I must admit I’m guilty of noticing Castlevania a couple of times while listlessly swiping around Netflix’s carousels and thinking – I bet that will be shit. Which is a shame, because if it was great, well, that’d be really great. And then I found something else to watch. Turns out, it is really great, and I’m so glad I eventually took a punt. I didn’t even Google it beforehand, which was quite refreshing. I know you should give everything a chance, but if it’s been particularly derisive and only in the end picked up a score of nineteen percent from an aggregate of everyone ever, I guess it’s wholly possible it could actually be pants and not worth one’s time.
See I grew up watching my brother play Super Castlevania IV on the SNES and then playing the incredible Symphony of the Night on the first Playstation (this entry along with 1994’s still-fantastic “Super Metroid” spawned the “MetroidVania” sub-genre of games). I subsequently played some of the other Castlevania entries. Apparently the Netflix story loosely follows Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989). I’ve never bothered to learn the Castlevania chronology as (and I fully expect to be lynched by villagers with pitchforks/angry fans for saying so) the story has never been the high point of the series. The voice acting in Symphony, for example, is quite simply tripe. It’s funny in the way that the original Resident Evil 1 and 2 dialogue is funny. OK, OK, so the newer entries may be bloody fantastic for all I know, but –
Thankfully the Netflix show does not follow this trend. For me, the humour works really well, to accompany the already stellar voice performances – particularly from the three leads: Trevor Belmont (voiced brilliantly by Richard Armitage of Spooks and The Hobbit fame), Dracula (Graham McTavish), Sypha Belnades (Alejandra Reynoso) and later on Alucard (James Callis) joins the fun.
For instance, we meet an exceedingly grumbly and drunk Trevor Belmont, “I’m Trevor fucking Belmont and I’ve never lost a fight to man nor fucking beast!”, he brags, before being hit over the head by a drunk in a bar and effictively taken out. We then have a hungover, beaten and in-need-of-breakfast version of Trevor Belmont attempting to infiltrate Gresit – a shithole not improved by Dracula’s dark forces, who appear when a certain priest goes a step to far against the man himself. Ourkid Vlad is a superb ball of burning anger and fragility, and despite the simplicity of him going all evil evil bad bad and wanting everyone dead, he has a definate likability and vulnerability, particulaly exercised in the scenes with his wife Lisa Tepes, voiced by Emily Swallow. She is an excellent addition to the cast as a calming voice of reason, along with Sypha, who kicks more booty than the rest of them put together and in season two we are introduced to the fantastically cruel and manipulative vampiress Carmilla. Another major noteworthy character is the castle itself, which looks and feels staggeringly beautiful, and as if it holds many secrets yet to be revealed.
Both the visuals and animation are excellent, and one of the really cool things is that the writer Warren Ellis doesn’t constantly shoehorn boss fights or nods to the video games. They do crop up, but when they do they fit, and they feel rewarding rather than forced.
While the first season has only four swift episodes, the second coming from 2018 is twice as long. A third season, apparently greenlit before the second appeared on Netflix, will be ten episodes in length.
The second series builds on the first, with my only criticism being that some of the characters spend rather a lot of time in a (albiet pretty cool) library. Otherwise, compulsive viewing.
Keep an eye on the cast, air date, etc of season 3 (spoilerlicious).