Netflix’s Castlevania animated series released over the weekend and has plenty of demon killing, testicle jokes, magic and blood. But how does it hold up as a complete package? I sat down with my coworker Mike Fahey to talk about all the good and all the bad.
Heather Alexandra, Kotaku: Netflix’s Castlevania series arrived much sooner than I thought and I’ll admit that I was very excited going into this. It’s basically an anime version of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse with Warren Ellis as the writer, which should have been pretty awesome but I walked away a bit disappointed. I get the sense that you liked it quite a bit though.
Mike Fahey, Kotaku: Kind of snuck up on us, didn’t it?
I did not have high hopes going into the series, and I was definitely not in an anime mood when it started. It didn’t really grab me until the beginning of the second episode, but after that I was hooked hard. I’m sorry you were disappointed. I thought it was some of the finest Netflix of the year.
Alexandra: I want to like it more than I do. I really like this take on Trevor Belmont but I also found a lot of it really hard to watch from a visual standpoint. I think my first question for you is the most important one: do you think this felt like Castlevania?
Fahey: It felt like the lead-in to a Castlevania game, which is essentially what it is. It’s tackling things the early video games did not or could not. Trevor, for example. Once he starts whipping his way through a platforming castle (which we do get a little taste of towards the end of the four-episode run) he’s just a bundle of sprites under the player’s control. What’s he like in his downtime? A drunk, disillusioned wanderer from a family that’s fallen from grace from the church sounds about right to me. His attitude, while not particularly endearing, is perfect for the setting he wanders into.
Alexandra: It feels a bit like combining the NES games and Symphony of the Night. I think that the tone is really great and something that the series is really consistent about but I also don’t know if all the world building works. I wanted to see more of Dracula and Lisa, I wanted to get a better sense of the world besides the cartoonishly evil church. But we rush through it and spend more time in a bar listening to two guys discuss goat fucking.
Which, to be fair, felt very much like something Warren Ellis would do. Evil, evil stuff and then hard cut to a bar fight with a lot of testicle kicking.
Fahey: “Please leave my testicles alone!”
I would love to see more of Vlad and Lisa, but they did have to cram an awful lot into four half-hour episodes. The first five minutes of the first episode did an amazing job of establishing a chemistry between the supernatural force of evil and the fearless woman of science. Perhaps we’ll get more of them in flashback form as the series continues. For now, that brief interaction and, as you put it, the “cartoonishly evil church” immediately had me rooting for the traditional bad guy. Cut to the goat fucking, and I’m with pre-game Trevor. Who cares about saving humanity? Just give me some breakfast.
Alexandra: It’s a good introduction that leaves a lot of room for growth. I also think that this show has some pretty good voice work and this was the scene that really made it clear. Richard Armitage isn’t doing much but Trevor’s a surly fellow that still has a lot of charm. I though the high profile casting was just some prestige-television schtick but it works. If there’s one thing I really liked about this series, it was the characters.
Fahey: There’s a moment that really drives the voice work home. When Trevor first arrives outside of Gresit, and he sees the goblin carrying the baby in its teeth and hears the screams coming from the town, he mutters, almost inaudible, “Here we go.” The sound production on the series is just so good.
Alexandra: Somewhat related to babies and goblins: this is a bloody show!
Fahey: Isn’t it? I started watching it again last night with my wife and found myself apologizing for the disembowelments, as if they were my fault. Bloody babies, mothers and children being smashed against walls. So gross, but still pretty good. There were times I felt like Alejandra Reynoso’s Sypha right after we first meet her. In the cyclops labyrinth, when the beheaded stone soldier turns back into flesh.
Alexandra: I can’t decide if I like that or not. It feels appropriate for the tone of the show but when I combine it with the really oppressive red color scheme and deep shadowy settings, I was starting to get fatigued. Ignoring my concerns about this season’s length and pacing, that was the hardest thing for me. This show was just hard to watch, even for someone like me who is usually down with the gore-y and gothic.
That said, it was very satisfying to watch Trevor whip off that priest’s finger and eyeball.
Fahey: I see how it is. Gore is okay as long as it’s against deserving priests. It’s not a series that shies away from gore and sacrilege. I’m surprised there was no nudity, to be honest. Might as well go for the hat trick.
Alexandra: Alucard comes close. Rising up out of that coffin, shirtless and beautiful, just in time for a very good fight scene with Trevor.
Fahey: Hahaha. I was about to get to that, but you beat me to it. After a prolonged platforming section, the magical Sypha and stalwart if a bit wobbly Trevor Belmont discover the lair of a beautiful vampire prince, and the coolest fight sequence I’ve seen in anime in quite some time ensues.
Alexandra: It’s part of the reason that I enjoy the end of the season far more than the start. There’s a lot of great scene in the final episode between this fight and the bishop getting devoured in the cathedral. It feels like the show is hitting a stride, with three our three heroes ready to go on adventure. But then it just... stops.
Fahey: And possibly the best two lines of the series so far. First, the demon to the bishop, “We love you. We couldn’t be here without you. Let me . . . kiss you.” And then Trevor kicking Alucard between the legs. “Please. This isn’t a bar fight. Have some class.” I rolled. And then I pouted because yes, the first very short season stops right there.
But more is coming! The day it debuted, Netflix announced a season two, with eight episodes instead of four! I am rejoicing. You?
Alexandra: I’m cautious. This series has some interesting moments but might be trying a bit too hard in some places. The next season is supposed to be longer and I hope it takes a bit more time to let these characters interact. I love watching Sypha and Trevor, for instance. That’s leading somewhere if this sticks to the story from the games and I don’t want the writing to rush it.
Also: where’s Grant? I hope we see him next season and round out the crew with a salty thief-type.
Fahey: Maybe he’ll be DLC.
Alexandra: He’ll be in the upside-down version of the series, which we can watch after completing both seasons.