by Kyle Ratsch
This week, with my newly acquired Netflix account, I decided to give Netflix’s “Castlevania” a view.
For those of you that don’t know, Castlevania is Konami’s monster-slaying, whip-cracking, magic-casting platforming game whose first release dates way back to 1986. The series has many sequels, including the stellar “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night”, which is highly regarded among critics and fans and has a playerbase dedicated to completing the game on broadcasted playthroughs where they complete the game as fast as they can. This is called a “speed run.” Castlevania also had vampires back when they were still cool and ran the risk of killing an entire countryside, and not the steamy sultry sex-engines in prominent media.
So when Netflix announced their Castlevania animated series, my ears perked. They had hefty expectations to live up to, and this was going to be another situation where a director could reboot a classic and flop horribly, or an opportunity to give a beloved classic extended scenes of dialogue and character development to bring it to new heights.
Also, I will preface this review saying that I do not know the full storyline of the Castlevania games, so if characters are horribly misrepresented or the plot deviates wildly from the source material, I haven’t the foggiest of a clue. In that, you, valuable reader, are getting a pure review.
So how did they do?
Short answer, it’s very polarized. There are things within the show that I would classify as strong, but there are moments that are equally as bad and occasionally downright frustrating. However, if they put out a second season, I will watch it.
My biggest positive is Trevor Belmont, our dashing protagonist has excellent dialogue and a defined code he follows. All of his scenes have wit, charm, chuckles, and ideals that create conflict and inform you of his personal beliefs through his actions, and not through some boring monologue or dialogue. He does what he believes and we can see depth in him. Mind you, this introductory season was only 4 episodes, so we understand who he is in a very short period of time, and I find that to be very effective writing.
The rest of the cast has strengths within what little is given to them, and the motivations given to the critical characters, Dracula, Alucard, and Trevor, are clearly defined and interesting. The series plays heavily into the ideas of ignorance and prejudice, which makes for beliefs and motivations that are empathetic.
The series also falls in the footsteps of Game of Thrones with snappy dialogue, gore, and crude humor. I think the choice is fine. The gore fits the mild horror of the show and the crudeness gives characters the realistic dimensions that we can expect from peasants, people making terrible decisions and… well, everyone, really. I only hope that they carry that tone of seriousness throughout the show. Long-time fans of Fantasy books and shows know too well how boring it can be to have pure characters with no flaws and weaknesses destroying evil incarnate (seriously, I don’t think Elves poop), but I believe there’s always a risk of being too realistic with deconstruction. Believable moments contrasting with forced plot points or poorly-thought dialogue make them painfully obvious and… painful.
Which brings me to my next point! The plot of the final episode is painfully forced. I wonder if something happened behind the scenes to make them rush to finish the episode. Episodes 2 & 3 were solid, but as soon as they started building for the finale the quality dropped rapidly.
Final Episode Faux-pas 1: The city is being attacked by bat monsters and Trevor saves the citizens by giving them detailed orders that are immediately and impressively carried out (seriously, a bag of salt just appears out of nowhere) and the corral around a complete stranger (Trevor) because of a fairly convincing monologue based on unsubstantiated hearsay (though, they were terrified out of their minds and subject to mob-mentality, so it’s not unthinkable).
But the worst part of it is… the monsters very conveniently attack everyone else in the city while they set up an elaborate trap.
Final Episode Faux-pas 2: Their elaborate trap confines flying beasts within three walls… and no ceiling. They also leave their flank completely exposed. The bat-demons willfully comply by panicking in the walls and submitting to the slaughter. How nice of them.
Final Episode Faux-as 3: The floors are made of paper! Paper everywhere! The architects of this city must suck. I bought the collapsing floor in the ancient catacombs easily enough, but when the city square collapses and they fall into an underground castle… which collapses… and another floor collapses… and a water-wheel collapses… until boom! We’re in the final room of the castle to wrap up this plot point. It’s like they knew they were running out of time for the episode and wanted to finish up the arc, but didn’t want to compromise the set design.
Or maybel player 1 put in a cheat code to skip to the last level. Or it’s a reference to the glitch where you walk through walls in “Symphony of the Night.”
They are renewed for a season 2, so maybe with 8 episodes they’ll be able to balance the pacing and smooth out the plot-points though. It was really disappointing, however. The transition from episode 2 to 3 was legitimately interesting, 3 to 4 was seamless, but then it tanked.
My last point of constructive criticism goes for the whole show. They need to up their animation game. Long-time fans of anime will probably come out with pitchforks and torches (oddly fitting for a tale with vampires…) within minutes of the first episode. The actual images are beautiful, but the best way for me to describe the animation is that it feels like it’s still in storyboard form, or that it’s very blocky. With rare exceptions, only one things moves on screen at a time, which makes it seem like everything politely waits for its turn. This makes combat feel stiff and dialogue feel staged. On top of that, there are sections where the animators cut corners. Trevor’s cape occasionally ignores the physics involved in dragging along the ground, and several characters forget to slide or bounce on the ground. This may seem like nit-picking, but every moment the animation is compromised, it compromises the storytelling.
This, by far, is Castlevania’s greatest flaw.
So with all that said, I give Castlevania a 3 out of 5. It’s Meaningful Strengths don’t make up for its weaknesses.
Oh, and Alucard’s pants are the definition of sultry low-rise. Really? Really?
And that’s all for this week! As always, thank you for your time!
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