Video games just don’t work as movies, TV series or even as anime spin-offs. Just look at Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon and that f***ing Devil May Cry animated series from a few years back which turned the coolest demon hunter to ever live into a walking joke of ruined Strawberry parfait gags. There’s an odd exception to the rule here and there, such as the superb first Silent Hill movie which retained the unknowable horror of its source material and 1995’s Mortal Kombat, a film that revelled in its cheesiness to deliver a fun blockbuster.
With a deck stacked against it in a genre that produces more turds than diamonds, producer Adi Shankar was talking big about Netflix’s stab at Konami’s Dracula mythos when Castlevania was first announced as an upcoming animated series. This wasn’t just going to be a quick spin-off with a few flashy fight scenes, but rather the best damn R-rated vampire-slaying adaptation ever made.
Shankar was right, because Castlevania isn’t just a brief return to form for a supernatural foe who has been watered down over the years by lukewarm resurrections. It’s fun, it’s touching and when it decides to get bloody it makes damn good use of its adults-only rating to deliver some whip-crackingly good entertainment.
It’s also brutally short: a four-episode arc that can be binged in a night as Castlevania sets out to assemble a band of vampire slayers who are seeking to prevent Dracula from turning all of 15th century Wallachia into an symphony of the eternal night. The real tragedy of the story is Dracula himself, an ageless being of science and fantasy whose one attempt to connect with humanity resulted in betrayal and the death of the only person who he thought could redeem mankind.
This isn’t Christopher Lee’s snarling lord of the dead or Bela Lugosi’s dapper Transylvanian. Castlevania’s Dracula is a merciless monster borne from man’s own ignorance and superstitions, a demon with seemingly limitless power and a rage even greater as he makes good on his word to turn Wallachia into a charnel house of blood and despair with his army of the night. Expertly voiced by Graham McTavish, Vlad Tepes is rage and hellfire. A lord of shadow who you can’t help but feel pity for even when he plots the genocide of mankind.
On the opposite end of that spectrum is Trevor Belmot, the last scion of a family of monster hunters who were driven out of Wallachia by the sweeping tides of fanaticism that Christianity brought to that nation. Mostly drunk and always cranky due to the metaphorical and almost even literal knife in the back from his own people, Trevor’s own flippant attitude eventually fpushes him into a corner as he’s forced to begrudgingly take a side.
Richard Armitage’s vocal performance gives the character his personality, a tired warrior seeking purpose, ale and a good tree to sleep under. Trevor may be a grouch, but he has his moments of dry humour and Armitage voices the lead character with subtle inflections that hide the shame of a hero in hiding. Rounding out the cast is Alejandra Reynoso as the Speaker Sypha Belnades, a samaritan who hides a few secrets of her own and James Callis as a mysterious immortal underneath the catacombs of Gresit City.
All united by the machinations of the power-hungry (and mad!) Bishop voiced by a menacing Matt Frewer, the unlikeliest of heroes find themselves facing both man and monster. Trevor gets the bulk of the spotlight, although the entire cast gets a chance to shine as whips and magic tear up the screen. All of this is visually captured by superb animation that makes the most of its budget.
Wallachia feels like an oil painting from dusk to dawn, an ancient land tinged in blood-red hues while the action that plays out on the screen isn’t just kinetic, it’s smart. Filled with plenty of quieter moments to help ease the tension of its more action-packed scenes, Warren Ellis’ script is a treat and a half as mankind finds itself on the verge of extinction while the curse of darkness moves in for the kill.
There’s no holding back here either. Blood flows, babies are eaten and testicles are stomped as Dracula’s wrath is visited upon the capital cities of his home nation. Castlevania’s only major flaw is that there isn’t enough of it to go around, dammit. I’m thirsty for more and now that the first season has got the band together, I can’t wait to see the rest of this aria of sorrow play out.
Last Updated: July 10, 2017