This is a review of the first season of the Netflix Castlevania series, and will container small spoilers.
I’m not a fan of the Castlevania video game series. I’ve tried to play Symphony of the Night a few times, but it seems I’m not mentally capable of playing Metroidvania games. Something about the backtracking. I’ve flirted with a few of the other games in the series, but I’m not immersed in the lore or storyline beyond knowing that that, in this universe, Dracula exists and the Belmonts are a family of vampire hunters who are trying to destroy him.
I mostly started watching the Netflix Castlevania series as a reaction to not wanting to start watching a full, 13 episode run of a new show. The first season of Castlevania consists of only four half hour episodes, so it’s a brisk watch. And I think that might be the best thing about it.
Castlevania is an animated series that details how, after his wife is burned at the stake for being a witch, Dracula seeks vengeance against those responsible. Unleashing demonic monsters upon the country of Wallachia, Dracula seeks to make every citizen pay with their lives. Trevor Belmont, a vampire hunter from a disgraced family of the nobility, works to find a way to defeat Dracula while also restoring his own sense of honor.
It’s a decent set up, one ripped right from the storyline of the games. For positives, I found the animation to be interesting, particularly when scenes became gory and blood filled. The lighting is particularly well done, with a lot of scenes beautifully lit: golden sunlight or red hellfire conveying the mood and atmosphere quite well.
That’s about it for positives, in my opinion.
On the negative side, the pacing is problematic. Going into the series, I had expected the 2 hours of total run time to come across like a movie. I went in expecting, if not complete resolution, a story that would feel complete and satisfying by the end of the season. Unfortunately, the 4 episodes seem to only cover the first act of a much larger story, and they end with a turn of events that changes the direction of the story and implies a much longer adventure. In terms of storytelling, this makes the overall pace of the series feel like it drags, because you spend a lot of time only getting to a point that should happen in the first 20 minutes of a feature length film. This is likely a very personal problem, and if the show has grabbed a hold of you it might not matter as much, but I found it to be very frustrating.
On a character level, Dracula is the clichéd avatar of evil, but he’s hardly in the series at all. The main focus is on Trevor Belmont, who comes across like the dramatic anti-hero of recent TV series, except that he doesn’t have the depth to support his shitty attitude. In internet terms, Trevor could be described as an “edgelord”: he’s moody, difficult to deal with, and mopes about for much of the series, blaming the fall of his family on the people he’s trying to save. He’s also an alcoholic, because why not?
There’s also not much theme, if any at all. The standard plot line of restoring a family’s honor is paid lip service as Trevor realizes his calling in life and gives up the bottle to fight monsters. The church, which runs the country like the mob, is unoriginal and evil to the point of being silly. The Speakers, a movement of magic users, act as foils to the church and provide motivation for Trevor to change his ways.
After the four episodes finish up, a final fight scene (which is quite good) reveals the secret identity of another mysterious character, and our heroes join forces to go after Dracula.
All in all, Castlevania didn’t really deliver what I expected, which was a mature take on an old video game series. It might be the best adaptation of a video game ever produced, but that isn’t saying much about its competition. It’s a by the numbers vampire story that relies on gory animation to make its impact.