Fans were excited when Netflix announced an adaptation of Konami’s popular 1989 video game Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. This game focused on Trevor C. Belmont, an ancestor of the franchise’s original hero Simon Belmont, working together with the pirate, Grant Danasty, as well as Alucard (Dracula’s son) and Sypha Belnades, a young sorceress. This Castlevania adaptation would change things up a bit but under esteemed comic book writer Warren Ellis, who crafted a dramatic and powerful story. Ellis brought the creative dynamism he employed to other adaptations, such as G.I. JOE: Resolute and the Marvel Anime series involving Iron Man, Wolverine, Blade and the X-Men.
Along with Ellis, Adi Shankar was one of the executive producers on the project and after working on things such as Karl Urban’s Dredd and short films involving the Punisher and Power Rangers, you know the degree of violence you are about to get into. However, as flashy as the four episodes were, there was still a lot of tension and substance added in to the horror story. In fact, it had elements that made you wish it were made for cinema or a television live-action adaptation. That said, it also had its flaws, so CBR decided to look into what worked and what didn’t!
SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for Netflix’s Castlevania
15. WORKED: THE ACTION
The action sequences in this show threw anime fans back to epic battles found in properties like Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D and Blood: The Last Vampire. Powerhouse Animation Studios worked with Shankar’s team and Frederator Studios, and brought its own expertise over from Mortal Kombat X and DC Universe Online to the mix.
What we got was something that felt and looked like classic anime. It was super fluid and had a retro ebb and flow, while still feeling as fresh as, say, the new Voltron cartoon ( which is on Netflix as well). Seeing Trevor cut down monsters, Dracula’s raids on humanity, and the overall effects of the world of Wallachia as it became torn by war and violence gave us gritty and action-packed sequences, leaving fans familiar with the property both aghast and in total awe.
14. DIDN’T WORK: TOO SHORT
This series felt like one movie chopped into four chapters and it was clear when you saw how abruptly each episode ended. The first one delved into Dracula’s backstory, with the remaining chapters expanding on Wallachia and how it was affected by his reign. They also informed us about Trevor as the last of the Belmonts, the Church as the main antagonist, as well as the Speakers (disciplined wielders of knowledge and magic).
We also got insight into Alucard and his family dynamic with Dracula. What these other episodes did was set up the sympathetic villain in Dracula, the real villain in the religious order and also, the protagonist team (including the spellbinding Sypha) to go after the vampire. However, the finale ended right when they headed off to Dracula’s castle and left us on a cliffhanger that won’t be resolved until 2018.
13. WORKED: THE ADULT THEMES
If you’re familiar with Ellis’ body of work, you’ll know he doesn’t pull punches in his stories. Castlevania was packed with profanity (as you’d expect from the writer) and revolved around very taboo subjects including… well, we’ll let you find that out for yourself. Then there was Trevor, who came off like a drunk Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. His character development was pretty spot on, but apart from all this cursing and talk of sex in the bars he frequented, we would rather focus here on all the bloodlust in the show.
The gore was off the charts as we saw men, women and children dismembered and skewered by various beasts from hell. Basically, the show held nothing back and left very little to the imagination, while at the same time packing in as much of Ellis’ nightmare fuel as possible. These adult themes undoubtedly left fans wondering how they would be pushing the envelope in 2018.
12. DIDN’T WORK: LACKED THE BELMONT BACKSTORY
Simon Belmont’s story is a huge thing in the Castlevania property. Diehards would have loved more insight into him and the rest of Trevor’s ancestors, their fallen House and just what the Belmont crest went through in the past. We knew they were once befriended by the Church before their unorthodox (and at times magical) methods saw them branded as heretics and enemies, so flashbacks, or even a dedicated episode to this past would have really helped. We wanted to see how the killer whip came to prominence!
We also wanted to witness how Trevor ended up like this, and the Belmonts’ history with the forces of Vlad Tepes, Dracula’s human identity. A fall from grace needs to be placed into context, especially as we saw that Trevor cared for humanity and wanted to be a hero. Also, watching Dracula take Trevor’s bloodline apart would have added to the rivalry.
11. WORKED: THE ANIME STYLE
This reminded us of what Netflix did for Knights of Sidonia and its Voltron reboot. However, Castlevania felt more polished, like Samurai X, really pushing us to petition Netflix for more series like this. This particular style was fit for action, sci-fi and horror, which begs for video game adaptations as well as comic book movies. Marvel and DC have echoed such a style in the past but they couldn’t find the right balance of look and story like this did.
Shankar is helping bring an Assassin’s Creed animated series to life at Netflix so hopefully, this style opens more doors of promise for the likes of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear, The Legend of Zelda or Doom. The possibilities are endless when you can tap into such a polished yet fluid style of animated and art.
10. DIDN’T WORK: LACKED A STRONG FEMALE PRESENCE
Sypha (a Speaker) was a pretty interesting character. We saw her evolve from a damsel in distress, rescued by Trevor, to someone who used her magic to help him avoid a mob. She grew stronger and threw verbal barbs as well, but it took a while to come. That said, apart from her, there’s no real female presence on the show.
Lisa (Alucard’s mother) would have offset this and she seemed set to in the premiere episode as the story opened up with her and her love for science drawing Dracula in. She was brave and bold, leading to a romance, but just when we started to feel for the duo, the story cut to her being burnt alive by the Church, which would incur her husband’s wrath upon the world. Such a male-dominated series deserved more fleshing-out for its female leads.
9. WORKED: THE MESSAGES
Ellis packed the story with so many deep layers. The message of man versus beast came out emotionally when Dracula tried to remain composed and in love, only for the very humans he hated to rip it away from him. Alucard then trying to restrain him in Lisa’s name further compounded the tragedy. Also, there was the story of redeeming a family’s name with Trevor.
These were great threads, as was the arc of religion being a tool that could be used to lead blind men astray. Ellis smartly wove in this modern-day issue between religion and science, too, with the latter being seen as a form of sorcery back then — showing that mankind were the true architects of the Dark Ages, and more so, they fooled innocents to perpetuate war.
8. DIDN’T WORK: LACKED DRACULA’S FAMILY
This was something that shouldn’t have been glossed over. We saw Dracula humanized through his meeting with Lisa, so a bit more insight into their romance and marriage could have built him up more. We’re supposed to be empathizing with him so things like his first kiss with her, their vows, Lisa announcing the pregnancy and the birth of baby Alucard would have truly painted them as a family torn asunder — and not just him as a man.
We also would have gotten more background into why Alucard was so stoic like his mother, as opposed to just one fatherly squabble that put him on ice for years. The backstory with Lisa would have also expanded on the traits of the father and son, so that when they meet we connect with all their despair. One episode was all we got to cover this ground.
7. WORKED: AWESOME MONSTER DESIGNS
You would expect an anime-influenced piece to go overboard with the monsters, especially in a vampire-driven story, but that wasn’t the case here. The bat-like creatures, as well as the Cyclops (with its Medusa-esque powers) looked simple yet badass. These subtleties really painted the show as one that wasn’t trying too hard, but which was still pulling off the cool factor.
Make no mistake, they were demonic — as seen when one of the bat-hounds held a baby in its mouth. However, for every gruesome aspect of their design, they looked unique while still having the essence of the video games. Maybe that will change when we see Dracula shift his true form from that of flames into something much more sinister. He may also have more armies from hell to unleash.
6. DIDN’T WORK: SLOW PACE
Don’t get us wrong, the slow pace didn’t kill the series but it could have been charged a bit more. The character development was great, the plot advancement was fine but at some points, the show dwelled on certain things and lagged. The bar fights, the meetings with the Speakers and some of the Church’s antics could have been run through faster.
Sacrificing these would have given us room for other threads such as Alucard and his daddy issues, or Lisa’s history with Vlad. Alucard’s fight with Trevor was a prime example of how speeding up the plot worked. If there were more episodes, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but given that only four were thrown our way, we’re seeing some fat that should have been trimmed.
5. WORKED: DARK TRAGEDY ANGLE
This was a fantastic twist because the dark tragedy gave us a villain we could have sympathized with and also, it really gave everyone ammunition to justify their war. It felt human as well, because this is a loss so many people endure in the real world. Thus Dracula had some justification to his actions.
It also lent so much to the Tepes’ family saga and drama, while placing all the chess pieces where they needed to be — namely the Church. With one romance burnt, Ellis also cleverly decided not to push a romantic agenda with Trevor and Sypha, keeping a love lost as the only one that matters… thus far, anyway. At the heart of every war is love, so as a catalyst, Lisa’s death hit the mark!
4. DIDN’T WORK: WALLACHIA SEEMED SMALL
Apart from Gresit, we really didn’t dive into Wallachia to see the extent of Dracula’s war, the reach of the Church, and how widespread the Speakers were. These things would have expanded the realm of Wallachia and really illustrated the struggles of the people, and just how dark things got when Dracula’s monsters began their reign.
What we saw kind of looked the same throughout the show, so next season, let’s hope we see some diversity in the people, the towns and maybe some rebellions here and there. Seeing the greater world frames things differently for us and shows the transition from a glorious time to one that’s now mired in blood. Ellis is great at world-building so next time around, this is one dimension that has to grow.
3. WORKED: VOICE CASTING
The voice casting on Castlevania was perfect. Richard Armitage really brought a sense of virtue to Trevor and it’s no surprise given how awesome he was as Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit trilogy. His voice sent shivers down our spines in how regal it was. Graham McTavish (Preacher, Dwalin from The Hobbit) did the same, but with a sense of dread as Dracula.
James Callis (of the recent Battlestar Galactica stories) also impressed as Alucard, with Alejandra Reynoso as Sypha and Matt Frewer as The Bishop, all giving a cinematic resonance to the characters. In fact, fans compared the show’s sound to that of Game of Thrones, in that it suspended your disbelief because it felt like something real and close to home, even while being a nightmare far away.
2. DIDN’T WORK: NEEDED MORE DRACULA
Let’s be real, one episode with Dracula cutting loose just doesn’t cut it. We wanted to see him unleashed. After all, this is a hellspawn who lost his truest love to his greatest enemy! Also, a bit more of his fight with Alucard should have been shown so that we could have seen his grief and felt his anger. After all, taking out your own son illustrates the torment mankind is putting you through.
We loved how powerful he was depicted as being, especially on the magical side of things, but we needed a rabid beast. Something along the lines of 30 Days of Night would have been amazing because as scary as he was, we never truly got to watch him getting his hands dirty. Dracula should have been the one killing the Bishop that executed his wife. Also, is he asleep in his castle? Or just sulking? So many details were left obscure.
1. WORKED: WARREN ELLIS
Warren Ellis’ resume is stacked. He’s done work for so many comic book publishers that you would be hard-pressed to pick any specific one that stands out from his material. Be it at DC Comics, Marvel or even on the creator-owned front, he’s done some of the best-regarded stories in the history of comics.
His knack for sussing out what makes characters resonate with heart and soul rears its head once more here, from the inner-battle with Trevor, to his redemption story, to Sypha seeking justice, to Alucard wanting to follow his mother’s dream. Then there’s Dracula being relatable in his quest for revenge; and of course, the politics of the Church through the Bishop. Ellis’ plot rolled and roiled from there into a tapestry of death, tragedy and maddening redemption, or something very much like it. As always, he proved to be a master of the game (in any medium) and left us thirsty for more.
Let us know in the comments what you loved and didn’t love about Netflix’s Castelvania series!
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