Netflix’s animated Castlevania series hit the service on July 7th. I don’t even think Netflix expected it to succeed the way it has. When it was finally posted, it wasn’t immediately visible on sections like “Recently Added” and I had to wade through post after post just to find mention of it. I suspect being cautious was probably the reason they only produced and released four episodes, rather than going all in for twelve from the start. They wanted to be sure that it would be successful.
And if the buzz on social media is any indicator, I think it is. Netflix has even boosted the series with additional promos. As disappointing as it may be for some that a service known for being binge-watched would release only four episodes, I feel like the remaining eight will be given the care that they deserve. They’ll maintain the high quality that we saw in the first four. And that quality truly was remarkable.
The Castlevania animated series is adapting Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, which follows Trevor Belmont and a trio of allies as they seek to vanquish Dracula once more. From episode one, I was incredibly impressed with this series. The series opens with Lisa meeting Dracula for the first time. I don’t remember if Lisa was mentioned in Castlevania III (though Alucard does appear in that game) but I do remember her appearance in Symphony of the Night. I like how the series expands the story of Dracula and Lisa, managing even to humanize Dracula and to provide the couple a charming exchange. And when Lisa is burned for witchcraft, we are also given the opportunity to see Dracula’s grief. Moreover, we see Dracula show mercy to an old woman and then give the people that stole his beloved an entire year to leave. Had it not been for Trevor Belmont’s amusing introduction at the end of the episode, I probably would have ended up cheering for Dracula. (Seriously, the guy’s wife just died. Not even one sympathy card?)
But Trevor does make quite an appearance, getting himself entangled in a bar fight right away. His sardonic attitude and snarky dialogue make him a fittingly entertaining hero and Sypha and Alucard are introduced in turn. Alucard’s introductory fight with Trevor seals the deal and the party ends the four episode run having established a decent chemistry. Grant from Castlevania III is noticeably absent, but here’s hoping that he shows up in the show’s remaining eight episodes.
Also of note is the fact that the four episodes end without the group having entered the eponymous castle. They enter the catacombs, but not the castle proper. While this might seem odd, I do think that they will have plenty of time to cover it in the remaining eight episodes. I also think they did the best they could with the runtime they had. In addition to developing the main cast, they also develop the hold the church has over the people of Wallachia (culminating in a gory comeuppance at the beginning of episode four) and the tarnished reputation that seemingly haunts Trevor and his family. The early NES games didn’t have a lot of room for plot development, but I like the direction this adaptation took the plot in. It’s familiar enough, but still fresh.
The animation by Powerhouse Studio here is phenomenal. The character designs look good – they’re more realistic and closer to some classic action cartoons, while still taking subtle cues from anime. The attention to detail is certainly there and anyone watching for the action and gore is sure to be satisfied. To me, the quality of animation is worth the wait.
The voice acting is phenomenal. Again, it goes more for subtlety than the bombastic performances often seen in animation and it is incredibly effective.
While the musical score is decent, I am disappointed that it lacks any of the classic tracks the series is known for, such as rearranged versions of “Bloody Tears” or “Vampire Killer”. I suspect the rights to those iconic tracks may have been too expensive to procure, but maybe if season one is considered a success, Konami will allow the use of some of the series staples.
So what could success for this series mean for the future of animation? I hope that it means more companies will be willing to take chances on action cartoons, especially those aimed at adults. While there have been many attempts over the years – like Spawn and Aeon Flux in the 90s – it’s always seemed like these cartoons were a hard sell. To top that off, as expensive as cartoons can be to do well, crafting a live action series might be more likely to sell and cost less to make. Action cartoons don’t seem to have fared well either over the years -with series like Young Justice being pulled early, supposedly due to their drawing in an unintended demographic.
But perhaps a service with less sponsor-related restrictions, like Netflix, is just the place to give action cartoons, even those aimed at a mature demographic, a fair shot. After all, Voltron seems to be doing well for them. And with the recent Samurai Jack season, maybe a few releases will even make their way to the small screen. But for now, I’m excited for the future of action cartoons on streaming services.
I’ll be waiting anxiously for season two of Castlevania.
What were your thoughts on the first four episodes of Castlevania?