Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Netflix Castlevania review (spoiler free)

The year was 1993 in a cold July in Peru, (it’s winter there) I was on my school break, bored to bits, when a friend borrowed me a NES copy of Castlevania 3 Dracula’s curse: A game none in the neighborhood had been able to complete, and me being a sucker for lost causes, accepted the challenge for the very first time.

The world would not hear from me until I emerged from my catacomb of gameplay a month later, for I had entered the eerie and wonderful world of Castlevania and I could not leave it until I had explored every corner of that creepy and magical 8-Bit world contained in that sweet rectangular grey plastic case.

This was the first ever game I completed (In all routes) and taught me everything I needed to become a gamer until I retired in 2008. Needless to say, I had to play every Castlevania game in existence: From Simon’s Quest, to the Game Boy versions...I wanted to know every game I missed since it first debuted in 1986 (In Peru, things used to arrive quite late in those days)

Of course, Castlevania fans, were treated to a majestic evolution of the franchise over the years, with titles like Castlevania 4 (SNES) Dracula X (SNES) , and the crowning achievement that was Symphony of the night for the PS1, plus the numerous Game Boy sequels.

Years passed and we never got any other forms of Castlevania entertainment. After a thousand chronology retcons, movie rumors and Konami’s demise, we thought the days for good vampire killer fun were over.

But just like the world of Castlevania, nothing is what it seems: Enter Netflix.

In July 7th of 2017 Netflix debuted a 4 part animated series based on the very same NES game I played and let me tell you, I was afraid that after many failed videogame adaptations, this series was going to be amongst the huge pile of disgraces we have seen since the Mario Bros debacle, and for once, I’m SO glad to be wrong .

This series is an anthem to all things Castlevania: It’s gritty, dark, sweary, with a hint of Game of Thrones here and there, (just for scent mind you) but above all: It’s SUPER gory (Thanks Adi Shankar!) and artistically influenced by series like Ghost in the Shell, Akira and more in the genre. The subjects it touches are definitely not for kids (please don’t watch it with your 5 year old) But that is where the series shines the most: The tale of how Dracula (voiced by Graham McTavish) becomes this insatiable and vindictive beast is so well fleshed out, that for the most part of episode 1 you are on team Dracula, and let me tell you, not just any series has the power to humanize and justify the villain in the way this one does. When that happens, you know you struck storytelling gold.

Of course, every masterpiece is not devoided of controversy, and for Castlevania comes in the faithful adaptation of what the Catholic church was in those days: Intolerant, criminal, dictatorial and corrupt. (wait, did I said “those days”?) Naturally, that depiction did not sit well with some groups, specially in some South American countries, where “papa lindo” will punish you for watching the truth of how his church worked in those dare you Netflix? How dare you! But we geeks know better right?

Episodes 2 and 3 dwell deep in the introduction of Trevor Belmont voiced by Richard Armitage (The Hobbit) and Sypha Belnades, voiced by Alejandra Reynoso (Winx Club) Fleshing out their characters while giving you a ton of exposition and backstory with several gory action scenes carefully placed so as to keep the pace going. Finally, episode 4 picks the pace back up in a glorious bloodbath, a very familiar stage and the confrontation with another fan favorite: Friggin’ Alucard voiced magnificently by James Callis.

Season 1 ends in a cliffhanger that has left many wanting for more and we cannot get it soon enough, but fear not Castlevanians, season 2 was given the green light almost immediately and is expected to drop sometime in the first quarter of 2018 and will have 8 episodes of varying length.

In the end, Castlevania is a series that manages to be his own glorious thing, hindered technically and musically a bit (budget maybe?) portraying the legendary fight of the Belmont clan vs Dracula in a compelling, less unidimensional way that makes villains and heroes justified by their own means, while discovering their purpose in the middle of tragic, unfair or violent circumstances. It’s pure and symphonic American anime made by people that understand the characters, the lore, and in one sentence: They seem to know what the heck they are doing.

You can bet your last bottle of holy water that I will be binge watching season 2 and rooting for Houses Belmont and Tepes....THAT is how complicated things are... Will we get to see Grant Danasty? (That would complete the Drac-vengers team!) guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Castlevania is magistrally written by Warren Ellis with the direction of Sam Deats, music by Trevor Morris and is streaming now on Netflix.

Chris “Hunter” D.

P.S. Ever since I watched the show I created the Castlevania Netflix fan page to make the wait for season 2 a bit more bearable, so come join our fellow Castlevanians! (we have pot roast straight from the walls!) :

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