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Review: Castlevania Season One

Castlevania is a classic horror platforming video game series. The games centre on the various members of the Belmont family as they hunt monsters and battle Dracula. Producing Wunderkind Adi Shankar and comic book writer Warren Ellis (not Nick Cave’s soundtrack composing partner) teamed up with Netflix to produce an animated series based on the games. While the series is only two hours long (four half-hour episodes), there were high hopes that this series would break the video game to film/TV curse.

Before I tell you what I thought about the series, I want to first talk about the reasons I think that video games do not translate well to the screen. I think that the main draw with video games is interactivity. The problem with making them into films and TV is that you lose your control. The decisions the characters make on screen do not necessarily align with your own and so you gain nothing from the experience. The film of Assassin’s Creed was terribly dull, Warcraft was too dense and so forth. You are forever asking yourself the question “Why aren’t I playing the game instead of watching this?”. So, does Castlevania break the curse? Yes, I believe so.

Firstly, animation seems to be the perfect medium for this programme. It is detailed and stylised and brings the gothic buildings and fiery skies to gorgeous life. I don’t believe this series would have worked as a live action film or series. The budget would have been too large and the CGI would have to be brilliant to convince as well as the series does. The world is immersive and textured and this is definitely due to the animation.

The writing is also excellent. This definitely isn’t a children’s cartoon and the dialogue is salty, profane and fast paced. It feels like a Game of Thrones episode and I would really recommend this to people who love Thrones. It has that grown up fantasy epic feel but is markedly different in many ways.

The voice acting is also fantastic. Richard Armitage has a fantastic voice anyway, but he gives Trevor Belmont a world-weariness and an edge which makes his character interesting and complex enough to root for. Graham McTavish voices a sympathetically portrayed Dracula in the first episode and then disappears for the rest of the series, but his presence is felt throughout.   

The thing this series really gets right is the tone. The world feels lived in and the lore and history is rich. The characters are fun and the action is well paced and directed. I could do with the series being a bit longer, as four episodes of 30 minutes each is too few. However, as an experiment to test the waters, this is very successful. Shankar and Ellis are also creating an animated Assassin’s Creed series which I am looking forward to.

Overall, Castlevania is a entertaining and well thought out series which captured the best elements of the video games whilst also creating something fresh and new. The Castlevania games were fairly linear to begin with and weren’t massively cinematic in terms of graphics (not to the extent of something like The Last of Us or Tomb Raider) so there are plenty of ways to make the plot flow in another direction and visualise certain elements from the games in a different way. Roll on season two!

Castlevania is available to watch on Netflix. Image source: Screenrant.com