I reported not once, but twice earlier this year that Netflix was going to produce and eventually release an animated series based off the Castlevania game franchise. Well, things have gotten busy since then, and it kind of slipped my mind to report that it has actually come out. And I just watched all four episodes! So instead of just telling you all that it's there and you can check it out if you have a Netflix account (or even without one, if you're morally flexible), I figure I might as well do a bit of a review as well. I'm no film critic, TV aficionado, or even especially in-the-know regarding Castlevania itself, but I did play Symphony of the Night once and I have to write an opinion piece every week, so there we go. I'm most certainly not wanting for opinions.
But first, a synopsis. Spoiler warning.
Anyway, the story follows Trevor Belmont, the last of the Belmont clan, who was excommunicated from the church because they were consorting with the dark beings they had sworn to destroy. Despite having a pretty stellar record on that front, the church still decided they were dangerous and got rid of them. This is all expertly delivered to us through a drunken peasant's exposition and is repeated dozens of times by several other characters through the series. After the church kills Dracula's wife for consorting with the devil, Dracula becomes angry and consorts with the devil to summon an army to wipe out mankind. He warns everyone ahead of time, but no one runs away, tries to stop him, or even reacts very strongly to the news, and then the plot jumps forward a year later to when his minions are summoned and they start killing people.
He probably could have skipped the warning in the first place, for all the good it did, but we got to see some swell animation out of it.
Anyway, Trevor Belmont is out not fighting monsters and avoiding trouble when he decides the best way to secure breakfast is to sneak into a heavily fortified city whose gates are all blocked shut, presumably to keep the residents safe from the flying and wall-climbing demons that plague it nightly. It's also suffering from an influx of paranoid religious nutters, who do a great job of attacking everyone except the actual demons. Once he gets breakfast, he saves an old dude from said religious nut, and it turns out he's a Speaker, a person who is blasphemous for reasons despite their only stated goal being to help people to a needlessly self-sacrificing degree.
Old dude takes Belmont to their hiding spot, and the two have a debate about their obligations. Belmont says they should leave before they get killed by the religious nuts. The Speakers say they can't abandon people in need, and ol' Belmont should stop getting drunk and start fighting demons again. But Trevor is very insistent that they leave because his family was good with them back in the day and he's very selective about which family traditions he adheres to these days. So when this group of hooded dudes mentions that part of the reason they haven't left is because the elder's grandchild hasn't come back from a trip to find the Sleeping Soldier, who is prophesied to save the world from Dracula. Because this group of 10 or so robed men keeps referring to the grandchild in gender neutral terms, Trevor immediately realizes it must be a woman/love interest and agrees to go find them if they agree to get out of town before sunset, a task which would be helped greatly if we didn't already establish that all the exits into and out of the city were blocked.
Trevor finds the lady turned to stone and kills the cyclops responsible for doing that (in whats admittedly a very cool fight scene), and then the two argue a bunch. She wants to find the Sleeping Soldier and to come off as disagreeable so the audience will be surprised when they inevitably fall in love. Meanwhile, he's invested in her not dying, and wants to get out of town himself. She recants and the two head back to the Speakers, who agree to leave at nightfall.
Trevor's pretty chill with this, leaves the Speakers shack, and is accosted by members of the church, who bully him into visiting the Archbishop. The Archbishop and Trevor chat a bit, reminding us a few more times that the Belmont family has been excommunicated and banished, and at the end, the Archbishop says, "Oh and if you don't leave town before tomorrow you and the Speakers will be murdered by us."
Now, you don't think this would be a big deal, since the Speakers have already agreed to leave and Belmont isn't interested in staying either, but apparently this upsets him enough to storm back to the Speakers and tell them to leave, which, I reiterate, they already agreed to do, in spite of the fact the city is still sealed shut. More fighting. Belmont abruptly has a change of heart despite three episodes worth of him insisting hes stopped caring, and now hes going to save the Speakers and protect the people of the city from the demon horde. Huzzah!
So he does that. First he fights off a bunch of priests who are trying to murder him, with the help of the Speaker lady, who uses magic to aid him. Then, he confronts the head priest guy, calling him out for holding a weapon in a city thats attacked every night by demons, and decries him for falsely accusing the Speakers of being witches, even though one of the Speakers is literally using witchcraft right in front of them. The citizens of the town, despite hating Trevor Belmont about five minutes ago and presumably knowing this priest for much longer, decide that Trevor is probably on the level and stab the heck out of this priest dude.
Trevor than takes command of the city's defenses, killing four flying demons with the help of some oddly cooperative and coordinated citizens. Then the ground just collapses under him about five times, and he lands in the chamber of the legendary Sleeping Soldier.
That's literally how he gets there. The ground collapsing. About five times.
He wakes the soldier up by stepping on a switch on the floor (an unorthodox way to wake someone up), and they see a vampire. They fight and eventually it's revealed this vampire is Alucard, Draculas son. He reveals that the prophecy states that he would be awoken by a hunter and scholar, which you think would be something we'd hear about sooner, but then, what do I know about prophecies? Anyway, Trevor inexplicably trusts Dracula's son now that they had a little spar and nearly killed each other, and now the three of them are ready to save the world, and the citizens of a nation who have never once in any scene in the show been portrayed as anything but panicked or bigoted jerks.
So yeah. If it wasn't abundantly clear, I'm not the worlds biggest fan. There was certainly stuff I liked: the voice acting was very good and full of ethically interested voices. The animation, too, while it sometimes felt a little stiff, like cartoons from the 80s, when the swords were drawn and it was time for combat, things really looked cool. But from a plot perspective it was just a confused, only slightly coherent mess that was content to tell the laziest, most repetitive origin story ever. Heck, I'd give it crap for only having four episodes, but looking back on it, I'm surprised they were able to stretch out so much nothing into a full four 25-minute episodes.
Don't get me wrong, though. It was fun. Good, stupid fun. I definitely plan on watching Season 2 when it comes out. And this is still a far better thing to happen to Castlevania than anything Konami has done with the IP as of late. But if you were hoping it would be the next big Netflix superhit, well no. No, not even kind of.
That said, I'm surprised at how many people did like it. It's got some pretty good reviews across the board, apparently: maybe my lack of experience when it comes to these things means I missed a lot of the subtle aspects that make the show absolutely brilliant, the kind of thing you can only see with well-trained eyes. Or maybe I'm just so blissfully unaware of the kind of trash thats usually on Netflix I had no idea that, by comparison, this is an absolute gem.
So, uh, I guess I should end this with a number or something? Sure, uh, let's go with a 6/10, one thumb up, and a certified free of food poisoning rating on the tomato scale.
Now who wants to talk about that upcoming Ready Player One Movie, huh? That looks like a trip.