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Castlevania (Season 1)

Teasing us with the whip

Castlevania is the latest original animated series to grace Netflix, and also their shortest offering. Adding to the slim picking for anime fans, this adaption of the 30 year old video game franchise about Dracula is as tantalising as it is fleeting.

This franchise involves the family Belmont, a once prestigious clan fallen from glory due to their sworn duty to slay vampires. Real shit kicker work that the church-led Eastern European setting would rather ignore. We’re normally used to seeing the inside of the Castle(vania) in this series, so this outer world building is a great addition. The anime-style adaption gives brief glimpses into the magical mobile castle of Dracula and his hidden humanity. The state of the world develops according to his whims, as he occupies a kind of Baron status among the peasants of its 15th century fictional fantasy setting.

When the theocracy of the day chooses to exercise their power against his family in the name of ridding the world of the profane, he proceeds to summon the legions from hell to march across the country. The series quickly builds its world state over the period of a year, but nothing substantial is elaborated on other than some key religious factions and the Belmonts’ position.

So, is this show for you? In the increasing expansion of Netflix Originals content, probably not. This is a series clearly taking advantage of a desire for more anime on the platform: drawing in those folk and fans of this franchise. If you’ve never encountered any of the Castlevania games previously, there’s little here for you.

Here’s why.

This series is only four episodes of about 20 minutes. I repeat, four episodes in adaption of a densely storied franchise that is over 30 games long. Admittedly, this is a very liberal adaption and expansion of the third Castlevania game – a relative starting point in the series’ convoluted chronology. So these four episodes only manage to accomplish the following: introduce Dracula, why he’s so broody, his nemesis, his son, and his shitty peasant neighbours. We get to meet the family and the neighbourhood – wait until next year for more.

This is a bit harsh, but not when considering that a serial season is meant to comprise some substantial narrative arc. The plot of this season doesn’t move beyond mere introduction, only serving to give us an entry point into the demonic conflict.

The strongest feature of this anime-style series is its English voice cast. This is an American  adaption of a franchise that has spawned out of Japan. Richard Armitage’s (as Trevor Belmont, the vagabond hero) softly spoken quips when looking down the edge of a blade cooly sets the protagonists voice acting far apart from that we would see in an English language adaptation of a typical anime from Japan. Unfortunately, few others stand out among the cast. Save for James Callis’ (the excellent Gaius Baltar, Battlestar Galactica) Alucard, the son of Dracula, the rest are serviceable and without much emotion. Particularly troubling is the actor behind Lisa, the mysterious cult magician and Trevor’s tag-along whose accent seems to bizarrely switch between vaguely mediterranean and lazy Irish each time she appears. Yet when it comes to English in animation of this style, this would still be considered better than average.

As for the animation, this is quite a bloody series. And yet, though it teases in the beginning and of its namesake, there are surprisingly few moments of outright bloodshed in the season’s runtime. This anime will appeal to fans of both Berserk and Hellsing, but doesn’t make the mark of either series. Visually, this sits alongside these decades old franchises. In 2017, it appears to compromise its ability to dazzle with flashy effects in favour of animated fidelity. The fast paced kinetic flurry of blades and whips is wonderfully directed and choreographed, but the scenes often look stilted outside of the action. When less than half of the first season’s runtime involves action, the otherwise lacklustre visuals become glaringly obvious.

For fans of the brutally hard Castlevania games like myself, we shall have to exercise our trained patience for another year and see what’s really in store. For the rest, you will really have to enjoy vampires and gore to get much out of this.

Rating: 6.5/10

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