The Castlevania video game series has been around since 1987. It is one of the best selling franchises of all time (20 million copies sold according to Wikipedia) and has been so influential in the game developing community that nowadays there is an entire genre called Metroidvania in honor of its biggest influences; Castlevania and Metroid Prime. It would be obvious to state the importance of producing an adaptation that could reflect the epicness and importance of the games while also taking advantage of the audiovisual medium to expand its horizons and become something that could be enjoyed by anyone, not only fans of the series. Netflix partnered with Warren Ellis, an english writer who had worked in films like “Iron Man 3” and “RED”, in order to transform the beloved series into an occidental animated show. 2017 saw the release of a brief first season that was composed of only 4 episodes. This permitted the animators to showcase the style and quality of the content, while also giving a chance to Warren Ellis to expose his storytelling skills. After that sort of prologue proved the show’s worth, production on a full season began.
Initially, the story follows Trevor Belmont, the last descendant of the Belmont family tree, a noble family that acquired knowledge and slayed monsters through generations. He meets Sypha Belnades, a speaker magician that is always eager to help those in need, and the slumbering Alucard, the son of Dracula. Together they embark on a quest to stop Dracula from destroying the human race after his human wife Lisa (Mother of Alucard) is burned alive by religious fanatics. Past the ending of the second season, the focus of the show shifts in an organic way, leaving seasons 3 & 4 with the task of following, developing and eventually ending parallel storylines of several characters of equal importance. It is astonishing to see Warren Ellis succeed in this endeavour so seamlessly; especially when we take into consideration the fact that most video game adaptations cannot even manage to output a single narrative story in movie format. We can adjudicate this triumph to the way the video game elements are incorporated into the narrative.
One of those elements is without a doubt the action. The games always made a splashing impression with the bosses that players had to face off against and this is beautifully translated to the animated medium. Animators make fights feel brutal yet wildly entertaining. The change in style when an action scene kicks in, can be a bit abrupt in some cases but it is soon forgotten. The result brings a fluidity of character movement that is never hard to follow (except perhaps by the end of season 4) and only stops when it takes dramatic pauses to enhance specific finishing moves, hard hits or worthy actions. Those enhanced moments are also helped by the swift soundtrack that accompanies every scene but stands out when the fighting ensues. The characters demonstrate growth with each fight, learning new personal tricks as well as improving their combo abilities when working together. This combat growth tends to reflect their actual narrative arc as well as make the viewer excited for every upcoming fight in order to see what new weapon, spell or feat the main characters can achieve now, just like when you level up in a video game.
The story brings most of its core narrative elements from the prequel “Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse” but also feeds from several resources layed out in the entire series, making the world of the show feel lived in and alive. This, allows the story to give more and more weight to characters that started out as mere pawns or henchmen of bigger figures. But what made the 4th season journey feel complete and faithful wasn’t just the world building or the characters themselves. Something united them and made them interact, it made every character eventually advance and grow or made them stay stucked and perish in a way that left a sense of fulfillment; that something is a thematic thread. And yes, before you even think about it, there isn’t just one unique theme throughout the entire series but all of the themes point in the same direction; how do you live your life? Warren Ellis crafted a piece of entertainment that will withstand the test of time because it shows how characters have common goals or opposing views. It shows viewers what happens when two persons spend so much time together they involuntarily take attributes from the person next to them. And what happens when you somehow lose that very same person, to you and to the world around you. The different characters of the show walk this very same road of questions from different perspectives and angles. By the final episode of the final season it does not matter how long the show was, or how many animated battles between good and evil we spectated. We find ourselves smiling or crying (or both) when we see characters find an answer to these sorts of questions or die trying to find one.
Netflix’s “Castlevania” should be considered one of the rarest precious stones the entertainment industry offers today. A solid video game adaptation that has top notch animation, great voice acting all around, a suting soundtrack and most importantly an overarching story that engulfs every single main character presented. Leading to a satisfactory and somewhat heartwarming end that closes the narrative arcs of all characters (or at least most of them) and (with some slight interpretation required) brings home a clear thematic message that serves as a sealing stamp for this love letter to the source material, the animation medium and to the viewers that joined the ride.