It’s a rarity indeed to find a video game adaption that’s not only faithful to its source material, but creates wholly compelling television in it’s own right. Based on the long running gothic horror game series of the same name, ‘Castlevania’ loosely follows the events of the third game, ‘Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse.’ The first series is as mere four episodes long, with the mercifully second doubling that. This allows for a more compelling series that has the luxury of being able to take its time more and thus bites back much stronger.
Taking an anime inspired visual style, the action is fast, bloody and wonderfully gory, as horror should be. Inspiration is clearly taken from fellow vampiric anime like ‘Hellsing,’ but many elements will make game fans squeal with nerdy glee as they’re ripped directly from the game cart of the NES. It’s suitably graphic and uses its hardcore 18+ rating to the fullest to show some savage kills and horrific moments.
Being based on an 8 bit game from the dark ages of Nintendo means that many liberties have to be taken with characters. It’s difficult to find motivations in a collection of brown pixels. Fortunately, the writing is watertight and presents protagonists Trevor, Sypha and Alucard as engaging and amusing, while still keeping them credible and badass. Series two introduces as few new faces too and the extra four episodes give these new characters time to breathe and make a (bite) mark in their own right. Renowned sexy dwarf, Richard Armitage is fantastic as fan favourite Trevor Belmont, transforming a literally two dimensional character into a hilarious, down on his luck, drunk who must rediscover his will to defeat evil. However, it’s Dracula himself who steals the show, being equal parts terrifying as he is empathetic and shockingly relatable. Particularly when juxtaposed with the merciless and unforgivable actions of the Church here, Dracula’s character becomes as grey as his vampiric skin. We somehow end up feeling for him, despite the whole ‘human genocide’ thing.
Tonally, it’s clearly written by people who understand the appeal of the source material and know what the target audience want. There is a bit of an unfortunate anti religious message that runs through, with the Bishop and his men becoming absurdly evil, contrasting with the more rounded main characters. This can be overlooked though, as the tone manages to accurately convey the horrific moments while simultaneously balancing a dark, sardonic wit.
A criticism by fans of the first series was the mismanagement of one of the games greatest assets: the fantastic soundtracks. This is fixed in series two however, with a scene born to please fans that uses the track ‘Bloody Tears’ from ‘Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest.’ In general, the music is subdued, but works where it counts. Many scenes however take the atmospheric approach by utilising what we don’t hear and allowing for the character’s dialogue to take centre stage.
In conclusion, ‘Castlevania’ is a frighteningly good Netflix original that breaks the curse. Not of Dracula, mind, but of poor video game adaptations. The character writing, voice cast, gratuitously bloody action, wonderful hand drawn animation and moments written by fans for fans, make this a really enjoyable series for gamers. After a criminally short first series, a further eight episodes sorts out the overly rapid pace of last year and allows more development time. Series two leaves us in a pretty radical place, so with the recently confirmed third series on the way, I can’t wait to see where we end up in 2019. One things for sure, ‘Dracula’s Curse,’ has only just begun.