The biggest problem with Netflix’s Castlevania is that there isn’t more of it. That’s not to say it’s a superb, unbroachable show but that there simply isn’t enough of it to judge it. At four episodes, it has to bully through a swamp of story and potential. But that’s just it: there is potential.
The show is audacious in many ways, including in the material it covers. It goes almost the furthest back in the Castlevania timeline and covers a gap we’ve yet to see before. Telling the story of Trevor Belmont, we find out what happens in the lead-up to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.
Trevor (Richard Armitage), an out-of-practice drunkard reeling from his status of both excommunication from the Church and being the last son of the once legendary Belmont line, stumbles headlong into Vlad Dracula Tepes (Graham McTavish) and his ongoing revenge for the witch-based and fatal prosecution of his wife in Târgoviște. The villages of Wallachia are attacked nightly by Dracula’s beasts, the Church is afflicted with dissension, and humanity is beginning to turn on itself with its own demise on the horizon.
It is, for lack of a better word, exceptionally anime. (Producer Adi Shankar was super right: this would not have worked live-action.) Even the setup steeps itself in the staples of the form. The reluctant but highly skilled and highly drunk warrior, a malicious and deceptive religious leader, a surprisingly self-sufficient and headstrong quest believer. It’s at least entertaining seeing them all collide, even if the collision is a bit predictable.
Part of that excitement is generated simply by the voracious pace of the show. At four episodes, it doesn’t have a lot of time to dillydally. It is problematic in that there’s little time to develop characters in any meaningful way while stuffing in a satisfying amount of action, but it also means that the show never bores the viewer. Always moving and always pushing, you never have time to find lulls or question gaps. (But my gosh are there plenty of gaps.)
Before you can wonder how Trevor exactly got shanghaied into Speaker Magician Sypha Belnades’ (Alejandra Reynoso) quest to awaken the potentially nonexistent Sleeping Soldier beneath the city of Gresit, for instance, they’ve already moved on to just doing it. And along the way, there’s a great deal of incredibly raw anime action. It’s strangely slow-moving but still kinetic with plenty of pieces constantly in motion with a ton of color and bombast.
It’s also remarkably violent, though in a shockingly hollow and not shocking way. It looks a lot like the gushing blood geysers of Attack on Titan but without the same effect, neither horrifying or emotive. Limbs just sort of, like, fall off of people and all we are left to do is go, “Huh, how about that.”
The neat thing, though, is that lore is infused throughout it all. From the Vampire Killer Whip to the use of series favorite pickup items, it’s apparent writer Warren Ellis—and co-written by former Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi—is lovingly familiar with the franchise’s history. It even has time to poke fun at certain institutions of the games, which is a fun way to reward similarly entrenched fans. (It’s also hard to see how anyone will end up watching without having played and loved the games.)
For those that know how Castlevania III goes, they’ll likely know how this brief story goes. But the climax is still pretty dang cool. It’s an inspiring reveal that makes you glad for both the second season and its double duration of eight episodes. I’m not saying this is a flawless quartet, but it is a promising one. You should probably watch Castlevania.