When Adi Shankar announced that he was helming a production of Castlevania for Netflix, the general reaction I saw was filled with the usual outcries claiming that the show would be bad. Things didn't get much better once we got an official trailer, either. But like it or not, Castlevania is finally here, releasing on Netflix earlier today. Will the short, two-hour season be a vampire killer or will we get the Shaft as yet another awful video game adaptation hits the market?
The story of Netflix's Castlevania follows that of Castelvania III: Dracula's Curse. Dracula has unleashed an army of the undead on the country of Wallachia as retribution for the Church's execution of his wife. Fearing for their lives, the Church lays the blame at the feet of an organization known as the Speakers, who are in town to help the suffering townsfolk. After a run-in with both the Speakers and the Church, Trevor Belmont, the last son of the exiled Belmont clan, finds himself drawn into the war between the living and the undead.
Though the story is a fairly accurate representation of the game, even those without Castlevania knowledge will be able to follow along without any problems. Castlevania III is a prequel to most of the franchise anyway, so starting the show with it was a wise choice. For fans of the franchise, however, there are a few nods to the games embedded within, adding a nice touch to the series. For example, at one point early on, we see Dracula crying bloody tears over the death of his wife.
As good as the story is, it means nothing if the writing doesn't express it well. Luckily, that isn't a problem with Castlevania. The show's writing, penned by comic book author Warren Ellis, does a great job at drawing you into the story. Two things really stood out to me, which I wouldn't have expected out of Castlevania. First was its humor. Given that the producer described the series as "ultra-violent" and "R-rated as f***" (and it certainly is), it really caught me off guard. Trevor always seemed to have some sarcastic remark no matter what the situation, but it never felt like it took away from the scenario.
One of my favorite lines, for instance, comes in the first half of the season. Trevor saves the elder Speaker from an untimely end at the hands of two members of the Church, cutting the finger off of one and ripping an eye out of the other. Trevor then follows the man back to their residence to make sure he gets back safely. Once inside, Trevor is asked by another Speaker what he did that might bring trouble on the clan, to which Trevor responds, "I'm a little out of practice... They're both still alive." There are quite a few lines like this sprinkled through series and each one is delivered phenomenally.
The other thing is sympathy for Dracula himself. The focus of Castlevania as a series is that Dracula is bad and we need to kill him to save humanity. The games focus on the Belmonts (or other protagonists) as they attempt to accomplish this feat. There aren't a lot of times that delve into Dracula's backstory, but that's where the show starts. It isn't with Dracula ravaging the countryside. it's with Dracula meeting a young woman, Lisa, who is searching for medical knowledge.
After a time skip, we see Lisa being burned at the stake by the Church for practicing witchcraft, where it is revealed that Lisa and Dracula had wed. Dracula, in a fit of rage, vows vengeance on the country; a threat which is further exacerbated by the Church celebrating the death of his wife a year later. Throughout this opening sequence, I honestly felt bad for Dracula. Though his rampage is certainly extreme, having that emotional backstory provided a compelling reason to unleash the demon hordes on the denizens. It gave us an understanding of why things were occurring the way they were while providing us with the motivation for certain events that happen towards the end of the season.
As great as the show is, it isn't quite perfect. There are a few moments that left me scratching my head and wondering where a particular line of dialogue came from, but these are few and far between. The visuals themselves also look pretty clean and smooth for the most part, but to me it looked as though the mouth movement was a little bit off at times.
Honestly, my biggest complaint with the series is in its length. Castlevania Season 1 is composed of four episodes, each between 23-25 minutes. That isn't to say that Castlevania wastes its time; in fact, it's quite the opposite. The short nature of the season really guides the show, leaving little room for it to delve into filler territory. That being said, it felt too short. One of the pinnacles of the series occurs right at the end of episode 4, right before dropping off completely.
Adi Shankar and the team behind Castlevania did a magnificent job delivering on their promise to create a violent, R-rated series. Vulgarity and gore are abound in this adaptation, but I can't see it being any other way. It's definitely not meant for kids, but if you can stand these aspects of it, you'll find a fun, exciting time waiting for you. There are a few, very small issues I have with the show, but they aren't anywhere close enough to push me away. Coming in at just under two hours in length, Castlevania is a fantastic way to spend an evening on Netflix before Dracula's undead army comes to town.