the population of the countryside. Episode one, check.

The next three episodes follow the unwilling savior Trevor Belmont, last surviving member of a vampire hunting family. As it turns out, his family was driven out and killed by the Catholic church, the same church that made Dracula so angry. While I came in hoping for some fun, vampire slaying action, that’s not what I got. Castlevania, instead, holds back the action in exchange for non-stop monologues from priests, drunks and Belmont. The church is bad, Belmont is afraid, people suck, etc.. That’s what we get for two and half episodes.

40912fbc3ad4c3acd004feeb92eb70adcf4ee041It’s only in the last fifteen minutes, when we meet Alucard, does the series have any momentum. Sure, him and Belmont have a classic battle of misunderstanding, but it took too long to get to that point. The last minute teases what I wanted all along, characters from the game declaring war on Dracula.

Season two has been confirmed by Netflix and will have eight episodes, which is great, since combined with the first we’ll have a full season between the two. If the show had been more episodes, maybe I wouldn’t be so annoyed. It feels like we got a show that was unfinished, more of a proof of concept than a complete work. On the other hand, maybe if the show was twelve episodes, I would have tuned out after the first three, not having the patience to keep going much longer.

I was worried that this show would be too similar to the fantastic Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and, boy, was I wrong. That movie hit the ground running and had some amazing set pieces and action. Castlevania has animation that looks low budget, with a high bloom effect hoping to hide the cheap quality of the show. There’s a focus on the gore, showing us how brutal demons are and how squishy humans tend to be. But, to me, it all felt gratuitous and unearned, considering how underwhelming the plot and action were in general. The only time it felt right was during a fight with a cyclops, which was a brief respite from ecclesiastical soap boxes and self-doubting.  It wants to be an anime for grownups, but it forgets to be an anime for the people that are actually watching the thing.

Also, there’s no music from the games in the show. Not a “Vampire Killer” or “Bloody Tears”. Nothing. Instead, we get forgettable orchestral pieces that serve to prove my point about video game music. It boggles my mind that they would make an anime based on a game that has some of the most memorable music and not use it. Part of the what made Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children so enjoyable for me was the use of classic tracks from the game. I don’t know if it was a copyrights issue or the show thought it was better than the games, but it’s a heavy mark against it.

I didn’t like the show, in case I didn’t get that across. It spends two hours making Catholicism the villain without having anything new to say about the church or religion. We’ve seen these stories before and done better elsewhere. Heck, Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame tackles that issue and has better animation (and is shorter too). Dracula and his castle is on screen for all of ten minutes and Belmont doesn’t take action until the very end. I came in wanting to see Belmonts fighting Draculas and I got Warren Ellis’ Sunday school report card. If it had been an actual adaptation of Castlevania, it might have stood out among the hundred other options I have for anime. As it is, it’s forgettable, an example of what I don’t want in a Castlevania game. Haven’t the Belmonts been through enough?

My Anime History

I realize that by reviewing Attack on Titan, I put myself up as someone who could review anime but I showed no evidence for it! So I’m just going to list and summarize the anime series (not movies) I have watched to establish some sort of background when I review something else. Also, you might notice that I owe a lot to the early days of Adult Swim.

Whether or not I should be embarrassed to admit this, the fact is Inuyasha was the first anime I ever watched. It was back when I was staying up later and later and starting giving Adult Swim a try. It would be the first anime that would come on during the block and I would just leave the channel on and passively watch the show while doing other stuff. But then I started giving the show more attention and found myself really liking it. For a while, this is what I thought all anime was, j-pop fulled intros and outtros, feudal japan fantasy, white haired villains and skirt wearing heroins. I still haven’t watched the whole series but it has a warm place in my heart for introducing me to the medium and it’s not as bad as some of my manly friends say it is.

cowboy-bebop-spike-spiegel-thinking-tanks-yoko-littner-1600x1200-wallpaper_www-wallpaperwell-com_27Cowboy Bebop
This was the second anime I started watching and I had no idea what to make of it. It seemed so cool and mature to my closed off teenage mindset. It was space, it was jazz, it was episodic, it was retro and forward thinking. It was the first anime series I ever bought I loved it so much. Spike was the coolest character I had ever seen at the time and I loved how gritty the series was and how dirty the future had become. Inuyasha introduced me to anime, but Cowboy Bebop brought me to a strange existential point in my life. When I went looking for this anime online, I discovered fan-made anime music videos. All of a sudden, I realized I could do that to and it started me off on what would become a very defining path in my life. If I hadn’t started watching Cowboy Bebop, I might never had been introduced to video editing and who knows where I would have headed in life?

The first episode had me in stitches and I kept watching happily, thinking Vash was the most interesting person in the world (so much so I once considered it for a my future son’s name). Then the series started becoming darker and introduced Wolfwood and I was glued. This is another series that I own, because I find it completely rewatchable and entertaining and it changes gears so well throughout the course of the series that it doesn’t lose any appeal during all twenty-six episodes. I actually just watched the movie on Netflix and made me miss this series all over again.

What a weird show this was. My sister and I got into this slightly passively, only watching when we weren’t doing anything else. But near the end, I became hooked and didn’t miss any of the last few episodes. It was so strange to me at the time, like a dark Megaman. The last battles still stick with me today and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to create something as interesting as this one.

Dragon Ball Z
While all my friends were watching this show, I was basically ignoring it. I did read the manga for both the original and second series, and I did start watching attentively during the Buu Saga. It’s a fun show and I can see why people love it as an entry piece, but it’s only something I slightly enjoyed and I have to admit I still have never seen the Cell Saga.

Okay, I suppose I shouldn’t have claimed Kakaider was weird if I knew this was coming. I had zero idea what to make of this show, but I knew after the first episode that I loved it. It had a robot with a TV head, rock music, a cat girl with a guitar and it actually had a lot of heart. The last episode is particularity good for a final and made me excited to have experienced the show.

Witch Hunter Robin
This was a show that actually lost me for a while. I was interested in the beginning but it just became to slow and introspective for me to keep watching. But, again, near the end of the series I was more into the show and it always struck me as a show that I wanted to like. The concept and animation were cool but I could never fully get past the poor pacing.

Big O
Now here’s a show that I would own if it wasn’t for the poor second season. During the first thirteen episodes, this show was as cool as Bebop, it had that Batman feel, likable characters, giant robots and one heck of a great soundtrack. But the second season seemed so lazy compared to the original. The show went from episodic to arch based and it wasn’t for the better. The last episode is decent, but a letdown compared to everything that came before. Still, it’s a show I’ll rewatch again just for Roger and Annie.

Neon Genesis Evagelion
This show was one I watched like a madman with my friend. We couldn’t watch this show in anything less than huge chunks. Every episode seemed to offer new information while posing twice as many question. The action was brutal and on an epic scale, but I remember grimacing at some of the dark corners this show went and still feel slightly disturbed for having watched the whole thing. The last two episodes are as bad as their reputation states but the movie that came after was much better and helped clear up a lot of questions for me. Until the last five seconds.

I don’t have a lot to say about this show other than I gave it my whole attention for thirteen episodes and it was boring the whole time. Maybe I missed the real draw since I didn’t play the video games but I felt very disappointed by the show.

Samurai Champloo
I had a very strange relationship with this show. Sometimes it was brilliant and as good as Bebop. Other times, it was lacking and left me ready for bed. I still think the show was unbalanced with character focus and development, which is too bad since there are only three characters. But it’s still an extremely cool show with some superb episodes. I’d watch anything by the director after this.

Outlaw Star
I wanted to like this show, I really did. It just never worked for me. It was too weird and grouchy and the ending was so far from the meter I couldn’t invest enough in the outcome. I don’t think any of the characters ever clicked for me and I have a hard time recalling anything I really cared about in this show. I know some people love it, but Outlaw star never worked for me.

Samurai 7
It felt like forever since I had watched my last anime before I started this series but it was on Netflix Instant Watch when I started my subscription. It had been on my radar for a while too. Luckily, the show was great. I liked all the characters and style and I thought it was cool that the story went beyond Seven Samurai‘s ending. I haven’t rewatched it yet, though I should. It really is one of the best series I’ve seen and the final assault on the Emperor is visually and emotionally effective.

Fullmetal Alchemest: Brotherhood
I’m not going to get into how long it took me to finish this series, but it’s one of my favorites. I own the series and can’t wait to rewatch it again. I remember dropping my jaw every other episode and waiting every week for a new episode felt like torture. The Alchemy in the show is great and the characters are all so likable it’s amazing. Even during the show’s downtime, I was hooked and all the locations felt real. While the twists (and what twists they were!) kept me craving more, it’s the pure story of two brothers that will keep me rewatching.

Man, this show was boring. I played the video game and this felt like a bad attempt at clip notes. I’m not sure how the screwed this up but show really is compelling. Somehow, I was able to put eighty plus hours into the PS2 game but couldn’t be bothered to put six into the show.

Attack on Titan
See my review here!

I think I remembered everything. It’s been a while since I started watching anime. I still haven’t gotten around to seeing Hellsing, Excel Saga, Blue Gender, Berserk, Noir or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Right now, the wife and I are watching Eden of the East and Hetalia: Axis Powers, with Gundam Seed up after those. I’m sure I’ll review those as we finish them but if you have any suggestions, please, let me know in the comments. I could always use some direction when looking for shows!



Cowboy City

This was the first video I made when I upgraded my editing program back in 2005. I’m still proud of it, all these years later.

Attack on Titan Review

attack-on-titan-2The wife and I just finished watching Attack on Titan last night. I think it’s the first new anime we’ve completed together. We also finished it in record time when compared to how long we’ve been trying to get through Arrow and Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’m a lucky guy to have a wife that gets excited about anime with giant people/monsters and zipline sword fighters.

Kendra loved the show. I liked the show. You wouldn’t think that would be a big difference in opinion but I’m learning that it is, in fact, a large gap. To love the show the show means to have no complaints. To like the show means those who love it think I hate it. Which isn’t true.

First, the good. The animation is great and probably got me most excited about the show in the beginning. It’s smooth and fast, with perfect coloring and neat designs. The music isn’t overbearing and blends well into the background. The voice acting is good and no one has an annoying sound like Naruto. It’s all played straight and I like that.

The action, when it comes, is great. It’s the kind that I watch anime specifically for, fast and out of this world. The 3d manurvering is one of the coolest things I’ve seen and I wish I could get a set. Flipping in the air like Spider-Man, swords spinning and Titan’s above and below. How can you not feel like a superhero?

Oh boy, and the Titans. They are never not creepy. The big ones are menacing and grotest and they’re like running into a T-Rex. The smaller ones are especially disturbing. They’re fast, they have giant smiles and they only want to eat you. The move sparaticly, have eyes that are focused but vacant…man, I’m creeping out just writing about them.

There’s also some great twists in the story, especially some character ‘fate’ reveals. There were plenty of times Kendra and I looked at each other saying “Holy crap!”

Okay, so that’s why I liked the show. Now on to why I don’t love it.

AttackOnTitan-1First and probably the biggest, are the characters. They are all useless. Skill wise, they all fall short of a standard the show sets for them. They’re supposed to be able to kill Titans? They act like they haven’t had years of training and expectations before the first battle. Only one or two characters ever succesfully kills a Titan and the rest end up running and dying. This is the city’s defense? They’re also all stupid as all get out. Characters are supposed to make bad decisions once or twice, but not when the right answers are so obvious. In one instane, a group of characters refuse to let a certain character use his power that would save them, because they want to prove how strong they are. Then, they all die because they’re have zero skills. Then, the character uses his power anyway and feels guilty about letting the others die. Because they made him. This is dumb characterization by way of Smallville.

The main character is as whiny as Shinji Ikari was, except he’s addes angry screaming to the mix. It’s rough when the character you’re supposed to be rooting for is one of the most annoying. By the end, I was actually more interested in Armin, because he’s had the most growth. Or Mikasa, because she’s the only smart, capable character on the show.


Find more of these!

The second problem I had is the pacing and it seems to be an issue a lot of people have raised. During the beginning, during the big attack on the city when everything should be hectic and insane, characters just stop and talk for half the episode. Now, I understand long conversations that seem to only take a second in the show’s timeframe are a trope of the medium, but not every one has to be as dull or pace-killing as this series would have you believe. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood had long talks but they were always made to hold the viewers interest and push the story foward. Here, on Attack on Titan, they just seem like ways to stretch episodes out for time’s sake. Fortunetaly, this problems seems to resolve itself near the end, but not before it severly damaged my interest in the show as a whole.

Also, twenty-six episodes and no ending? How spoiled did Trigun and Cowboy Bebop make me!

But, you know what? It’s still a pretty cool show. The concept might be stronger than the execution and I might fall into the catagory of people who see the show as a little bit overrated, but I had fun watching it and it was nice to watch it with my wife. Being able to relate to people about having to check under the bed for Titans is great and I love the pictures online of people recreating the attacks. I also enjoyed how much of a giant mech show it was in disguise. I’d never not suggest the show to someone but I think the love one feels towards it will vary from person to person depending on patiance.


Loose Ends

This was one of the last anime music videos I ever made. It seems like forever ago…