Castlevania has already been lauded by a contingent of the internet as one of, if not the best, adaptation of a video game yet attempted for film or television. I’m inclined to agree with these folks, namely because Castlevania (the television series) executes world building and plot progression in a manner that’s somewhat of a rarity in the wildly disparate landscape of quality that is modern anime – it doesn’t establish too many concepts in any single episode, keeping new characters, powers, and items feeling fresh and novel – and it fervently drives its plot forward over a limited number of episodes.
With a four episode first season and an eight episode second, Castlevania makes good to not overstay its welcome with its fiery gothic tale of Vlad Dracula Tepes, and the campaign of genocide he wages against the human race after his human wife, a doctor named Lisa, is burned at the stake by the Catholic church for practicing witchcraft (witchcraft in this instance being the possession of healing herbs, beakers, and the ability to cure old ladies’ chest colds). The show is divided between two casts of characters: the protagonists seeking to destroy Dracula, led by Trevor Belmont, the last in a long noble line of vampire hunters, and the vampire court, overseen by Dracula himself.
The story takes place in the late 15th Century in the Romanian principality of Wallachia, which is presented to the viewer with a folksy and scenic European aesthetic to match its historical flavor. The world feels grounded and lived in, particularly with the presence of the Church as a minor antagonistic force for both the heroes and the vampires. Anime is not a format particularly known for its restraint in design, so its refreshing to find a series that’s willing to rely on its characters and internal mythos instead of flashy visuals as its primary draw. Though that’s not to say the visual quality of the show falls flat by any means. The creature design is simple but sufficiently spooky, and the blood/gore in some scenes is so genuinely shocking and visceral, it made me jump out of my seat shouting “Oh Shit”.
Probably head and shoulders above these already quality elements is the show’s writing. Writer Warren Ellis goes to great lengths to ensure every character, regardless of where they fall on the spectrum of heroes and enemies, is complex and sympathetic, with motivations that are, if not always condonable, still distinctly human and understandable. In fact, I find the show’s two “evil” human characters, the forgemasters who create the army of demons for Dracula, Isaac and Hector, to be the most interesting Castlevania has to offer. Both have suffered different kinds of rejection and abuse by society, and it is interesting to see the way they negotiate through that in different ways: Hector trying to find an empathetic middle ground while Isaac looks for bloody calm and atonement.
As of now, Castlevania runs as a solidly executed, fun to digest dark fantasy with a story that mixes traditional DnD swords and sorcery adventuring with a light smattering of court intrigue reminiscent of Game of Thrones. Throw in some top notch and visually dynamic fight choreography, and you’ve got yourself a rich universe that is sure to have goths, geeks, and weebs biting their necks for more.
5/5 Like the Seekers, I too am the enemy of God