Let’s take a crack at something new for Halloween.
When I first heard that Castlevania of all things was getting the Netflix original treatment I had little expectations because these things NEVER turn out to be all that great or worth mentioning. I frankly never heard of Warren Ellis but if nothing else, the choice to adapt Castlevania 3 was a lot smarter than say adapting Castlevania 1 and 2 since 3 at least has the adventuring party of Trevor, Sypha, Grant, and Alucard.
I’m not the most avid Castlevania fan but I have had my experiences with the series in its earlier incarnations on the NES and SNES before the awkward transition to 3D on the N64 and PS2 and the limbo it went through on the console space while the series had a revival in the handheld platforms. The subject of this talk however pertains primarily on the NES title Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse, the PS2 title Curse of Darkness, as well as elements of the legendary Symphony of Night on the PS1 as the Netflix animation covers them all three to a degree. Now I say to a degree because not only are the first two aforementioned games linked chronologically on the canon timeline Konami put out but the animation bothered to incorporate the plot points from Curse of Darkness that begin in Dracula’s Curse into the adaptation which is something I appreciate the thought of because the people behind this seem to really want acknowledge the other games in the series. Symphony is mostly in there to help characterize Alucard and Dracula, which is a pretty big deal.
So how does the adaptation, from a western studio I might add, do to the Castlevania name? Well let’s find out, but I’m not going to pretend you can’t read the title so you already have a rough idea.
Now, strictly speaking, it’s tough to call this an adaptation because Dracula’s Curse is an NES game, and that doesn’t really lend itself to really have a solid plot with interactions and progression aside from having stages for the characters to survive through. At most you could say that Trevor starts off the plot, recruits Grant, Sypha, and Alucard, and storms Dracula’s castle to kill him. Alucard falls to slumber until he’s needed again, Trevor marries Sypha, and Grant returns home to help and restore the devastated country. The animation begins with a Symphony of the Night based introduction where Lisa approaches Dracula’s castle to demand knowledge to help the poor and sick. Dracula is taken aback by the woman’s bravery and attitude and relents in helping her. The two eventually fall in love and Lisa convinces Dracula to live among humans again and travels the world to appraise humanity while she stays behind in their humble home in the countryside to help the afflicted. The Church however meddles in the news of Lisa’s healings and she is taken in by them, branded as a witch, and is burnt at the stake. This of course doesn’t sit well with Dracula at all and his conclusions about humanity is made clear but as a last service to his wife, he warns the people of Wallachia that he will give them one year to leave the country before he has his demonic hordes wipe it out. Sure enough the people don’t listen at all, all hell breaks loose, and Alucard tries to stop his father but is gravely injured in the process. The news of the country’s devastation reaches the ears of Trevor Belmont, the last son of the Belmont Family who have been branded as black-magic wielding cultists by the church and had their ancestral home be taken away from them. With a clear disregard for the people who persecuted his family after dedicating their entire lives to protecting them, Trevor is hard pressed to try and find a reason to care but his encounter with the Speakers in the town of Gresit prompts the journey to begin.
Now that I actually attempt to summarize the rather lengthy premise, you could consider the entirety of Season 1 as a prologue because it really is one as it begins the adventure in the final moments of Episode 4 where the trio is assembled to take on Dracula before making all of us wait for Season 2 to show up which doesn’t really need that much setting up because, again, that’s what Season 1 was for. There are some notes to make about the animation’s departure from the games. The Belmont’s status as an exiled family of heroes is mostly intact but the Church is not the ones calling them back into action like in the games, Trevor is instead motivated on his own morals and encouragement from others. Sypha is also notably not a mage associated with the Church and is a Speaker instead, one of the series’ original groups. The church, or specifically, the Bishop is also the antagonist of Season 1 as four episodes can only do so much. Grant is also notably missing and I’ll get into what they could have done for him, and the second season, in general to maybe have included him.
Trevor had a neat little parallel going on with Dracula in Season 1 where both rejected people in general. Dracula for the obvious reasons of having his innocent wife killed and Trevor for having his distinguished family of heroes be rejected on accounts of possessing black magic to save the country for generations. He’s rude, depressed, but certainly skilled and has his heart set in the right place when it comes to saving people while interacting with said people might need some work. I enjoyed his character and the legacy of the Belmonts showed off in Season 2 where Leon Belmont is not only name-dropped by shown by a fanciful portrait. Trevor in particular had some wonderfully animated whip-action fight scenes and his showcase in knowledge of fighting the dark hordes also won me over pretty hard when he effectively led the militia in the finale of Season 1. Sypha had some significant change from a monk-Church mage into a Speaker with a very noticeable accent. Her recruitment was one of the few things very faithful to the game (as faithful as you can get at this point) where she is saved from a monster’s effects, this case being a cyclops’ petrifying gaze. Much like Trevor, I didn’t have any qualms about Sypha at all and found her characterization to be fine, she was a powerful mage in Dracula’s Curse and her powers definitely add a significant level of firepower to the team. Between Trevor’s attitude and Alucard’s decently high opinion of himself, she’s the glue that keeps them together aside from the trio’s mutual duty to save the world. Last but not least is Alucard who is most significantly portraying the Symphony of the Night incarnation of his character in fighting against his father for the honor of his mother. Nothing really notable to say other than his floating sword and after-image teleport being his highlights and his utterly beautiful scene at the end of Season 2 with Dracula. All in all, with the exception of Grant’s literal non-existence, the main trio were fine.
The only other characters really worth mentioning are Dracula and the duo of Isaac and Hector. Instead of the usually hammy and arrogant Dracula, this Dracula is completely depressed with life and can’t even bring himself to be fully leading the execution of mankind, letting his subordinates to all the work instead. Isaac and Hector, two outcast humans who have joined up with Dracula in purging humanity lead the other league of vampires under Dracula with some questionable opinions going around, which is only amplified by the appearance of Carmilla. Long story short, aside from the development Isaac and Hector get, the rest of the vampires couldn’t have been less important.
The real meat of the critique starts here, as honestly, the characters themselves were fine, it’s simply the allocation of focus and time that really hampered the experience. Now as far as Season 1 goes, the four episode pacing really doesn’t leave much to be lacking in padding and time-allotment so there’s not much to complain there. Dracula’s anger is showcased in episode 1, Trevor is introduced in 2, and 3-4 has Trevor finding his will to fulfill his duties again. All the while, the season 1 villain of the Bishop being taken care of by Dracula’s horde. Sweet but a bit too short as it ends as soon as the crew is assembled.
Season 2 is where the problems occur as while the main Trio make it to their first destination and they proceed to just muck around in the Belmont Hold until the penultimate episode. The rest of the focus for season 2 is divided between Isaac and Hector and the Vampire court which is not exactly something I was too excited to see seeing as how I wanted this to be an adaptation of Castlevania 3 instead of it being half of development set-up for the Curse of Darkness adaptation coming with Season 3, but even when developing the Forgemaster duo, I felt that the time focused on Godbrand and co. could have had more of the Protagonist trio instead. Compounding my broken expectations, the whole subplot of Carmila’s uprising against Dracula amounted to little in this season and I think focusing so much on setting up the next arc was a bit disappointing. Sure, Season 1 was literally all set-up but there needed to be some sort of pay-off and I wanted Season 2 to be exactly that, or at least, have one or two more scenes outside of the Belmont Hold with the trio since getting there and exploring it was plenty interesting.
What what I would have changed was to change up the format of the latter half of the episodes. Skip out on Godbrand and co.’s nonsense, continue to develop Hector and Isaac, but also change up the initiative for the trio to go after Dracula after pinning down the castle. Have at least another episode on the journey or simply have an extended scenes of the crew traversing the castle. Sure the mirror trick and locking the castle down saved a bunch of time traveling there and the in-fighting led to one hell of an empty castle that wouldn’t otherwise be but I really wanted some castle exploration before reaching Dracula’s throne instead of finding them caught with their pants down in the middle of a civil war. I can admit that it makes for one hell of a convenient work around in terms of setting, and essentially why Grant doesn’t fit aside from being, in the director’s words “not strong enough to take Dracula”. Considering the last fight, I can see how that makes sense. Honestly, the pacing of the events above are the only really big complaints I have. Music and visual wise, there were a ton of visual references and backstory call-backs to the first Belmont, Leon. They were even able to fit a rendition of one of the better known tunes from the series so I was also really happy about that as well. On that note of references, Season 3 might also be jam-packed with them with some curious theories already going around on what will the future hold for the forgemasters should they choose to take them in a different direction. Very simply though, the animation during the fight scenes were phenomenal (hell, maybe it’s because they spaced out the fights between so much dialogue) while the rest were fine with a few hiccups in between.
Some die-hard Castlevania fans will denounce this adaptation and I can’t lie that the deviations from the series is rather significant starting from Season 2. Some might take issue with the portrayal of the church from the producer’s rather negative view of them but I don’t really bother myself with those things, especially the latter, all too much. While one can make a case about the plot of Curse of Darkness and Symphony of the Night, I don’t think there’s all too much one could have adapted from Dracula’s Curse alone. With that in mind however, the significant overlap with Curse of Darkness set-up for Season 3 and the lack of focus on the main trio did peeve me but I love the final fight scene with Dracula and Alucard so much that I’m willing to forgive the lowest lows of this series since it’s good points are really great. Is it the best videogame adaptation into animation? Well the competition isn’t all that scarily high but the aforementioned problems do sour my judgement on giving Castlevania that distinction, all things considered. Season 3 will need to deliver upon my misplaced expectations for Season 2 quite a bit if I’m going to be crowning this series with a rather uncontested but still honorable title, it still needs to work for it. However, since I haven’t played Curse of Darkness, it’s up in the air so it will treat me so that still remains to be seen.
Aside from pacing, I can still say that I definitely enjoyed the experience despite the flaws. Family matters resonates with me hard so the final confrontation with Dracula tugged at my heartstrings immensely and is probably one of my favorite scenes from any animated sequence this year so I’d recommend it for that scene alone and the good moments during the start before it tapers off a bit too much before it finishes strong, and sometimes, that’s probably the most I could ask for something to have a really enjoyable ending.