Netflix’s and Adi Shankar’s anime adaptation of the Castlevania video game franchise is satisfyingly gruesome and faithful to the series.
The four episode series follows Trevor, the sassy last surviving member of the monster-slaying exiled Belmont family, after a vengeful Dracula sets an army of demons from Hell upon the country of Wallacchia. Trevor is joined by Sypha, a powerful mage and member of the Speakers - a tribe that records history orally - and the son of Dracula, Alucard, voiced by James Callis (Battlestar Galactica).
The story draws heavily from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, establishing our core trio of heroes for the next season. What follows is a narrative that portrays political corruption, genocide, revenge and comments a very telling point: that ignoring to aid others and failing to speak up in times of crisis makes you just as responsible for someone’s actions.
Shankar poignantly humanises Graham McTavish’s Dracula in the first episode, creating a complex villain driven by revenge rather than pure hate. McTavish's performance is intimidating and commands a presence when on screen. The church season’s main villains, the church, are misguided and mostly one-note, but work as secondary antagonists to the overall threat.
The writing is clever and punchy, and the voice of Trevor, Richard Armitage (The Hobbit trilogy, Captain America: The First Avenger), brings the cheeky, wise hero to life with sassy one-liners. There’s a few nods to the series’ video game roots, too, as the group climb over large gears and talk to civilians about Dracula’s army, much like talking to non-playable characters to understand where to go next.
Shankar also doesn’t hold back on portraying a truly grim and grotesque world in Castlevania. There’s a high level of gore and violence throughout the four episodes, beginning with consistent close-ups and screams of a woman being burned alive by members of the church, to a man losing his eyeball after Trevor whips him in the face. Seeing such graphic imagery can be confronting for some, but gives me hope for Shankar’s Assassin’s Creed anime series and Netflix’s Devilman.
Everything is incredibly well animated and detailed. The project was animated by Austin-based Powerhouse Animation Studios, who have worked on a variety of video game animated Trailers (Final Fantasy XV: A King’s Tale, Mortal Kombat X and DC Universe Online), and Frederator Studios (Adventure Time, Go! Cartoons). The art and character design draws heavily from Castlevania game artist Ayami Kojima (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence), and the gothic aesthetic of Helsing and Trinity Blood.
Castlevania is a satisfyingly mature graphic adaptation that’s faithful to the source material.
Its four episode season feels more like an anime film edited into an episodic format, but left me wanting more. Fortunately, just days after it was released on Netflix, Shankar announced the series will be getting a second season.
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