Castlevania is a pretty big freaking deal for me. I may not be the biggest fan of the franchise, and I may not have played every game (especially not the 3D ones; this franchise did not make an elegant transition from its two dimensional beginnings). Regardless, the 2D Castlevania games are creations that really get what games are and execute very well in that medium. So to say that I was excited when I found out that Netflix was getting a Castlevania anime* would be an understatement.
Does the show deliver on my expectations? The short answer, “In a way. Kind of. Mostly. Depends on what you focus on.” I’ll start with the stuff that worked for me, just in case you’re the kind of person who gets bored easily and doesn’t finish this short review.
What really worked for me, in general, was the aesthetic of this show. You can tell that the creators really poured over the source materials and pulled out all the inspiration they could from the artwork released with the games. The main characters’ designs harken back to the lavish artwork that came packaged with the games, and the setting had the same kind of atmosphere that you would get while playing.
This show is also very violent (and at times just straight up horrific), which doesn’t necessarily add a lot to the experience, but I feel like it’s one of those situations where to leave the violence out would have created dissonance between the goals of the story and its visual representation. There is a little gore just for its own sake, but for the most part it seemed like it was working toward the goals of the visual story telling.
Another thing that was pretty awesome was the animation… during the fight scenes. The gratuitous flourishes of the Hunter Whip filled my inner fanboy with delight, and the choreography was convincing enough that it never felt like a staged fight. As the characters battled with each other, they carried real weight and impact that is missing from so much fantasy animation these days.** Each footstep shifted the character’s weight, every parry and counter attack had momentum and drama. It was obvious that the people animating the action scenes had watched some martial arts and knew enough about it to make their scenes look like a fight.
Which is why the animation during the rest of the show is so disappointing. When the characters aren’t fighting or there isn’t some big magical effects show going on, the character’s motions are just ugly. They look like the cheap fast crap that you’d find on TV too late at night or too early in the morning. During these moments it became obvious that the characters were designed to look cool standing still, but when you try to get all those little details moving, it looked really bad. The walking animations were especially confusing. Why did everyone in the show stomp around like they couldn’t extend their knees all the way? They didn’t have that problem when they were fighting.
The writing was pretty bad, and despite the fact that Richard Armitage has the voice of a musky, angelic badger, most of the lines sounded really stupid. The number of times Trevor Belmont said, “I don’t care” to show us how non-chalant and “cool” he was (despite the fact that we know from the beginning that he was going to end up murdering a bunch of monsters because that’s what Belmonts do) was trite. Often a character would say something, just to have it repeated again by another character, or the conversation would just go around in circles to fill time.
The plot and pacing felt like a half hearted fan fiction more than a professional production. There was a lot of soliloquy and drawn out talking head scenes in the middle two episodes, which was particularly weird when you think about how the last episode rushes headlong through a battle and then an underground adventure all in twenty minutes. It seems like the pacing of dramatic moments could have been handled much better in order to prevent the need for filler blabber in the middle (especially considering that the whole series is under two hours long).
To end on a high note, I’ll end by saying that I liked all the parts in the first episode when they made Dracula’s head appear in various ways (first formed out of fire, and then created from a flock of crows/ravens). I also thought it was kinda cool that they showed him as more of a tragic character than a simple metaphor of “evil,” but I feel like the presentation of those ideas could have been more eloquent. Maybe trust the audience to pick up on ideas sprinkled tastefully throughout the story rather than smacking us with an info dump when all we really want to see is a Belmont whacking things with a whip.
And that’s pretty much all I have to say about that. The series is really short, so it’s hard to think of anything else right now. Trevor Belmont is sexy. Richard Armitage is my bishi. This show’s writing sucked, but I liked the parts with the whips and the swords.
* I’m gunna call it “anime”, because it obviously follows the Japanese animation tradition. Fight me.
** I blame computer games and computer animation. CG always looks so dang floaty.