Netflix’s Castlevania: Losing My Religion

I deserve bonus points for not plucking the low hanging fruit of “A Miserable Little Pile of Secrets” for the post title! Self high five!

Before Konami decided they didn’t want to make video games anymore, the Castlevania franchise was one of its major pillars. Since the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System, members of the stalwart Belmont clan waged war against Count Dracula Vlad Tepes and his hellborn minions of evil. With over twenty games under its belt, Castlevania never  ventured beyond the video game console (unless you count Simon Belmont’s appearance in Captain N: The Game Master) which is surprising considering how easily the material could be adapted. Thanks to Netflix and comic book author Warren Ellis, the franchise finally gets its due with a short but sweet animated series.

Castlevania isn’t a direct adaptation of any particular game but rather an amalgamation of familiar beats lifted from the video games. Set inside the borders of a fictional, Western European country named Wallachia, the Catholic Church holds powerful sway over the hearts and minds of its citizens through strict religious doctrine. In the outskirts of civilization lies the castle of the infamous Count Dracula Vlad Tepes and its sole inhabitant in complete isolation from the larger world. That peace is broken when a young woman whose forward and scientific thinking puts her at odds with her religious peers. Dracula is taken by the woman’s boldness and invites her to study in his library. As the pair grow intimately closer, the village woman encourages Dracula to better understand humans, walk among them and understand their mortality.

What story involving Dracula exists without the theme of forbidden love? Unfortunately, the series doesn’t take long before the poor woman earns the ire of the Church who have her burned at the stake for her wicked consorting. Although she begs Dracula with her dying breath to forgive these people, her death sends the dark lord into a rage so palpable you can’t help but feel sorry for him. He gives the Wallachians a year to make their peace before he unleashes total destruction. Though the people are fearful, the Church carries on in spite of the warning. And sure enough, one year later they bear witness to the wholesale slaughter of men, women, and children at the claws and talons of terrible creatures.

All this happens within the first ten or so minutes of the first episode. Pacing certainly isn’t a problem for the show–sometimes I wish each episode was longer than 25 minutes. Ellis knows how to present an exposition dump that gets the viewer up to speed without having to get into the nitty gritty elements, like why Dracula lives where he does and how the Church gained so much power over Wallachia. Ellis also wastes no time in turning Dracula into a sympathetic figure, instead of his more malevolent incarnations. This Dracula comes off as being on the same level as Gary Oldman’s depiction of the character in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He just wants to love! Wallachia probably would have been left alone if the Church didn’t pee in his applesauce. With the country burning, people are looking for a hero to save the day. Who would have thought that salvation would come from the Church’s second greatest antagonist?

Next to Dracula, I really how the series sets up the attitudes towards the Belmont clan. Trevor is a flawed man, as one might expect from the last surviving member of his monster slaying outcast family. With nothing left to do but get drunk in taverns and sleep under trees, Trevor ultimately finds himself playing the role of the reluctant hero after he is forced to ally himself with the Speakers, a collective of spiritualists used as scapegoats for Dracula’s wrath.

With only four episodes in the first season, Castlevania ends as quickly as it starts. Perhaps the first four episodes were originally designed to be a made for Netflix pilot movie, just like the Star Wars: The Clone Wars feature film had been. By the end of the series, all major players are brought together in an alliance with the singular goal of halting Dracula’s attack on their homeland. I was bummed that Dracula himself only shows up during the first episode, preferring his minions to represent their master, but his presence can be felt all over the series as the progenitor for Trevor’s woes. I won’t lie; it really bothers me that the season is so short considering how entertaining it was to watch. I’m left now, alone, with my thoughts on the direction of the show. Will future seasons revolve around Monster of the Week stories or instead focus on Trevor and the gang storming Dracula’s castle and visiting all sorts of familiar, in-game locations?

Length of the initial season aside, Castlevania is an enjoyable piece animated entertainment. The animation itself is a beautiful marriage of Western and Eastern influences. The series doesn’t stray from violence and the blood of many of innocents is spilled. There are some pretty intense scenes of brutality as Dracula’s winged minions crush people apart and steal babies from cribs. Bleak as the show can be, Castlevania knows when to drop some great comic relief, most of it at the expense of Trevor Belmont. The show’s quality shines during the action set pieces, such as Trevor’s fight against an angry mob and the amazingly choreographed battle between a famous half-breed. This scene in particular was so great to watch because both Trevor and his enemy are masters of their weapons during a fight that is evenly matched.

The first season of Warren Ellis’ Castlevania is a great setup for things to come (which I can rightfully say because it’s already been renewed for a second season). I’m hoping that future seasons will run longer–none of the BBC Sherlock nonsense–and that Warren Ellis stays on to write the story. I’m a huge fan of his books, such as Incognito and Transmetropolitan, two books that feature characters with very personal stories. Castlevania may be short but it certainly left me hungry for a whole lot more.

Title: Castlevania
Developer: N/A
Publisher: N/A
Platform: Watched on iOS
Media: Streaming
Genre: Horror, Paranormal, Action
Release Date: Season 1, 07/07/2017
Purchased Or Received For Review? N/A
Where to buy: N/A

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