Couch Potato: Castlevania the Series Review

Friends! Readers! Fellow media junkies! Hello once again! Super Hubs here with a real quick review of a real brief show.

Castlevania is a series very close to my heart. Some of my earliest memories are of playing the first game with my mom and brother every day, trying and failing to make a little more progress than the day before. We’d never make it far – the fact that the Medusa sprite triggers very intense anger in me to this day would suggest that we mostly lost to her – but we all loved the game. In fact, one of the things my mom and I have the most in common is our love of horror and, for me at least, it’s Castlevania that really inspired that love in me. Even as a child I loved a good spooky atmosphere and crazy monsters, and this game is chock full of ’em!

medusa.jpg
Like this HORRIBLE DEMON

I played Castlevania 2 – and actually liked it despite it’s…obvious flaws – and 3, but we skipped the SNES so I didn’t get to play the fantastic Super Castlevania IV until much later in life. We did get an N64 and PS1 however and though Castlevania 64 is pretty bad, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for PS1 is an unequivocal masterpiece that I must have put over 300 hours into over the course of my life. From there I played all the GBA titles, all the DS titles, the PS2 games, and even the first of the very underwhelming PS3 games. All this is to say I’m pretty devoted to the series even as it has sharply declined in quality pretty much since Symphony. Which is just a roundabout way of saying I have wanted some form of Castlevania movie for practically my entire life. There were rumblings about a movie in the early 2000s but that project eventually fell through and Simon Belmont appeared as a character in the delightfully strange Captain N tv show, though his interpretation there was………….bad.

So when Netflix announced they were producing a Castlevania show earlier this year I can guarantee I was more excited than you. And when they dropped a trailer announcing that the show would premiere just a few weeks later I screamed louder than I do when I wake up from my recurring Medusa dreams.

medusa
Gaze into her black eyes and know only pain…

And now the show is finally here! And it’s…pretty decent.

First of all I have to note that I am probably the absolute worst person to review this show. On the one hand, there’s no possible way the show could have ever lived up to my expectations and desires. Like I said, I’ve been wanting something like this since I was a child. A very small child. We’re talking more than two decades of pent up desire and anticipation. That’s a lot for any show to live up to. On the other hand, I’m such a big fan of the series and I wanted this so bad that I would undoubtedly overlook a lot of flaws and give the show a lot of leeway. So I’m biased in both directions and you can count on this review not being objective in the least. Sorry about that but I’ll try my best!

The first thing I have to bring up is the look of the show. It’s very much anime inspired which to me is disappointing. The first four Castlevania games had a very western art style. The heroes on the box art were over the top, burly knights with long blonde hair and permanent scowls. They were ridiculous and fun. After Symphony of the Night the art direction changed and suddenly everyone was a very generic bishounen character. That design worked for Alucard – who first appeared in Castlevania 3 but was the main character in Symphony – because he’s supposed to be otherworldly. But I don’t think it makes sense for the Belmont clan. For instance here’s a side-by-side of the original version of Simon – the protagonist of the first two games – and his later redesign.

One of those characters looks like a knight. One of them looks like a vampire. And yet they’re both the same character. I really really really hate the Simon redesign. And unfortunately the show is very much inspired by that aesthetic.

It was sadly inevitable that the show would follow the anime aesthetic since that’s what all the Castlevania games go for now, but I think the old art had so much more character. But, character designs aside, the show looks great. The backgrounds are gorgeous, the lighting is dark and spooky, and for the most part the animation is smooth. My personal preference for non-anime character design aside, I think the show looks great. And the characters DO look good for the most part.

The story is an adaptation of Castlevania 3 which follows Trevor Belmont and his companions Sypha Belnades, Dracula’s son Alucard (way to be up your own ass Drac!), and the sadly not appearing in the show Grant Danasty. Grant. Da. Nasty.

Sidebar: His last name is probably based on an actual Wallachian noble family called Danesti but I don’t care. He will always be Grant da Nasty to me. 

The setup is pretty simple. A woman named Lisa goes to Dracula’s castle to learn about science so she can be a doctor. She and Dracula fall in love – at this point Dracula’s more just a brooding loner who doesn’t like people very much as opposed to the evil overlord who just likes to fuck shit up with skeletons – they get married, and then Lisa is burned as a witch by the church. This goes over about as well as you’d expect and Dracula gives the people of Wallachia a year to leave or he will kill them. They don’t leave.

From there there’s a subplot about an evil Bishop who’s trying to use the curse to his advantage so he can become Pope or something, a group of people called The Speakers who the Bishop is trying to blame for the monster attacks, and a whole lot of talk about goat fucking. Seriously. Which brings me to probably my main complaint about the show: the tone is all over the place.

The aforementioned scene about goat fucking is maybe 6 minutes of this guy talking about it and our hero, Trevor Belmont, getting drunk and rolling his eyes. A fight eventually happens and Trevor keeps getting kicked in the balls. A kind of bouncy little tune is playing and the whole scene is played for laughs. Keep in mind that this scene happens immediately after a scene in which a bunch of villagers are BRUTALLY slaughtered by demons and immediately before a scene in which we see a woman screaming while staring at a crib filled with blood and villagers cleaning guts off of buildings. The show never stops doing this. It undercuts its humor with grim horror and undercuts the grim horror with humor. This can be done well but in this show it’s very jarring.

My other big complaint is the monster designs. Castlevania is all about the monsters. There are hundreds of varieties of monsters throughout the games based on a wide variety of mythologies. The show has like…three types of monsters. Generic bat boogens, a cyclops that shoots petrification beams from its eyes, and a glowy-eyed werewolf like monster. The designs aren’t bad, it’s just disappointing that there aren’t more types. And it’s especially disappointing that there are no skeletons! Skeletons are the goombas of Castlevania. They should be friggin everywhere.

You guys might not know this but I’m a sucker for reanimated skeletons. It’s one of my favorite monster types.

 

skelton
This one’s on a motorcycle.

The voice acting is decent. Not bad but not great. Though it’s strange that everyone has a British accent even though the show takes place in Romania. But that’s par for the course in animated stuff. Everyone in Europe has a British accent. And the music is good, though there are no familiar tracks from the games.

Where the series really excels is the action. The fights are fast and brutal and very much the way I imagined they would happen when I play the games. Trevor uses a lot of weapons that can be found in the games as an obvious nod to the series’ roots. And the last fight between Trevor and Alucard, though conceptually it’s kind of dumb and easily avoidable, is really fun.

The last thing to note is that the series is very short. It’s only 4 episodes of 25 minutes each and it ends with obvious season 2 bait. Trevor only enters Castle Dracula at the very end of the last episode and the action there is entirely confined to one room. So really, it’s more like this season was an adaptation of the first stage of Castlevania 3 which takes place in a village outside of Castle Dracula.

All in all I liked the show, what little of it there is. It was a fun, if uneven, adaptation of games that don’t lend themselves well to adapting. I’m excited for Season 2, if only because that will actually get to the Castle part of Castlevania and hopefully showcase more of the monsters that make the games so cool.

 

medusa
She smiles because she knows you’re afraid.

If you’re a fan of Castlevania you’ll probably like this show. It’s clear the creators are fans and they wanted to include as much from the games as they could. If you’ve never played a Castlevania game in your life….you might like it. There’s enough here to keep non-fans interested and it’s short enough that you can finish it in less than 2 hours. So give it a shot! I need Season 2 to happen so the more views the better!

Thanks for reading guys. This wound up being a much longer review than I anticipated. But that’s just the sort of passion that living skeletons can inspire in me!

 

 

 

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