Other adaptations can learn a thing or two from Castlevania.
The history of video game adaptations is long and mostly terrible. For every half-decent movie, short film, or show based on a game, there seem to be about a dozen that are just plain awful. This is the reality in which gamers live.
Into what category Netflix’s animated Castlevania show falls is a matter of personal taste. To be fair though, there are a few things that it totally nails--things other game adaptations would do well to note.
If you haven’t watched Castlevania yet, rise from your coffin, pour yourself a glass of blood-red wine, and check it out. Then read on to find out exactly what it gets right as a video game adaptation.
Castlevania's first four episodes follow Trevor Belmont--last son of the house of Belmont--and Dracula himself, who seeks vengeance against humanity for the death of his human wife, Lisa. That’s basically straight out of Castlevania III, and the Netflix show largely stays faithful to this basic story--and more that we won’t spoil. Plenty of adaptations have trouble just getting the basics of their characters right, so kudos to Castlevania.
Castlevania may stay faithful in the spirit of its characters, but it also knows where to draw the line. The story the show tells is largely original, and it never feels like it’s just paying tribute to the games for tribute’s sake. Castlevania adds to, alters, and expands the franchise’s world and settings wherever needed, like making Trevor Belmont a bit of a washed up drunk--a new facet to the character that we hadn’t seen before. Sure, Dracula hates humans, but there’s no “miserable little pile of secrets” line to be cringed over (or adored, depending who you ask) in this incarnation, and the landlocked pirate named “Grant DaNasty” has, thankfully, been left out at sea.
Straight To The Point
In this modern golden age of TV, plenty of new shows choose to keep it short and sweet at around ten episodes. Castlevania takes that further: With its debut on Netflix this week, Castlevania consists of just four 24-minute episodes. These four episodes are barely the length of a single feature film (which is exactly what this adaptation was originally envisioned as back in 2007), and they accomplish a lot with very little run time. Multiple series characters are introduced and have their own arcs and emotional payoffs, there are a couple of good twists, it has just enough fan service, and the action is well-paced throughout. Castlevania does a better job in these four episodes than other adaptations have done in many more.
Castlevania’s quality varies in some areas, but it features some truly fantastic fight sequences. It doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the violence, and a town full of people being viciously shredded by demons looks like about what you’d expect. The “boss fights”--including Trevor taking on a pissed off cyclops, and another, later one that we won’t spoil--have some extremely cool action choreography. It may not feel exactly faithful to the side-scrolling action of the Castlevania games, but--actually, wait a second. That’s a good thing.
The Right Writers
Castlevania may have just debuted, but these episodes were largely written over a decade ago. They were penned by esteemed comics writer Warren Ellis and former Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi. And that’s the way to do it: Mix a severely talented writer with someone who has experience on the franchise, go through literally eight rewrites, and, uhh, let it marinate for ten years like a vampire in a crypt? OK, maybe not that last part.
Castlevania deserves some criticism, especially for some of its voice acting, some shaky animations, and one unusually long scene about a goat. But overall it should tickle fans in all the right places--like right in the jugular. You can check it out on Netflix now and decide for yourself.