In a society that produces the likes of Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, and Mortal Kombat into major-motion pictures, it’s easy to be pessimistic about the quality of cinematic versions of beloved video game classics. The reason behind this phenomenon may be too complex to get into here, yet the demand for such adaptations continues to grow as video games become more available and accepted within the mainstream.
When a Netflix-exclusive mini-series of the long-running Castlevania franchise was announced, it was easy to be hesitant of the results that were to occur. Its ensuing praise was so astounding that popular movie database Rotten Tomatoes even noted that it was the first video-game adaptation to receive a “fresh” rating among their site. Ever. I’m here to continue this positive trend, as Castlevania does a lot of good to a franchise that has seen its ups and downs in recent years.
For a dark fantasy action-adventure, the basis behind the intro to this series is rather human. In a period where witch hunts were the norm, anyone who did not submit themselves to the grace of the church and their “protection” were labeled heathens; being burned at the stake was as just a punishment as the church saw fit. Their actions spurred the wrath of Dracula, who at one point simply secluded himself from the outside world out of spite. Blessed with ultimate power, Dracula unleashes an army of demons and monsters upon the world, with those outside the primary target only lying in wait for Dracula to doom them all little by little. Trevor Belmont decides that all this is going a hair too far, so he rises up to stop Dracula of his quest for human genocide.
It’s almost funny how simple the premise is, and how easily things come to the absolute worst in no time at all. Dracula is introduced, then scorned, then spreading his terror upon the whole of humanity.
All in the course of a single twenty-five-minute episode.
To some extent, it feels like an homage to the original Castlevania line of games, whose hardware restricted them from going into vivid detail about any narrative significance.
But does one truly need this sort of context to get behind a series such as this?
To some, absolutely, and I feel what the series manages to accomplish in only four episodes is rather commendable. It is by no means a narrative masterpiece, though it serves enough of a basis for these actions to get behind the reasoning behind the actions of various people, whether evil by environment or evil by spite. Even being “good” in this case is blurred between natural instincts for survival and truly caring for the good of the people. What makes Castlevania more gripping is the darkness with which it surrounds itself, making for a more mature and thought-provoking experience of “Good vs. Evil.”
What I cannot ultimately commend is the animation, as while the look of the series is appropriately Gothic, its fluidity causes some concerns. Very choppy are the movements of people in their downtime, and far-away shots are too pathetically simplistic. It felt as though they were doing the bare minimum at all times to save for the more intricate scenes of magic and action, which do look much better in comparison. Character designs are very faithful to the main series, but also somewhat cliché in regards to what has already been.
Of course Belmont has a scar over his eye. How would he be the tragic hero otherwise?
Adding it all up, Castlevania makes for an enjoyable experience, even if not a grandiose one the likes of its original lineage’s reputation in the gaming world. A lot of heart and care went into every detail (excluding animation), and one can feel that energy converging into each scene, with each line of dialogue. Simplistic to a fault, its depth carries enough weight to feel as though the actions and consequences of each character matter to the grand scope of things, and to the hearts of those watching on in horror.
Give it a try; with only four episodes, there’s plenty more that can be done. What it provides in its current length should be enough to make one want to inherit the original game.