The Link-Up Spell: An evening with Netflix’s Castlevania
The old-school video game franchise Castlevania was recently reimagined as an animated series, published through Netflix. It is a good recommendation or just a time-waster? Prepare your vampire killing tools and let’s find out!
One of the greatest surprises I had in last month’s was seeing that Warren Ellis finally resurrected his Castlevania animation project, a movie that was in has been in development hell for nearly ten years.
As a long time fanatic of this video game saga, started by Konami in 1986, I was certainly happy to have the chance to see that the eternal struggle between the cursed Belmont family against the Count Dracula could reach a new audience, but I was also reluctant because, let’s be honest with this, most video game based movies suck.
Castlevania itself is not a franchise that can be used as an example of exquisite narrative on the digital entertainment world, but there is something mystic that derives from the simple premise behind the story excuses from all the titles and instruction booklets.
The series deals with the old myth of the hero and the evil Lord in most of their entries. In retrospective, the saga history is led by the Belmont clan. This lineage is the heir of the Vampire Killer sacred whip and must train a descendant to use it in case of Dracula’s resurrection, which occurs every 100 years.
This was later twisted in different reinterpretations by the game designers to introduce new mechanics and titles, even with new vampire hunters that changed the formula for better or worse. But, whatever crazy change was introduced into one game, the dorsal spine of the saga was the tragic fate of the Belmont.
As we can deduct from this, the story was sometimes a vehicle for the action on the games, but those plot-holes and the poor character progression were filled by a dedicated fan base that inspired multiple web sites and digital forums to recollect the memoirs of a long timeline of vampire slaying.
A new telling of an old story
This animation published on the Netflix platform is based on the third chapter, originally released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) on 1989, and considered one of the best titles of the system.
In Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse and the animated series, the story follows the return of Trevor Belmont, the descendant of the Belmont clan who was banished from the province of Wallachia by the superstitious people fearing the strength and might of his family. The heir of the Vampire Killer has to sail on to the destroyed lands and fulfill his destiny when the resurrected Count Dracula unleashed hordes of ghouls and demons to decimate the entire towns surrounding the fully formed Castlevania.
What makes this game story special can be the solemn and mythical tone of the Trevor’s quest. He is a loner, who embarks with faith and dedication to his objective, dictated by a family mandate. Trevor is, indeed, the prototypical Greek hero, righteous but tragic.
In the Netflix series, Trevor is, again, a lone wolf, but with some twists to his script. Our principal character, voiced with fine performances from actor Richard Armitage, is presented to the spectator as a drunk and defeated person. Instead of his brave and muscular game portrait, the animated Trevor runs from his issues and finds no motivation, even when he is greatly gifted as an adventurer. This personality leads to some comical relief and some other cool-looking fighting scenes.
Trevor becomes the center of the story after his antagonist dramatic introduction. His portrayal on the series makes him a very likeable character with a scarred background that could easily become the favorites of many fanatics.
On the other hand, Count Dracula (voiced by Graham McTavish) is drawn from the Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and the Bram Stoker’s Dracula film portrays of the vampire overlord. ‘Drac’ is another tragic character that seeks revenge for the killing of his beloved Lisa. She was a human, and the only thing Vlad Tepes loved the most, but her flirts with the dark antagonist led her to a path of fire after being accused of heresy and witchcraft by the Church.
This unmerciful burning blinded Dracula to a path of darkness and revenge, spreading the Curse to all Wallachia as a punishment to humanity.
The death of Lisa sets the agenda for the series. Warren Ellis introduces some social discussions on the script as far as the story lets him without roughly pushing them to the spectator. Themes like compassion and corruption are symbolized into the script in a good manner and small doses.
Also, as an animated product, the Netflix rendition of Castlevania can paint all the blood and deliver all the gore that the story needs. The terrific aspect is that all chapters were hand-drawn with little computer generated resources besides particles and practical effects. Fights and highly moving scenes looks sharp, too.
Casting aside some Japanese animation winks on the character design, the series moves and feels totally like a Western flick. I was pleased with the fact that monsters and enemies were highly influenced by the games illustrations and the characters designs match completely their personalities and respect their dark and gritty source. In this side, the watcher can completely sense that the producer team created the series from a fan perspective and that really refreshes the experience.
Otherwise, if we discard all the palpable passion, there are some flaws we must attend to get the final verdict.
First of all, the short runtime of this animated series is a bloody mess due some writing issues. The sad part is that nearly all chapters are splashed with long scenes and clumsy dialogues that just slow the story progress. This season lasts only one hour and a half, so this is a major problem that hinders the experience.
On the other side, well… When I was thinking the best has to come… It is gone. And now we have to wait for another year to see 8 more chapters, which I expect to correct these faults on the story pacing.
I can understand that Warren Ellis primarily envisioned Castlevania as a movie and not a TV series, but the chapter structure should get some revisions before getting into the animation process.
Was Castlevania a good start for Netflix ventures into video game media territories?
As you can tell on this first exposition, I first have to applaud Netflix for taking a huge leap of faith approving and promoting this Castlevania animation. It was a risky choice to bring a video game formula, with a very simple, secondary and sometimes flawed story, to their massive user base. Warren Ellis & co. made the impossible to squish dialogues and stories from such a streamlined source.
Executive producer Adi Shankar informed days ago that the series was going to get another season in 2018 with eight episodes full of blood, so, it seems the opportunity window will be open for more vampire killing action or even more video game adaptations. He even teased that Assassin’s Creed was going to get an animated feature.
As a result, I am torn between two extremes. From one side, I have to be critical and stand by my rationality. Netflix’s Castlevania animated series have some storytelling issues that made it a clumsy watching in some minutes. I really hope for some good edition process to trim the fat on most of the chapters, due the supreme short length of the season.
But, on the other side, the passion behind the project and the chance to see one of my favorite stories is something I cannot miss for all of this. I have been a Castlevania fan since my childhood, so my nostalgic side cannot be trust blindfolded.
So, let’s just settle with this: For people who dug the games, for those who like adult oriented animation or for people who just wants to kill some time with vampire hunting, this could be a great watching. This is one of those series you just have to watch mindlessly to forget a little the mundane tasks of life.
And a final warning for the fellow hunters, like me: You are warned that there is not kicking ass traditional Castlevania music on this Netflix show.
Well, fellow readers, hope you liked this review because I will be accompanying you every Wednesday with this new Toilet ov Hell feature, titled The Link-Up Spell, in which you will get regular music, movies, books, retro video games and guaranteed Elfic non-sense. Stay in touch and gracias for all the support!