Castlevania Netflix Review: Fans Will Cry Bloody Tears Of Joy

It really whips the vampire's ass.

Review by Mike Williams, .

Netflix' Castlevania is a bit of an anachronism. Just over a decade after it was first announced, we're finally able to watch the Castlevania animated feature. After years of floating around the industry, waiting to be made, it's finally real. Animated by Powerhouse Animation Studios (Mortal Kombat X, Darksiders 2, The Banner Saga) and Frederator Studios (Fairly OddParents, Adventure Time); produced by Adi Shankar, the man who brought you the bootleg shorts Power/Rangers and The Punisher: Dirty Laundry; and written by comic author Warren Ellis (The Authority, Transmetropolitan, Dead Space) with input and help from former series producer Koji Igarashi. Castlevania is not a thing that should exist.

We're lucky that it does.

There's already a second season of the show incoming and it's easy to see why when you finish watching the first "season". I use quotes there, because this isn't really a season of a television show. It's four 25 minute episodes, something that probably would've done fine as a single 100 minute feature. It's clear that it was written as a feature, as the ending cuts are a bit abrupt and the intro sequence is just thrown in there. It's not binge-able like a normal Netflix show; just carve out the time it takes to watch a movie and you should be fine.

Castlevania is an adaptation of Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, blown out so the story is more than "special folks vs. Dracula". In the original Castlevania timeline, Castlevania III isn't the full origin of the Dracula-Belmont conflict (that would be 2003's Lament of Innocence), but it is the first time that a Belmont fought someone named Dracula and sealed his castle. Dracula's Curse was an Nintendo Entertainment System title with a very slight story, so Ellis and Igarashi had room to go back and flesh out the entire conflict.

Dracula is just a dude...

From the very beginning, Dracula is actually a sympathetic villain. The show opens with Dracula living in his castle, surrounded by the ancient and impaled bodies of his enemies. He's more myth than reality to the people. It's here that Lisa, a human interested in science, comes to seek his aid. They strike up a relationship and Lisa grounds the immortal Dracula in the human world, right up until the Church burns her at the strake as a witch. Oops.

The Church is a major source of conflict in this new Castlevania timeline. In previous versions of the lore, vague Christian religious orders are usually seen as either benign or helpful. (The exception is Order of Ecclesia.) In Dracula's Curse, Sypha and Trevor were actually a team brought together by the Eastern Orthodox Church to fight Dracula. Here, every person related to the Church is seen as corrupt, stupid, or both. The Church's actions, condemning Lisa to death as a witch over her advanced science, are what cause Dracula to start his war on humanity. And then the Church tries to cover it up.

...and then a wild Church appears!

Likewise, Trevor and Church aren't on great terms. In the original lore, the Belmont family was avoided by the Church and feared by the people of Wallachia. Here, Trevor and his family are outright excommunicated from the Catholic Church by order of the Pope. It's a far more antagonistic relationship, one that's mirrored in the general populace.

That's the second major source of conflict in this new Castlevania plot line: the people of Wallachia. Dracula offers the people a year before he begins his revenge, blaming the general populace for being cowed by the Church and not stepping up to defend his wife. When he returns, he drops a hot statement that says it all.

"I gave you one year to make your peace with your God, and what do you do? Celebrate the day you killed my wife."

The people almost feel like they're not worth saving. Trevor is introduced in a bar where men try to fight him for simply being a Belmont. Trevor himself is a bit of the misanthrope, driven to drinking and a general hatred of people, due to years of poor treatment for simply doing the right thing as a vampire hunter.

In the next town the people are preparing to, at the behest of the local clergy, kill the Speakers, a tribe of storytellers and lorekeepers. The Speakers are essentially monks, trying to help a people besieged by Dracula's horde, but the Church is painting them as the reason the horde is attacking. Trevor only gets involved to help the Speakers and save them from the townspeople. The townspeople never really get any better, with the murderous mob ultimately trading one target for another. It's not the people that make Trevor better in the end, it's the kindness and faith of the Speakers.

When Dracula attacks Wallachia and Trevor doesn't try to help people, you're kind of on their side.

Castlevania sort of ends right when it begins, with most of the game's original cast coming together. There's actually not much "Castlevania" here actually, outside of the cast of characters. The castle itself is seen briefly, one scene does feature some traversal of familiar environments, and another is a direct callback to how you recruit one of the characters in the original game. Largely though, this is a medieval fantasy with Castlevania trappings.

Luckily, I can say it's a good medieval fantasy. The character designs are solid, evoking the feeling of the classic anime Vampire Hunter D and Ayami Kojima's designs on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The voice cast is great, with Richard Armitage killing it as Trevor, Matt Frewer delivering a great performancer as The Bishop, and Graham McTavish brings gravitas to Dracula himself.

Does Castlevania falter? Sure. Ellis' script feels like it carries some dialogue that would feel out of place in the 1470s. Some of the early sections do stray into try-hard "Look! We're adult and we can do this!" territory. The animation itself can be strong, but it comes across a bit stuttery and flat in some of the latter episode fights; I think a bit more time and budget will probably improve that, but this isn't a Studio Trigger operation or anything.

Overall, Castlevania is far better than it has any right to be. It's a good show that makes some changes to the original tale to create some real drama. Some may want a straight retelling of Dracula's Curse, but the Church and the people of Wallachia as rough antagonists grounds this first season in something resembling reality. It'll be interesting to see how Castlevania transitions into the second season, as the team heads into Castlevania itself and the conflict becomes far more straightforward. I'm looking forward to how Ellis handles it.

Castlevania shouldn't exist, but I'm glad it does.

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Comments 21

  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #1 cldmstrsn 9 months ago
    Watched it twice. Once by myself and then with my wife. We loved it. Can't wait for the longer season hopefully coming soon.
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  • Avatar for mattcom26 #2 mattcom26 9 months ago
    I was not that hopeful after the first episode, which had some pretty awkward pacing and cringe-worthy dialogue moments. I think portions of the first two episodes suffered from moving too fast for their own good, perhaps because of the incredibly short arc the writers were held to, but once things gathered focus in episode three and paid off marvelously in the final 15 minutes of four, I was oh so ready for season two.Edited July 2017 by mattcom26
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #3 Vonlenska 9 months ago
    I was really pleasantly surprised with how enjoyable this was to watch. It's probably the most faithful videogame adaptation I've seen, in the way it reworked familiar elements to feel natural in film. Stray thoughts:

    • Trevor and Dracula share a line almost word for word; about one good person standing up to injustice. The only difference between their attitudes seems to be that Trevor is still young enough to want to be that one good person.

    • The association between vampires and science/technology is really interesting and could go somewhere. Or not. I'm not looking for anything especially thoughtful here, I'm just impressed the show is establishing themes like these at all.

    • Eeeeeeee Alucard

    • One, Grant needs to be louder, angrier, and have access to a time machine. Two, whenever Grant's not on screen, all the other characters should be asking "Where's Grant"?
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  • Avatar for ShadowTheSecond #4 ShadowTheSecond 9 months ago
    I wasn't expecting to want more prior to starting the "season", but the series surprised me! Hopefully season two finds a way to be more than just castle traversal action.

    If only Konami would bring back the series... (not just the Bloodstained Kickstarter from others)
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #5 brionfoulke91 9 months ago
    @mattcom26 Interesting. I only watched the first two episodes and really didn't like them, I thought the writing was poor and I didn't care about the characters much. Do you think it gets a lot better after episode 2? Should I give it more of a chance?
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #6 Vonlenska 9 months ago
    Oh, I forgot to add:

    • Lisa is the best and her scene meeting Dracula is the best scene and I hope there's more flashbacks to their life together. They have a great chemistry that complicates the overall narrative just enough to put some fun wrinkles into everything.
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  • Avatar for mattcom26 #7 mattcom26 9 months ago
    @brionfoulke91 I would say so, yes. I had also almost checked out after episode 2 as well. Even if you're not into the characterizations or themes, the action sequences in the final series of battles are worth watching for their own sake if you're a Castlevania fan. Also, the big reveal at the end of episode 4 was pretty satisfying and gave much hope for the overall ambition of the show. I found myself pretty forgiving by the end, especially since the dialogue and plot interest notched up considerably in the finale. So, 45 minutes to see if you want to follow the series into season 2 is a pretty low risk.
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  • Avatar for sidrobin70 #8 sidrobin70 9 months ago
    Deleted April 4000 by Unknown
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #9 VotesForCows 9 months ago
    @cldmstrsn The most remarkable thing about this series is that my wife has agreed to watch it. She doesn't normally like anime...hopefully it goes well. :)

    You must be stuck right into FF12 at the moment?
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  • Avatar for JamesSwiftDay #10 JamesSwiftDay 9 months ago
    Why are more people not miffed by the fact the series' amazing music was not used at all in the show?

    Overall, that's probably the biggest problem with it.
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  • Avatar for Ralek #11 Ralek 9 months ago
    I wish they would have looked at the games, tried to isolate what made those compelling in the first place, tried to translate that core to a non-interactive medium, and then put back in the aesthetics, the music, the characters and underlying themes of the games, making the show more than an attempt at telling a story that was never really there and few probably ever cared about.

    On the flip side, for dedicated fans of the games, this is probably the better outcome. As part of the rest, I've lost every bit of interest already.
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  • Avatar for bad-scott #12 bad-scott 9 months ago
    I found the dialogue laughable and the tone to be weird and uneven. But beyond all that I just was bored watching it.
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  • Avatar for matt-b #13 matt-b 9 months ago
    I'm a fan. One of the things that stood out to me was the sound engineering. Everything seemed to be in the right place at the right volume which is not something I can say often about anime.

    There were some parts where the pacing dragged which could be easily overlooked if this were part of a 26 episode series, but when you've only got 4 episodes you should really not spend too many minutes discussing goat rape.
    @JamesSwiftDay This is something I've seen a few times and I actually disagree with. I know it has been pretty heavy on fan service but it makes sense in the context (Dracula crying literal bloody tears, Trevor with his 'good men to do nothing' analog, beating a cyclops to free Sypha) of the story being told. If they just slapped arranged versions of Vampire Killer and Bloody Tears and Simon's Theme it would feel out of place. Maybe having a song in the credits wouldn't be too bad, but I can't think of it being appropriate during the actual show. It would make it feel like the old Super Mario Bros 3 cartoon.


    Also,@MHWilliams, I really want to install WinAmp now.Edited July 2017 by matt-b
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #14 cldmstrsn 9 months ago
    @VotesForCows Yup! Just got my copy today and took work off. My first playthrough will be with the English but then I'm excited to hear the Japanese voice overs after 10 years!
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #15 VotesForCows 9 months ago
    @cldmstrsn Enjoy! I'm going to get around to it at some stage, but I'm just enjoying Final Fantasy XIV way too much at the moment...
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  • Avatar for otenko #16 otenko 9 months ago
    There are some strange things on this Castlevania series, but overall I thought it was pretty good. The dialogue to me is ok, even with the jokes and the actions were nice. I can't wait for season 2.
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  • Avatar for Barelyhomosapien #17 Barelyhomosapien 9 months ago
    I rather liked the phrase: "God shits in my dinner once again" because it was so absurd and yet so apt, and the delivery just sold it. I'm hoping I remember to steal it for my personal use.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #18 cldmstrsn 9 months ago
    @VotesForCows Ya i cant wait to get into Stormblood. I think that will be my winter game this year.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #19 brionfoulke91 9 months ago
    @JamesSwiftDay Well THIS fan right here is absolutely pissed that they didn't use any of the great music from the games in the show. It would have been fine if the soundtrack that they did use wasn't complete garbage.

    Honestly, trying to make a "Castlevania" show and having bad music is inexcusable to me. There's no way anyone can argue that the creators "got" Castlevania. They completely missed the mark.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #20 MHWilliams 9 months ago
    @JamesSwiftDay Because I generally assume that given Konami, that the production team didn't get the licensing to any of the soundtracks. If my choices are "decent Castlevania show" or "no decent Castlevania show because music rights are painful as hell and cause perfectly good games even within the games industry to be taken down".

    I don't dislike Street Fighter II: The Movie because it doesn't use the game's soundtrack. Would I like the familiar SF2 tunes? Sure. Can I live without them so the project can exist? Also sure.

    For what you're asking, you'd need a large amount of participation by the rights holder, akin to the Persona 3 and 4 animated adaptations, which have returning vocal cast members and work from composer Shoji Meguro. And... you can't even get Konami to make a new Castlevania game, let alone pitch in on a non-game project.

    Seriously, look how many game adaptations use the original games' music. Even Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy had John R. Graham as the lead composer, backed up by FFXV composer Yoko Shimomura, and that was partially produced by Square Enix itself.

    In short, music is hard. Real, real hard.
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  • Avatar for mafa #21 mafa 3 months ago
    I really enjoyed reading this post, big fan. Keep up the good work and please tell me when can you publish more articles or where can I read more on the subject?
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  • Avatar for mafa #22 mafa 3 months ago
    I really enjoyed reading this post, big fan. Keep up the good work and please tell me when can you publish more articles or where can I read more on the subject?
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