So, there’s a Castlevania anime on Netflix? That’s worth discussing. We’ve seen bad adaptations of video games for decades; let’s hope this isn’t one of them. It’s only four episodes anyway. How much could they mess up?
Full disclosure: I have never played a Castlevania game. Yes, yes, I’ll see myself out. But, before I go, I can at least say I know the basics: the Belmonts kill Dracula. Often. Other things may happen, but that’s the basic gist, right? Good.
With that out of the way, I think the background art is rather captivating. The lighting in particular does a lot of work in setting the atmosphere. There’s hardly a clear daylight shot at all in the series. The closest we get to that is seeing an early morning vista. Even then, it’s followed with a scene that looks like early afternoon in winter. While the mood may not be totally grimdark, this is no happy-go-lucky series.
The character art is decent. Like I said, I have not played a Castlevania game, so is the character design off because Sypha’s hair dangles in the wrong place? I don’t know, but I also don’t care. It’s not imperative to me as someone who appreciates the presentation for what it is, as opposed to its fidelity to the source material. The character designs fit the atmosphere and there isn’t too much on that front to complain about, unless you’re treating this as a final exam for inbetweeners. If that’s so, you’ve arrived at the wrong address because this is about monster hunting.
Animation is fluid – obviously a good thing in an anime. Action sequences are gripping and flow well. Nothing looks janky or out of place when the action gets going. Apparently, all of the animation was done in-house with a Texas-based animation studio (who says America isn’t great?) and co-produced by the distinguished Frederator Studios. Overall, well done.
Rarely have I ever felt a need to complain about sound. It’s usually something that works and, in the case of music, either fits or it doesn’t. However, this is the first time I’ve watched an anime where the sound mixing was wiggity-wiggity-whack. Most of the time, it’s just fine. Then, the bishop comes out and is inaudible under other voices, music – or even nothing at all! For whatever reason, it’s just that character, too. The bishop (whom I have named Mumbles) gets shafted in this regard, and so do we as the audience, since his voice actor played Max Headroom of all things.
I also have learned that none of the video game score made its way into the anime. As someone unfamiliar with the Castlevania score, I won’t shed any tears over that but I do feel it is a missed opportunity. Whether that was Konami’s call or someone else’s, I don’t know, but perhaps a few tracks of the OST will sneak into season two.
So when your principal cast includes Thorin and Dwalin from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, the aforementioned Max Headroom as Bishop Mumbles, and Dr. Baltar from Battlestar Galactica, you know this will be a cast of people who can act. They all do a respectable job in their roles; I have no complaints here.
As far as the characters themselves go, we have Trevor Belmont masquerading as a drunken cowboy, Dracula, Drac’s sassy wife, Bishop Mumbles, and a herd of magical pariahs known as the Speakers. I won’t go into the plot but I will say that the characterization is fairly standard. Honestly, that’s not a bad thing. Trevor is a disgraced drunk slumming around bars when he gets called into action. We do experience a little characterization whiplash when Trevor goes from caring about no one but himself to rescuing someone he’s never met, but I give it a pass. Trying to fit all this story into four episodes clocking in at 24 minutes each means things must progress speedily.
I won’t say too much about it, but Bishop Mumbles is hilariously evil. He’s like Claude Frollo with bad sound quality. If Trevor is the stereotypical good but slightly tarnished hero, Mumbles is the stereotypical “My devotion to God has bad consequences” religious villain. It’s fun to see these two forces play off each other, but we don’t see much of that. Trevor spends his time fighting monsters and hostile priests. Mumbles prefers to steeple his fingers conspiratorially instead. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel to enjoy its benefits. If you came because you want to see a Belmont fighting and running through a massive castle at the end, you won’t be disappointed.
There are elements of unnecessary gore and profanity, but nothing too excessive in the grand scheme of things. I can see a lot of potential in this series. I’m glad a second season will come soon. The oddest thing about this series is its brevity. Again, with only four episodes, we see some rushed pacing. However, that’s probably the worst complaint. I can’t judge it on its fidelity as an adaptation. As a project on its own, though, it strikes me as a very enjoyable work. I endorse Castlevania as an anime and look forward to where it goes next. It could have been a miserable pile of…something, but it wasn’t. Give it a watch – it’s definitely short enough – and decide for yourself.