(Submitted by Birhday Boy Prince Adam…Hope your born week has been beyond a blast, Super Friend! 🙂 xoxo)
“A vampire hunter fights to save a besieged city from an army of otherworldly creatures controlled by Dracula.” (Netflix)
This animated series is based off of a third part in a video game series I have never played. I have no preconceived notions or expectations of what it’s SUPPOSED to be like. All I can say, is that the series that Netflix produced is something I really enjoyed and I’d like to see further explored. Thankfully, Castlevania has already been renewed for a second season. So my recommendation is to definitely get in on this before that eventual second season. The good news is, the first season consists of only 4 episodes, so it’s not a huge overwhelming time commitment. Surprisingly, in that 4 episode time we see Dracula fall in love, and get married. His wife is then burned at the stake by the Bishop and the people of Wallachia, for the accusation of being a witch. Dracula, when he discovers what happened to his wife, gives the people and the church a year to make peace with what they’ve done, before he wipes them off the face of the Earth. The story jumps forward a year, and we see the beginning of Dracula’s genocide on the humans. We also see the arrival of Trevor Belmont, which brings plenty of exposition about the fact that he is the last surviving member of the Belmont family, a disgraced clan of monster hunters, who have been excommunicated by the church, due to claims of being connected to dark magic. Speaking of magic, Trevor Belmont rescues a member of the Seekers, an ancient sect that uses magic to assist and help the people of Wallachia. Guess what, even they have been excommunicated from the church because of their magic. After fighting off some of the demons Dracula has unleashed on Earth, Trevor Belmont then rescues the granddaughter of the Elder of the Speakers, who is trapped in the catacombs of a cathedral. After rescuing the granddaughter, she and Belmont track down Dracula’s castle only to find a sleeping vampire Adrian Tepes. He awakens, a misunderstanding occurs and a fight ensues between the three. When Adrian revels that they fulfill a prophecy that says a vampire, hunter and a scientist will kill Dracula, they band together and hunt for Dracula.
What I loved about this series is that it respects several incarnations of the Dracula character. We have nods to the historical Vlad the Impaler, in the character’s name and the fact that he impaled his victims and skewered their head on a lance. He was also suave debonair, tall, dark and handsome. I loved that this show also highlighted that Dracula was at the forefront of science and technology, in the time period. Thus, in this story, Dr. Lisa Tepes comes to Dracula’s castle, despite knowing the myths about him, in search of his knowledge and science prowess to put into practice with her medicine. Initially, he is cold and distant, but quickly warms up to her, and witty banter kicks into high gear. Before you know it, she encourages him to start living and travelling like a human being. The series then jumps forward 20 years, they are married and Lisa is being burned at the stake as a witch for her interest in science. I wish the season had more episodes, so that we could’ve seen the development of their relationship and the change in Dracula. That way, when he snaps after her murder, it’s even more powerful and painful. I also liked the mythologies set up for both Trevor Belmont and the Belmont family. Trevor Belmont reminds me of a cross between Peter Quill aka Star Lord and Van Helsing. However, the mythology is glossed over because of the season’s short episode order. This is also true of the Speakers but we get an even more truncated version of their backstory. This seasons really needed 10-13 episodes to effectively flesh out all these storylines and backstories. Clearly though, the producers knew they were getting a second season, clearly saving plot threads for the follow up installment. While Dracula has a horrible endgame for Wallachia and its people. the true villain of this season is not Dracula, or the demons he unleashes. The villain is really The Bishop. He is going on a killing spree, taking out people who are suspected of having anything to do with magic. It is his decision to burn Lisa Tepes at the stake, which sets Dracula off on a vengeful murderous rampage. While Dracula’s ultimate endgame can’t be condoned, I can sympathize with his pain. The Bishop is doing all this, so he can be the one to defeat Dracula seen as the ultimate saviour of the Church and the people of Wallachia, ultimately ascending to the rank of Pope. The Catholic Church was full of corrupt leaders, who took part in burning witches at the stake, and using this true to life scenario because the story is set in mid-1400’s is smart. That little bit of reality set in this fantasy world, almost makes you forget this is an animated project.
Speaking of animation and the action, both were great. The art has a mix of Manga art, infused with traditional comic book art, by the likes of Michael Turner and John Romita Jr. I love the Roman/Gothic architecture of the cathedrals and Dracula’s Castle. The castle in particular looked pristine and beautiful when the lights are turned on. It’s hard to believe a vampire and demons live in such an abode. In terms of look, Dracula reminded me of a more rugged version of Luke Wilson from Dracula Untold. The gargoyle type creatures and the devil wolf dogs looked like Man-Bat mixed with Golam and direwolves mixed with Hulk Dogs, from Ang Lee’s movies. I loved that every so often, the skyline would be seen as the sun was setting. The orange/red color was more foreboding then it was beautiful, putting the viewer on notice that blood was about to be spilled. Speaking of blood being spilled, this show is damn bloody and violent and that’s great. It doesn’t shy away from showing blood and there is plenty of dismemberment that takes place. When Trevor Belmont starts kicking ass, corrupt priests lose fingers, an eyeball and even their head. In this series, Dracula can appear as a disembodied head engulfed in fire. I don’t know that this is one of his typical abilities, but it looks cool. The traditional traveling and forming from a swarm of bats is present and made this long time Dracula happy. There’s a scene at the beginning before the title card, where the bats swarm the screen. It reminded me of a more visceral, violent version of the moment in Batman Begins, where the bats swarm the screen, forming the Batman logo at the beginning of the film.
This first season of Castlevania is short, sweet, extremely dark and beautifully violent. Having said that, the four episodes feel like a combined episode of a typical live action pilot. The four episodes are all setup, for what’s to come next season. Thankfully, there’s enough mythology and demon fighting to make this an exciting thrill ride of an appetizer. Castlevania along with American Vampire, are the two best additions to vampire mythology in quite some time. The ending promises an even more satisfying and succulent experience, so definitely take a bite out of Castlevania Season 1, you won’t regret it!