Netflix Castlevania Season One (Review)

So guess what came out right under my nose.

In my quest to finish my Camp NaNo project (which I highly recommend if you wanna participate in NaNoWriMo in the future), I have avoided watching a lot of anime in favor of my somewhat awkward story. But in my rough draft woes, I finally remembered that Castlevania was due to drop on July 7th, about a week ago. So I figured “better late than never” and started binging.

And oh, my friends, I was not prepared.

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Opening image. Take it all in.

I was told from all my sources that this would be a grizzly cartoon in anime style, with enough blood and grizzle to make up an entire Slayer album. Just by watching the first episode I can see that there’s enough blood here to give Hellsing Ultimate a run for its money and the writers are not pulling their punches. Castlevania is grim and frightening take on the convoluted plot of old Castlevania, straightening it out into a beautiful, gothic nightmare.

By the way, mild spoilers here on out.

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See ya in the next section…
  • Our Story in a Nutshell

 

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Written by comic writer Warren Ellis, our tale begins in the region of  Wallachia, Transylvania. One woman – Lisa – has bravely ventured past the dead-body garden you saw earlier and into the castle Dracula Von Tepes. She asks him for his knowledge of science and magic so she can better heal her fellow man, all while offering to teach him the better points of humanity. In their time together, they fall deeply in love and marry.

But while Dracula is traveling the world, his new wife is captured by the church and burned as a witch. In his overpowering rage, Dracula gives humanity one year to make their peace before he wipes them off the face of the earth. But they refuse to heed his warnings, and they suffer when Dracula literally rains Hell’s horde down on them from the sky.

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Worse yet, humanity all but threw away their only chance of survival ages ago. The Belmont Family specialized in the fighting and extermination of vampires, demons, and other assorted creatures. But the superstition of the dark ages prompted their excommunication from the church, the family house burned, and the Belmonts scattered. All that remains is Trevor Belmont, a drunken warrior content to just watch the world burn for throwing him aside. But push comes to shove when a nomadic group of scholars settles in the village of Gresit, and when Dracula’s castle manifests right under their feet. The time to run and mope is over; the Belmont’s must return to the people, or they will all be slaughtered.

  • Rated R for “RAWER!”

The very first thing I noticed – and that everyone who watches this show will notice – is that Warren Ellis has thrown restraint out the window.

I mentioned in my first thoughts post that Castlevania as a series was always cracky (finding a fully cooked chicken inside the wall while fighting Frankenstein and his jumpy friend, that kind of crazy.) It made me wonder how you could mix that kind of insanity with copious amounts of blood and gore. More specifically, I wondered if you could make a series this violent that didn’t trigger my MST3K reflex. My answer came in the form of a rainstorm of blood, deformed gargoyle babies, and an angry mob mass-stabbing a morally bankrupt priest.

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You don’t wanna know what happens to the Bishop.

Ellis has made a hybrid, combining the nonsenical nature of the old series with this heavy metal-esque horror. But if you were hoping for the same tributes to the old monsters from Hollywood, like Frankenstein and the Wolfman, you will find yourself all alone in a big bleak world. Maybe we’ll see more tributes to Universal in season two, but my doubts are high.

  • Beautiful but Flawed

Make no mistake, my gentle viewers; this anime will “go there” often. But when it isn’t shaking you up with severed limbs, it’s giving you a beautiful plot littered with Gothic Glitter.

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Beyond the animation itself being absolutely gorgeous, the gothic imagery employed is both awesome and beautiful. Watching Dracula rise up from the ashes of Lisa’s body, a giant burning ball of fire and hate, will give readers chills. Or they may already be gawking at the bats swirling over his castle almost all the time (that triggered me. Those bat in-game are the worst.) The game works hard to weave together the lovely imagery of Ayami Kojima’s original artwork for the series with this new gritty aesthetic, and the execution makes for a unique experience.

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This image kinda perfectly encapsulates the whole thing

But where there is so much good, there must be something that fell to the wayside. In this case that would be the fight scenes, paradoxically lacking despite the ultra-violence. The actual animations look just fine, but they happen at a pace that’s noticeably slow. This takes away some of the adrenaline in any fight scenes but does allow us to enjoy the view in a few cases.

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Cool Magic Shows!
  • Final Thoughts

Now, I’m not so fangirl blind that I can’t see how a fan could dislike this. There’s a case to be made that Castlevania is trying too hard to be shocking and graphic, especially since the old games leaned more towards being silly and fun. But while that worked for a platformer game, where the brunt of your time is spent jumping from one giant pillar to the next, it doesn’t have the chops to make a full cartoon series.

This new approach is entertaining in its own right; I’m beyond happy to see the story bits I loved so much about this series in their blazing glory. The story rushes a little and the action could use some energy, but otherwise, the anime is thoroughly enjoyable in its four first episodes and will keep the viewer engrossed for the whole ride.

 

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