The Link-Up Spell: An evening with Netflix’s Castlevania

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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 poster looks pretty old-school. That is a great sign.

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’s look is based from the Curse of Darkness art made by Ayami Kojima.

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.

The only omission from the game’s cast is the pirate Grant.

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.

Dracula cried blood tears when he realized we will have to wait one more year to watch second season.

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!

  • Señor Jefe El Rossover

    Mrs. The Ross and I watched the series this weekend, we found it enjoyable but lacking a bit as you noted, Link. Having not played the games, I was intrigued by the characters and look forward to the story unfolding.

    • Thanks, Mellon.

      Trevor Belmont was always my favorite character of the series, so I was pretty happy when I saw that they were using the Dracula’s Curse story. At least, the warm reception to the series for people like you, who haven’t played the games, paid the risk and Netflix can be more open to experiment more with Castlevania or even other games, like is happening with The Witcher.

  • tigeraid

    WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO THE “NO ANIME” RULE!?

    (I’m jacked to give this a watch, actually.)

    • The character design is kinda inspired by anime. Adi Shankar is an open anime fan, indeed. But I felt that the background design, the coloring and the whole story pacing is very Western. There aren’t overly reacted funny faces or erotic girls troupes, for example, so I tried very much to state that in my review, because a full anime would be more of the same and would not make justice for the gritty atmosphere of the source.

      I hope you can check it soon, is a very quick run. Pass me your comments through private chat when you see it, interested in everyone’s opinion on this one.

      • Dumpster Lung

        Yes! Those are the things that keep me from enjoying most anime, besides the writing in general. Seems like the 2 main extremes are the really goofy, silly ones that is just not my style of humor at all (or the humor feels out of place within the rest of the show), or you get those uber dark ones with tons of violence/sexual content/etc that despite being very much “not for kids,” still feel like they were written by one.

        I got jaded on anime super quick 😛

        • The Arm(KJM)

          Space Battleship Yamato, Gatchaman, Getter Robo G, Danguard Ace, Gaiking. Anything else is a waste of time.

          • Dumpster Lung

            Interesting. I haven’t heard of any of those.

            I do think I remember liking Cowboy Bebop when I started watching it a long time ago, but I only saw an episode or two tops. I need to look that one up sometime.

            Trigun is an example of one I’ve had multiple people tell me was amazing, but I really wasn’t feeling it when I did sit down and try to watch it. The goofy bits killed it for me. I really tried with Samurai Champloo, too. I really liked the first episode a whole lot, but I felt like I liked it less with each episode after that, until it started getting on my nerves 😛

          • KJM, Anla’Shok

            Space Battleship Yamato is far better known in The US as Star Blazers. The 1st series came out around 1974 and was a big influence on some dude named George Lucas. ^_^

            Gatchaman is also much better known in The US as Battle Of The Planets.

          • KJM, Anla’Shok

            Regarding the other shows I cited: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Force_Five

      • tigeraid

        More like an adult Avatar: The Last Airbender, then.

  • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

    CAN’T WAIT FOR MOAR ELFIC NONSENSE!!!!!!!!!! GORAK DON’T LIKE OR HATE DREADED ANIME STYLE BUT WILL CHECK OUT NETFLIX & CHILL MOVAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ALSO CASTLEVANIA 3 MAKE GORAK MAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDD!!!!!

    • Jajajaja, thanks for the support my Caveman friend. I have prepared more surprises for this column that I know you will all enjoy as much as me writing! I will always be thankful to all of you for your support on my articles.

      YESSS, CASTLEVANIA 3 SMAAAAAASH (Because it’s so freaking hard!).

  • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

    Roses are red
    Violets are blue
    BUT ENOUGH TALK
    HAVE AT YOU!!!

    • You steal man souls, and make them your slaves!!!

      • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

        Perhaps the same could be said of all metal blogs

    • Dumpster Lung

      I read your roses are red thing as an angry hardcore punk anthem.

  • Depechemodeisgangsta

    I have never played the video games, but i did saw the show and it was very good, also each episode is just 30 minutes, very good storyline so far.
    At the moment i’m watching, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, funny weird show.

    • If you all need help with the games I can help! 🙂 Just reach me out on Twitter or the ToH FB group.

    • It’s pro-wrestling: the anime

    • BobLoblaw

      JoJos bizarre adventure was an incredibly fun fighting game as well.

      • Depechemodeisgangsta

        Not going to lie, i didn’t even knew that there was a game on it, TBH i don’t play video games much, i have a ps4 and like 5 Games, about 3 weeks ago, i bought, Shadow of Mordor for $5.00 on PS Store because it has great reviews and i remember playing a Lord of the rings on PS2 and i really liked it, but Shadow i have probably play 2 hours top, and i’m a quitter once i get stuck on something i rarely keep trying.
        But i will have to check to see if i can find that JOJO game.

        • BobLoblaw

          It was a whacky 2d fighter that came out in japan for the dreamcast. Im sure an emulator or port could be found, though only the import disc and DC are trve.

          • Depechemodeisgangsta

            Yea i just searched for game and it looks like i will need emulator since it appears the only north america game was for a ps3 console.

          • BobLoblaw

            Was probably a lackluster port then. May as well go out, get yourself a refurbed Dreamcast (they are worth it) and shell out the $100 or so for the real deal disc, $20 or so for the illegal knockoff or rip it to a CDR for free. Those are your options. Get cracking.

          • Depechemodeisgangsta

            Trying to save that $ instead to see if i can get that new upcoming mini S-NES.

          • BobLoblaw

            To be honest, you would save money in the long run buying a Dreamcast and downloading one of the well put together snes image rips (which have way more games than you would get with that package) then the entire NES catalogue (nesterdc) as well as sega and then any dreamcast titles that are prohibitively expensive. All for the cost of a refurbished DC and a pack of cdrs.

  • Thus begins the wedge that will open wide the bowls of the toilet to anime

    • Dumpster Lung

      It’s kinda like the way a racist family member can reluctantly befriend a coworker or something. “Castlevania’s one a’ the good ‘uns”

    • BobLoblaw

      The porcelain is cracking.

  • Dumpster Lung

    NO ANIME

    Actually, I did give this a shot, and I enjoyed it. I think if it weren’t for shift from movie to series, which clearly happened after a lot of work had been completed already, it’d be even better, but despite that weird pacing and kind of abrupt ending just as things are ramping up (regarding the story, anyway–there’s plenty of action), it was good.

    I got into anime from my pre-teen through teenage years, but by the time I graduated high school, I couldn’t really stick with it. Ever since, I haven’t ruled it out completely, but I generally just don’t like most anime at all. Just doesn’t appeal to me the way it’s written, usually. Anyway, this does feel very Western, and lacks a lot of the usual annoyances in anime that turn me off of a series instantly (I don’t even know if this is considered anime by anyone who actually cares about the country of origin).

  • JWG

    I’m still mad at the realization I had about ten years ago that’s even more true now that more than a few of the past Castlevania games that I missed out on are basically lost to history (and/or and anyone lucky enough to live somewhere that ancient consoles or handhelds and their games might appear in a pawn shop or garage sale nearby more often than once in a century).

    Granted, all (half dozen?) of the ‘great’ ones are available somehow or another in remixed or remastered forms for boxes that are only one or two generations old. But I’m an obsessive completist. I really just want all of them at my fingertips on one console (and at most one handheld too), no matter how difficult that might be. And it shouldn’t be – aren’t they all owned by just one company other than those unnecessary reboot ones?

    • Ahhh, yes. Castlevania games right now are super rare now that Konami just pissed on the series legacy.

      There are a couple of titles on Nintendo’s Virtual Console and the XBOX thingy, I think. But the physical old games are kinda expensive or rare right now.

    • PostBlackenedWhaleGaze

      Just get an emulator. Problem solved.

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  • Spear

    <3 Link. This was a great writeup. I really liked the fact that this didn't feel like it was just a video game compressed into movie form; it felt like it was truly intended to be a show from the get-go. There's not really any fanservice, it's not a handful of hastily strung-together action scenes, and they did a good job expanding on the source material while remaining true to its spirit. Some of the dialog is a bit clunky, but it's still leagues better than anything from the games. I really enjoyed this.