“Castlevania” Review – Part 1

Poster Art of “Castlevania”. Source

For an old school gamer like me, the notion that Castlevania was being turned into an animated series was just too good to pass up. For those that don’t know, Castlevania is a game franchise that first came on the scene with the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Since the initial release of the first game in September 1986, there have been nearly 30 games released. Not all of them are good. The best ones, though, are classics of their systems, including Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, which was used as the initial inspiration for the animated series on Netflix.

Spoilers ahead for not only the current season but previous seasons, so don’t read if you haven’t watched them.

The first season of the series was woefully short, only consisting of six episodes but those six episodes did much to establish the tone for the series as a whole. This is an R-Rated animated series and is not intended for children. Cursing, blood and gore, violence, and depraved behavior are front and center, starting with the first episode. In the game series, Dracula is always treated as the outright “big bad evil guy” without much in the way of backstory, other than evil vampire who seeks to destroy humanity. In the series, we’re introduced to Vlad Dracula Tepes and his human wife, Lisa, who intrigues Vlad with her devotion to science and reason. They marry, eventually raising a son named Adrian (aka Alucard). When corrupt members of the Christian Church arrest Lisa as a witch and burn her at the stake, Dracula vows to return in one year’s time to exact his revenge.

Trevor Belmont, Alucard, and Sypha Belnades. Source

The sequence of Dracula channeling his face through the flames that consumed his wife is terrifying and magnificent. This is a villain whose motivations are understandable, even if the results are completely reprehensible. The scenes that follow Dracula’s descent into depression and mass genocide are harrowing. The first series also introduces us to our erstwhile protagonists: Trevor Belmont, last descendant of the Belmont family (an ancient bloodline who were wiped out by the same kind of religious fanatics that murdered Lisa Tepes), Sypha Belnades, a Speaker magician who belongs to an order dedicated to protecting mankind’s knowledge, and Adrian Tepes, the half-human/half-vampire son of Lisa and Vlad who opposes his father’s genocidal war with humanity.

Dracula after Lisa Tepes’ Death. Source

The voice talent hired for the show is extraordinary, including Richard Armitage (as Trevor), James Callis (as Alucard), Alejandra Reynoso (as Sypha), Graham McTavish (as Dracula), and many others. That so many well-known film and TV actors agreed to do voicework for this series was what surprised me the most. More often than not, TV and film actors generally avoid doing voice-over work because it’s a vastly different skill-set from film and TV acting, primarily because everything that would be conveyed on film (facial expressions, body language, etc.) has to be channeled through one’s voice, a difficult proposition at the best of times. But all of the talent brought to the series brings their A-games, particularly McTavish (better known to many as the Saint of Killers from AMC’s Preacher).

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The first season ended with the trio of heroes banding together and setting their sights on stopping Dracula’s rampage. The second season, which was expanded to eight episodes, took some time to introduce other characters from the Castlevania games and incorporate them into the series. The three biggest additions were Issac and Hector, Forgemasters who are capable of reanimating the dead by causing demons from Hell to inhabit the bodies, and Camilla, a scheming vampire who seeks to usurp Dracula and become the most powerful creature in the land. Issac (voice by Adetokumboh M’Cormack) is by the far the most interesting of the three. As one of the main POC characters in the series, Issac’s reasoning for his work is also deeply understandable (much like Dracula). It’s simply that his methods are utterly reprehensible, not to mention his moral grandstanding that his view is the right one due to the suffering he has endured. Hector (voiced by Theo James), at least for the second and third season, is not a likeable character but a pitiable one. Carmilla (voiced by Jaime Murray) is brilliant but ineffectual, a creature ruled by her passions rather than her reason, but that doesn’t make her any less dangerous of a foe.

Isaac and Hector, the Forgemasters. Source

The ending of the second season sees Trevor, Alucard, and Sypha take on and defeat Dracula. The final moments of Dracula are heart-breaking to watch and McTavish’s voice work sells every moment of it. In the midst of beating his son nearly to death, their fight takes them to Adrian’s room, the room he and his wife built for their son. It is in that moment that Dracula finally snaps back to reality, realizing that his insane crusade has taken him to the point where he was about to kill his wife’s greatest gift to him, their child. Dracula’s death at the hands of his own child is treated as a hollow victory, which Callis’ voice work and the art direction of the show makes abundantly clear.

Dracula vs. Alucard.

After the ending of the second season, I wasn’t quite sure where they were going to go with the series. The introduction of Saint Germain (voiced by Bill Nighy) was an interesting choice, given that Saint Germain was only in a couple of games in the series. The stories of the third season are far more disconnected than the first two seasons. We follow Issac on his quest to avenge Dracula against Hector and Carmilla (who betrayed Dracula during the events of season two). Alucard takes in two wayward vampire hunters, training them on how to fight his own kind and also because he misses Trevor and Sypha, who have gone off to travel together and clean up the remaining creatures from Dracula’s army. Hector’s story intertwines with Carmilla, who goes back to her homeland of Stygia and joins her sisters: Lenore, Morana, and Striga. Hector finds himself in the unenviable position of having to build an army for Carmilla, who seeks to enact her plans to raise her and her sisters to the same lofty position Dracula once held.

Carmilla, the would-be Vampire Queen. Source

By the end of the third season, Alucard is more alone than ever as his two charges attempt to murder him (resulting in their deaths and becoming impaled lawn ornaments outside his castle, just like his father once did), Sypha and Trevor had beaten back a group of demons that attempted to resurrect Dracula but in doing so, lost an entire town’s worth of people in the process, and Hector has now been bound into servitude to the Stygian sisters, all because he was gaslight and seduced by Lenore. The only person still left with their own agency and purpose is Issac, who now has an army of possessed night creatures at his disposal to exact his revenge on behalf of his fallen lord.

The full review of the final season will be covered in my next essay.

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