Remember 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.
This 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.
It’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?