Memories of Castlevania
Back in the late 80s, my life consisted of going to school, watching my favorite cartoons and playing games on my (well, it technically belonged to my brother as well) then new Nintendo Entertainment System. One of the many games on that system that caught my attention was Castlevania. What made it so appealing to me was that the protagonist’s (Simon Belmont) goal was to slay monsters such as a giant bats, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, the Grim Reaper and finally the vampire of all vampires, Dracula! Simple eh?
Well, not really. You see, back in the day, most games published on the NES were meant to be hard hence the term “Nintenhard”. Due to the cartridge’s memory capacity limitations (most games were no larger than 1 Mbit) and the cost of memory being very high, programmers artificially made their games more difficult to increase the length of the game and to justify the cost of selling them at 80 CAD per unit (that’s about 150 CAD in today’s dollars). Some programmers made their games too hard and ended up breaking them (I’m looking at you Silver Surfer) and others were tough, but fair. Castlevania fell into the later category.
The success of the first game resulted in two sequels: Simon’s Quest and Dracula’s Curse. Simon’s Quest is a very polarizing game. Some people like it, some people don’t (I’m one of those that don’t). To understand why, I would highly recommend watching the review by The Angry Video Game Nerd. The first words uttered pretty much sum up the game as far as I’m concerned. Dracula’s Curse on the other hand is a fantastic game and it was used as the basis for recently released Castlevania on Netflix.
From Cartridge to Netflix
I first heard news of a Castlevania movie production back in the mid-2000s. The producers at that time commissioned Warren Ellis, a well-known comic book writer to work on the script but the project was in development hell for over a decade. It wasn’t until earlier this year that the public finally caught a first glimpse of what was produced: an animated feature instead of a live-action film as originally intended. It was produced by super-nerd extraordinaire Adi Shankar, who is known for his Bootleg Universe series on YouTube (his Dirty Laundry/Punisher feature is amazing). He has made it no secret that he loves the Castlevania series and has guaranteed his audience that this will be best video game based production ever released and it doesn’t disappoint.
The show is divided into four episodes ranging from 20 to 30 minutes in length and I have a feeling that this was originally cut as one film and then split into episodes to make it a TV show. The animation is clearly inspired by anime and it reminds me of Berserk and Ninja Scroll. By the way, this show is clearly intended for adults as it has tons of violence and gore and strong language. Adi Shanker wasn’t kidding when he said that his Castlevania would be portrayed like Game of Thrones. It certainly lives up to his claim that this show is “R-rated as f***!”.
I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot, but I’m sure many have asked why Dracula wishes to cover humanity in darkness and despair? The show doesn’t waste any time as this question is answered by the end of the first episode. If you have played other titles in the series, most notably Symphony of the Night, you’ll notice that some plot elements were lifted from that game and integrated into the show. It makes sense as the NES games weren’t known for their deep storylines. I’m glad that Ellis made Dracula (voiced by Graham McTavish from The Hobbit trilogy) into a character that you can sympathize with, as the show would have dragged on if it used the “Dracula is evil, therefore he must die” trope.
The development for the other characters should be commended as well because there wasn’t that much material to begin with. The main protagonist, Trevor Belmont (voiced by Richard Armitage, also of Hobbit fame) is portrayed as a washed-up drunk who has seen better days. The show briefly touches on why he is in the state he is (the opening credits gives the audience a subtle hint of his backstory), but it doesn’t go deeper than that. I have a feeling that this will be covered in the second season which, by the way, was confirmed by Shankar himself and it will be eight episodes long. The other protagonists, Sypha Belnades, a Speaker magician and Alucard, a half-human, half-vampire and the son of Dracula, eventually make appearances. Sypha’s look and design is pretty much on-par with her appearance in Dracula’s Curse. She plays a pivotal role in the game series’ timeline and it seems that the writers are heading in that direction in terms of her role in the show. As for Alucard, his design is 100% pulled from the Symphony of the Night. Now don’t get me wrong, he looks great, but Symphony of the Night took place in 1791 while the show takes place in 1476. Nobody wore clothes like his back in the 15th century but then again… it seems that Alucard and Dracula have access to technology such as electrically powered lights centuries before everyone else. This is just a minor nitpick and I look forward to a future episode that explains how they managed to gain access to this “future” tech.
A major gripe that I have is the show is criminally short. It’s only four episodes long. I’m not sure if Netflix did this because they believed that this adaptation was risky and that they did not want to invest too much into it. In any case, the the second season will have eight episodes and will premiere sometime in 2018. Another grievance is the soundtrack. Except for the main title sequence, the score is underwhelming. I was disappointed that none of the classic Castlevania compositions were used. No Castlevania game is complete without tracks such as “Bloody Tears” (a personal favorite) and “Vampire Killer”. Is it because the producers couldn’t obtain the rights from Konami? Who knows. Hopefully this will be rectified in the second season.
In the end, Castlevania is worth your time despite its very minor shortcomings. I and many others look forward to season two and “the morning sun vanquishing the horrible night”.