Castlevania Season 1 Review

Since the inception of Castlevania in 1986, the beloved series has been transmogrified throughout the years by contemporary influences attempting to evolve the series, while paying homage to antiquity.

Netflix’s Castlevania draws reference from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, which serves as the cornerstone for later installments in the series.  Unlike the games, the animated series builds upon the standard good vs. evil archetype by humanizing its characters with emotive backstory, allowing the audience to sympathize with the plight of hero and villain alike.  Overall themes pit science and innovation against superstition and paranoia perpetrated by clergymen, desperate to maintain their influence.

The first of four episodes focuses predominately on the enigmatic Vlad Dracula Tepes (voiced by Graham McTavish) and the heinous act of paranoid clergymen, dismissing the reality of Dracula as mere superstition.  Self-restraint eludes Dracula, as his disdain for humanity consumes him.  In a fit of rage, he vows to level 15th Century Wallachia, surrounding territories and anyone foolish enough to ignore his threats.  Dracula’s brutal scorn is given perspective as hell’s denizens cleave, claw and rend human flesh without mercy or discretion in technically astounding animated combat sequences.

Fans of animated horror will rejoice in unabashed vulgarity and ample violence.  Subsequent episodes parlay the overarching narrative with the origin stories of the series’ protagonists, Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage) and Sypha Belnades (Alejandra Reynoso).  Warren Ellis affinity for sarcasm is written into much of the dialogue, providing levity to the grim circumstances facing the living.  Transitions made between characters feel fluid and coherent; cultivating the shows main themes in a unique way, and creating an interesting dynamic between characters as they share the screen.  Ambiguous protagonists grapple with contemptuous feelings for their fellow man and an innate desire to protect them.  Unfortunately, the series was limited to a four episode season, resulting in consolidated scenes, which felt short on substance and expeditiously paced.

Castlevania’s visual aesthetic merges meticulous environmental concept art, with superb character designs by Ayami Kojima, comparable to Disney’s 2D animation style of yore.  Gothic architecture, cloaked in shadow, encompasses labyrinthine streets below.  Opulent cathedrals promulgate a deceptive facade to a world dripping with sin.  Hell’s infernal fiends stalk their prey beneath a prophetic blood moon’s glow.  Dracula’s omnipotent presence is articulated by cataclysmic bloodshed rendered in frightful detail.  Castlevania balances the bloodletting with alluring scenes of nature sporadically scattered throughout the world, untarnished by man.  In one scene, Trevor awakens in an ethereal forest, overlooking a settlement actively ravaged by the hordes of hell.  It’s hard to imagine visually conveying the dark fantasy world of Castlevania with more vigilant detail than this.

Castlevanie-netflix-3

Accompanying stellar visuals is a haunting score composed by Trevor Morris.  Morris delicately balances anxious crescendos of whirring instrumentals with faithful melody, as chaos surges and dissipates.  The soundtrack does an exceptional job of setting the mood for each scene, while evoking feelings of nostalgia.  Pivotal encounters between the series’ main characters, often shift the dialogue to the background, in place of sweeping, bombastic instrumentals.

Driving the accomplished writing of the series is an adept ensemble of prominent actors, including James Callis as Alucard and Matt Frewer as The Bishop.  Despite the illustrious lineup, the intensity of the shows more energetic scenes often fall flat with erratic tonality, particularly in regard to Trevor and Sypha.  Conversely, Callis and McTavish judiciously balance bestial contempt, with emotive inflection.  Skillfully conveying the dichotomy of the internal struggle between man and beast.  At times, McTavish pairs Dracula’s animated body language with contradicting tone, generating a precarious, subliminal tension, resulting in vengeance or dismissal.

Verdict

Netflix’s new animated adaptation of Castlevania succeeds in many aspects where other video game to film adaptations have failed, by conscientiously referencing the source material and thrusting the series in an inventive new direction.  Unfortunately, many of the shows issues stem from brevity of its duration.  While a season 2 has been confirmed for 8 episodes, introducing a 12 episode season might have mitigated much of the consolidation and pacing issues.  Animated series’ are typically costly, and the high production value of this series speculatively resulted with a more tentative introduction.

Castlevania delivers a haunting, imaginative and bloody adaptation for fans and newcomers alike.

8.0

Pros Cons
+Clever writing, which injects subtle humor into a dark world -Expeditiously paced as a result of its short season
+Beautiful animations merge anime influence with Disney’s 2D animation style of yore  -Subdued tonalities don’t match some of the more kinetic scenes throughout the season
+Brooding atmosphere  

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