Hot Take: Castlevania The Series (Netflix)
The story of Dracula and the Belmont Clan needs more whips and less profanity.
Netflix has just released another original series, this time an anime-inspired short series based on the prolific and well-loved set of games, Castlevania. With a fine pedigree of writers and cast, this series should have been the success that video game adaptations dearly needed. Instead, we get a boring and profane offering that is glacially paced. Netflix obviously had reservations in giving a thumbs up to a full series and Castlevania seems like a tepid introduction to the Tepes drama.
At the end of the 15th century fear and superstition rule the country of Wallachia. A young woman who wishes to replace the darkness of fear with the light of science approaches the castle of Vlad Tepes in hopes of gaining wisdom from its imposing master. Her fearless attitude inspires the vampire lord, and the two become husband and wife. Mistaking her science for witchcraft, she is taken by the inquisition and Vlad vows bloody vengeance on the country.
Elsewhere, the last of the Belmont Clan, Trevor, lives a life of shame and squalor ever since the same church excommunicated his clan of famous vampire hunters. With the country in turmoil, there may be a chance for him to leave the shadows and restore his family’s honor.
Long and Short.
I was not expecting the first season of Castlevania to be so brief and yet feel so tedious. There are only four episodes, each lasting about 25 minutes. With such a short amount of time to set up the action, you’d anticipate that the series would rush the story to get everything in place. You’d be wrong.
The first episode covers the story of Lisa and Dracula and their doomed marriage. You get a taste of their relationship but the events either rush by or dwell on needless things. By the end of the episode you dearly hope we get more of Lisa in flashbacks, since her story is one of the only interesting plot elements in the show.
The rest of the episodes are painfully boring. We get meandering plots that are infrequently punctuated with uninteresting violence. The second takes place mostly in a Tavern where Trevor is truculently drunk and we spend forever listening to two peasants talk about goat fucking. Seriously. It’s not until the very end of the series that we get a hint of action and plot progression.
Castlevania has moments of visual flair, but overall the episodes are flat and listless. When Dracula erupts from a bonfire to issue his threat against the church, it’s really well done. Just like the plot and action, though, the series never again hits that type of high note until the finale. The series gives off a vibe of a studio trying to save money on animation. Lots of close ups of faces with minimal animation, and action sequences where there is seldom more than one thing in motion. The demons that attack Wallachia are fairly generic and we usually only see them in wide shots that look chintzy.
The only sequence worthy of being called “anime inspired” is the battle between Dracula’s estranged son, Alucard, and Trevor. Both fighters move fluidly and skillfully, and the fight is well choreographed. It is unfortunate that it comes with five minutes left in the whole series.
The cast of this series is surprisingly loaded with talent that is utterly squandered. Richard Armitage plays a sullen and brooding Trevor Belmont. Our hero is a drunk who is contemptuous of people, and he goes out of his way to avoid calling attention to himself. This means we get lots of muttered lines of dialogue and scenes of Trevor avoiding action. He’s unlikable and no fun to be around, and I frankly didn’t care about anything he did.
The rest of the cast spends most of their time speaking in low voices about nothing important. Every single member of the church apparently was directed to speak in a sinister sotto voce. The bishop in particular is annoying as hell. You can hardly hear him, and his delivery is stunted and halting. The dialogue writing in this series is abysmal. The only time you feel that Warren Ellis bothered to get excited about what he was writing was when he was talking about the logistics of having sex with goats.
Brief and Brutal.
Castlevania wastes its TV-MA rating on vulgar and ugly things. Fucking goats, kicking testicles, and babies being torn to shreds is pretty much par for the course. Very little violence exists in service to the plot. When Trevor has to slay a giant Cyclops, the whole thing is rather sanitized. It’s only after the important fight is over do we get a needless gout of blood from an unrelated corpse. This all establishes an atmosphere not of danger and horror, but of squalor and waste.
My take away from Castlevania The Series is that this is an unloved project. There are so many awful characters and people behaving badly, we get the sense that this whole world is better off being destroyed by Dracula. There is no high adventure or fantasy. The best character, Lisa, suffers a horrible fate 15 minutes into the series. It seems the whole affair is just an excuse to crush hope and spit in the eye of anyone expecting something pretty or exciting. Castlevania The Series is as dull, boorish, boring and bitter as its main character.