There's a new animated series out on Netflix, and in it we get a glimpse into some things behind the long running Castlevania franchise of video games. In a night of sleeplessness I was able to watch the whole series from start to finish. It is only 4 episodes long, but it almost feels like it is 4 episodes too long really.
So is this Netflix series worth a watch? Well, let's just say if you were looking for something original, interesting, or even well paced, you've come to the wrong place.
Now for full disclosure I have never really been into the Castlevania series itself, and haven't spent much time playing it. The cereberus headed plot and the odd gameplay of the later generations have eluded me (though I hear the originals are classics) and other than watching the odd review and Lets Play, haven't really spent any time interacting with it. So, I will by and large be judging it from a narrative perspective and not from a canon perspective. I'm not being sensitive about spoilers in this one so watch out!
Now I jumped in to this on a whim, and frankly I left feeling distinctly unimpressed.
The writing for one thing is rather hackneyed and cliched. The story starts out in 1455 and takes place in an unspecified locale in Wallachia and from the get go introduces a very...unique interpretation of Dracula. He is a supernatural being of magic, but also a man of science. Now I can't really dispute this from historical accuracy (its historic fantasy after all) but if Dracula has been around for a long time in 1455 as he claims, that runs against the Vlad Dracul narrative used, since he was around from 1428-1476. It jarred me from a historic perspective since he would be ruling Wallachia in this period and it seems odd to have him been impaling people for a while, but he grows attracted to a woman who comes for his scientific knowledge and they marry.
Cut to twenty years later in 1470 and Vlads wife is being burned at the stake for witchcraft. Now call me cynical but I'm willing to bet that the writer, Warren Ellis, is no real fan of religion. The very cocksure and ignorant manner of the Bishop (who is a main villain, never given a name) is grating and his ignorance of science or the scientific method runs at odds with an institution which hosted Roger Bacon two centuries earlier. Mind you the steam punk nature of Dracula's own scientific studies might have something to do with it, but when you have a villain who is only named the Bishop, and long inconsequential scenes where the main character rails against how the Church has lied to people, and the Churchmen not thinking to use Holy Water to repel the demons rather than cleansing the impure seems a bit of a stretch.
There are numerous dumb tropes about evil religion and evil churchmen, the implication the Bishop has been hiring and promoting thugs and thieves as priests to be his bully boys, the corrupt nature of his ministry, and his actions that seem more concerned with purging sinners rather than actually fighting the flesh and blood demons that assail him.
In any case that is at least more interesting than the main character.
Trevor Belmont, of the disgraced Belmont family, is a monster hunter. He is wandering through Wallachia, (a Wallachia, which despite a demon horde running amok seems to be continuing life as normal) and he gets into a bar brawl with a group of dung age peasants who talk with over emphasized cockney accents. The scene is notable for a bar brawl set to jarring music and profane humor. But it introduces us to a jaded Trevor Belmont who is more interested in cheap booze and food rather than stopping a horde of demons.
In any case he moves on to the besieged city of Gresit where he encounters a group of nomadic magic users known as Speakers. They are about to be swept up in a pogram organized by the Bishop who blames them for the nightly horrors visited upon the town by Draculas demons. Trevor wants them to leave, but they wish to stay and help people, only for Trevor to goad them into leaving so long as he rescues their missing member.
From here he rescues the member, who is not a not very memorable magic user, and parleys with the Bishop as Dracula's forces gather to wipe the city from the map. Then we get a not very memorable climax, more notable for its stupidity than anything. A totally unimaginative fight takes place where Belmont seems to have been the first one to think of organizing the townsfolk to defend themselves against the demons, using holy water and salt (yes, it was that simple) and then he falls through a hole in the ground. Turns out Dracula's son Alucard is sleeping beneath the city. They have a hackneyed duel where in the end everyone decides to team up and fight Dracula. Yay.
The series was apparently supposed to be a TV movie, but was split into four episodes for release. This shows in the poor pacing of the show, with odd endings (episode one literally ends showing us the bar where Trevor is drinking and nothing else about him). Then the subsequent episodes have no cliff hangers, and end almost haphazardly. Problematically this leaves character evolution feeling forced and any interaction stilted and brief, giving us no real chemistry between any characters besides Belmont and the Bishop, whom we have met before and so have some inkling of his personality.
The score is mediocre and doesn't really mesh with the scenes it is attached to. The bar fight scene is memorable because it seems like they're going for a comedic scene, but the score is out of time with events and feels slow in comparison. Musically it just isn't interesting, and the lack of opening titles fails to inspire any interest in the greater series.
Overall it was cringe worthy, and frankly, almost boring. If you're interested in the Castlevania series it may be for you. If on the other hand you have never played Castlevania, and know nothing about it, you should probably skip this. It isn't really worth your time.
Maybe Season 2 will redeem the series, as afterall this was really nothing more than an overglorified prologue, but with the quality of the writing so far, I doubt it.