Thursday, July 13, 2017

Castlevania Animated series Review


Back in 2015 I did a video talking about the announcement of Adi Shaknar and Frederator studios' take on an animated version of Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. And boy, let me tell you I was super excited when I saw this. Like I said in a previous video, I really love the Castlevania series, and I've been a fan ever since I came across the Vs Castlevania arcade cabinet at a birthday party in a Little Caesar's sometime in 1989. Flash forward to current year, One week past the July 7th release of the Castlevania animated series; A whole whopping four episodes of supernatural action and drama, and I just finished watching the season finale, last night.

So, what do I think about the series, you may ask? Well since I assumed you did, I'm going to tell you exactly that.

… you're welcome, Internet.

The first episode seems to use a lot of the back story referenced in games such as the aforementioned third game in the series, as well as from Symphony of the Night, which helps to fill in all of the blanks and adds perspective on why our main villain, Vlad Tepes, seems to have a king sized grudge against the whole of humanity. The first episode introduces Lisa, a would be doctor who ventures to the demon castle to get aide in how to better cure the ailing townspeople. Dracula after testing her mettle, begins to teach her “the ways of the sciences”. Meanwhile she seems to work away the ice from his frigid heart. Of course, this romance only leads to despair, when the pious Bishop (played by none other than Max Headroom, himself, Matt Frewer) learns of her use of medicine and deems this to be witchcraft, and a burnable offense.

This tale is interesting as it humanizes Vlad, and makes him sympathetic to the audience, it also does a fantastic job of establishing Dracula's role as a tragic villain, A theme that appears often in Dracula's backstory in other popular media (eventually inspiring Koji Igarashi to further add to Dracula's history in future games such as Castlevania Lament of Innocence). This death of Lisa throws Vlad into grief and eventual rage which causes drama between Vlad and their son, Adrian Farenheit Tepes. This is the spark that ignites conflict between their ideals, and leads to their estrangement. This same conflict can be seen in later titles such as Symphony of the Night, a game that should be played by anyone who is interested in the animated series, but I digress.

Above: Six Centuries of Badasses

Later, we come across our main character, a rather broken, defeated drunken Trevor Belmont, of the Belmont family, a noble line of warriors who deal in the supernatural, but because of their power were shunned by the people of Wallachia, and driven out of their ancestral home. This is actually word for word how the introduction to Castlevania III goes, and immediately put me at ease in whether they were going to follow the source material or not, Not only did that happen in spades, but the show also expands on things that were part of the Castlevania mythos but were kind of just not really acknowledged (Like the overuse of gears and pendulums in the final level). It seems that Dracula is not just really into STEM fields, he wanted to get women involved as well... if only a certain group of people did the same instead of trying to get others to throw money at the problem with minimal results.... again digressing.

In his introduction , Trevor seems to have been having a run of bad luck that ends with getting into a scrap with disgruntled towns folk who not only have a thing for bestiality, but also seem to have it in for uppity nobles. Eventually, after whiping the floor with his assailants, he follows a lead and after sneaking into town , meets the speakers, or the Belnades/Velnumdes clan, another important bloodline in Castlevania lore. As a means of charity, and general concern for their well being, Trevor agrees to seek out the lost member of the clan, a Speaker who went missing while searching for the “Sleeping soldier”, a mythical figure whom is prophesied to help turn the tide against Dracula's horde. Of Course, fans of the series will know both of whom we're talking about, and despite the fact that the location of this character isn't exactly where our lost speaker friend would be located in game (that's the mad forest, for those of us in the know) Both character's introductions as well as the circumstances of their discovery are translated perfectly, right out of the game.

Eventually, both Trevor and the speakers join forces in order to fight the creatures of the night and the ego-maniacal wiles of the Bishop and his treacherous retinue, but will they be able to seek out the legendary “Sleeping soldier” who can help them take the fight to Dracula, himself? 

Above: The master of ceremonies

The story was written by popular Comic writer, Novelist and screenwriter, Warren Ellis back in 2007 and revised in 2008. Heavily researched, and brought to Igarashi for review before production even started. While the story itself according to some might not have the feel of a Castlevania game, it certainly retains and does justice to the rich lore of the games, and it's characters. The only gripe I have, currently is there is no Grant DaNasty to speak of in the first season. Ellis seems to think that there are no logical need for pirates in a landlocked country, despite that Grant seemed closer to a thief than being portrayed as a pirate in the game manual. However, Ellis also goes on to state that when Grant does appear in the series he will go by the name DiNesti which is actually closer to Danesti, which is one of the two families of the House of Basarab, a dynasty that was historically important in the establishment of Wallachia.

I get by with a little help from my friends

According to Ellis, the Animated series was originally intended to be a direct-to-DVD film, which was eventually put up for consideration as a feature-length film. Of course finally this project found it's way to Netflix where it was broken up into a four-part series, with the screenplay focusing on the sum of the story's most interesting parts with a side order of gore, and bestiality for shits and giggles.

There does seem to be a lot of swearing in Trevor's dialogue, which may a bit unsettling, however given the time period and Trevor's mental state at the beginning of the story, it kind of makes sense that he would be that downtrodden enough to just give up on politeness and proper appearances. After all, He's an exiled nobleman who's family has saved the countryside many times over, yet due to the church is just tossed away for his troubles and treated like yesterday's garbage. That would probably have me spouting swears like they were going out of style as well.

And the fight scenes... Maybe I never really thought about how fighting with a whip would go, or perhaps due to all those Indiana Jones films, I never figured there would be that much depth to a whip fight, but mother of god, The Belmont family are not to be fucked with!! Between knife-play, hand-to-hand or outright whip based combat, the fight scenes are definitely meticulous and kept me on the edge of my leather-clad seat. This was some of the best animation I've seen from a non Japanese studio in some time. As far as “Adult themed” animation goes, this is actually something I wish there were a lot more of coming from the west instead of what we currently have.

Now, I'm sure the next thing to come out of your mouth is “ but what about Berserk” , and I should probably state that Castlevania is definitely not Berserk, nor do I want it to be. The two are quite different in the type of stories they are trying to tell, and I admire them individually for that. I don't want the same. I definitely want differing flavors. Kentaro Miura is the master of long-game dark fantasy with a dystopian edge. Meanwhile, this is a fantastic telling of an established European horror fantasy game, I love both for what they're trying to do.

What I will say is that if you enjoy the Castlevania series of games, pre and post SOTN, you should definitely give this series a shot. Between the Gothic European locals, the stunning visuals, and the extensive bloody fight scenes, You'll likely not be disappointed. I myself, can't wait for the next eight episodes which should conclude the story, and hopefully they decide to pull a Jojo's bizarre adventure and continue the story with each passing bloodline, because seeing an animated version of Rondo of Blood and SOTN would be nothing short of amazing.

- I'll see you next bossfight!

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