A couple quick items of note before we start the review. First, we’re not going to completely spoil Castlevania for you, but we are going to discuss it, so there may be things in this review you don’t want to read before seeing it. So if you don’t want to know any more until you’ve seen it, stop reading after this first paragraph and come back later. (Also, it’s four episodes long, it’s the same as watching a 90-minute movie, go make the time.) You’ve been warned.
Second, geek cards on the table: I am a Castlevania fan. I have played and beaten the first three NES games, with calluses and Medusa Head PTSD to prove it. Symphony Of The Night is a masterpiece, but I have a warm spot in my heart for Super Castlevania 4. And I wish Konami would get off their asses and put real effort into making a great Castlevania game again instead of the rotting corpse that was Lords Of Shadow 2. This is something I love, so bear with me if I both gush and take a microscope to it at the same time.
Video games being translated into anything else usually has poor to mixed result. The reason is that no one developing a game is sitting back thinking “I hope they make a film out of this.” It was created for an entirely different experience. This particular series was done in four episodes because it was meant to be a movie first, and honestly, going with it as a series was a better choice because if this were a film it would have flopped. Splitting everything up into four sections was a perfect way to introduce the four main characters of the show: Dracula, Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, and Alucard.
The first episode focuses on Dracula falling for his second wife, the loss of her life, and his vengeance. The second on Trevor as a person, a fighter, his status, and where he stands. The third on Sypha to a degree while establishing Trevor more, and the fourth on finding Alucard and becoming a team.
There is no better way to say this, so I’m just going to say it and wait for the outrage to pour into the comments section: This is essentially a prequel to Castlevania III. That is both an amazing thing and a detrimental thing. It’s amazing because the jump from Simon’s Quest with Simon Belmont to Dracula’s Curse with ancestor Trevor Belmont had no explanation because it was 1990 and no one bothered to have continuity in video games at that time. This series poses the idea that Dracula’s reign of terror on Europe is because his second wife was killed, a storyline that wasn’t created until Symphony Of The Night, but was never officially tied into the reasoning behind CV3.
And that also serves as the reasoning why this is bad, because the series is now crossing pieces of continuity that Konami never planned to link in the first place because…well, it’s ’90s Konami. While a part of me is very happy to see some kind of linkage and use of two different tales from Castlevania‘s history, it also annoys me that it took 20 years and an animated series to make that connection happen. That is an awesome story that should be in a game! I’m very happy it’s here, but I’m also saddened as a gamer of where it isn’t.
Another part that made me extremely happy was that we finally got a proper explanation behind the church’s motivation to excommunicating the Belmont family from CV3. In the game, it simply says the church called Trevor and company into action. Which playing the game years later as an adult, I asked myself “If you’re a Belmont, do you really need to wait for a church’s approval to kill Dracula?” This show gives depth and meaning to the Belmont clan’s issue with the church, and how craven the Catholics had become in Europe when people were exploring medicine rather than faith as a way to heal.
Of course, this is a totally fictional universe where “priests” are a roaming gang with immunity carrying knives and swords, threatening people and taking business into their own hands as they impose “God’s Will” upon the towns below who suffer in poverty. The Bishop in this series is a repulsive individual, reminding me of Trevor Goodchild from Æon Flux at times. This is an uncaring church who demand loyalty from all and seek to rid the world of evil, despite being the people directly responsible for the chaos and madness that Dracula is raining down upon them. And speaking of raining terror…
Castlevania is, by far, one of the most blood-soaked, swear-filled gorefest cartoons I’ve ever seen in my life, and I enjoyed every minute of it. When Dracula is pissed, he is pissed! He has no compassion for those who have wronged him and vows total destruction of the human race. Heads on multiple spikes as their intestines link the poles together, wives waking up to their dead husbands in bed, the remaining townsfolk throwing dead bodies into a ditch that pile up like the plague. There’s even a moment where you see a demon with a dead baby in its mouth for food. This series went all out to make this as bloody and carnage filled as possible, and succeeded.
The voice acting in this is spot-on. I am a diehard Batman: The Animated Series fan and very few cartoons remind me of the style, passion, and story that went into that series. Castlevania comes pretty damn close. Graham McTavish as Dracula was an excellent choice, as well as Richard Armitage as Trevor and Matt Frewer as The Bishop. These actors did a superb job of lending their talents to a series that would have died a quick death if not for the voice acting. I loved hearing the words pour through the lips of these characters and bring a new depth to the story being told.
Castlevania isn’t without its flaws. The final battle, while cool with nods to other Castlevania games, feels like a senseless fight that could have been dealt with quickly. But I understand the need to have it and entertain people. It also answered one of my longest geek questions you ask friends when drunk: If I kick a vampire in the junk, does it hurt them? The answer is no. There’s also an abundance of telling people how poorly their faith is placed in simply believing God will make everything alright if you do what the church asks. I’m not a religious man myself, but I also don’t harp on other people’s faith if that helps them get through the day. That being said, this world’s church sucks and is blind as hell as to what hell on earth looks like, and deserves every bit of punishment it receives.
Overall, I loved this show. And I’m very happy it’s already been greenlit for season two, which means we’re getting an animated version of Castlevania III (minus Grant Danasty because he isn’t in the cartoon). I can see why people have issues with it, and even I was taken out of it for a minute when they did a Wilhelm Scream, but it doesn’t detract from this being a good short series without being too tacky or filled with multiple references for you to find. I do have some issues with parts of the story like dealing with The Elder and the elaborate chamber of horrors beneath the town, but I can overlook them and enjoy the series for what it is. I hope other Castlevania fans do as well.