What is Castlevania, the animated series? A miserable pile of garbage or worth a watch?
When Netflix announced that it would be helping to produce an animated series on the classic Konami series of yore I was excited and then... trepidation hit. After all, how well have many Japanese and video game adaptations fared in the past? Not very well if you look at previous form: any one for any of the heinous Uwe Boll adaptations, the anemic American version of Death Note or the underwhelming Ghost in the Shell movie attest to that? So to say I was worried would be a fair assessment but after seeing the Castlevania trailer and hearing that it would be written by comic legend Warren Ellis (of The Authority and Transmetropolitan fame) my interest and hopes were piqued and raised. So how is the series?
Well, for the uninitiated Castlevania follows the adventures of the Belmont family and their multi generational battle against Dracula. When you get down to it the story is simple: the fight between good and evil. However within the first few minutes of the episodes there are shades of grey as the reasons for Dracula's hatred of the church are revealed. He becomes a more sympathetic villain than he is usually represented as in many other media. His hatred of the church and specifically the clergy forms the story arc of this series as the question of science versus religion is brought up.
There have been numerous games which have played with the official time line and lore so there is not a consistent story overall and so prior knowledge is not required to enjoy the show, but for fans of the games it contains elements from Castlevania III.
The writing really is on point and even though it is episodic, flows well, which you would expect from a renown comic writer such as Ellis. His sardonic wit comes through, especially near the end of episode 1, where Trevor Belmont hears the locals discuss their close parentage and beastiality. It seems almost Tarantino-esque as two locals discuss the misadventures of a fellow villager who has laid with his goats and sheep. I have faint echoes of Spider Jerusalem or Kev in my ears as I recall the scene as it is hilariously funny yet incredibly dark too.
The animation are art style are both exemplary and you can see that no expense has been spared. The design of the show is beautiful and there were moments in the show where I paused to take in the true beauty of what was being represented. The art style recalls the best of go thick horror and reminded me of my youth watching Vampire Hunter D and Ninja Scroll. This animation is definitely meant for adults and the high level of blood, gore and dismemberment attests to the fact. The fight sequences are well animated and high octane without being as hyperstylised as Dragon Ball Z or many other anime or manga.
Special mention should be made of the voice actors, who are of a high caliber and contain some bona-fide Hollywood stars, which lend the whole series some gravitas and seriousness.
Castlevania is a great animated show, recalling the best of anime whilst avoiding a lot of the tropes and fan service (read: panty shots of the female characters) which has blighted the medium over the last two decades. The story is intriguing and builds to a crescendo for the second series and based on what was shown here it should be a humdinger.
Fans of the video games should definitely check it out but also anyone interested in a quick bingeable animation show would be foolhardy to miss this.