Castlevania – Season 1 Review

Rating:

A Bloody Good Time

Main Cast: Richard Armitage, James Callis, Graham McTavish, Alejandra Reynoso

Dracula: “One year. I gave you one year to make your peace with your God. And what do you do? Celebrate the day you killed my wife. One year I gave you, while I assembled my armies. And now I bring your death. You had your chance.”

“Witchbottle” (Season 1, Episode 1)

It’s hard to make an adaptation of a video game. Passive media like TV and film struggles to provide the same atmosphere as actively leading a character through a grand quest. Even if you can make said adaptation exciting, viewers need more. Characters that aren’t one dimensional, enemies that can be threatening without a life meter, and a story to tell between the fight scenes. Luckily for Netflix, Konami’s Castlevania gave them plenty of material to work with.

Castlevania follows monster hunter Trevor Belmont as he and his compatriots struggle to stop Count Dracula, who has begun a genocide against humanity. So is Castlevania a worthy adaptation or is it game over? Let’s find out.

The Good

Bloody Tears

Dracula:She said “if you would love me as a man, then live as a man. Travel as a man…I do this last kindness in her name, she who loved you humans and cared for your ills. Take your family and leave Wallachia tonight. Pack and go, and Do. Not. Look. Back. [Dracula is wreathed in Hellfire] for no more do I travel as a man!

“Witchbottle” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Castlevania starts as a love story, oddly enough. A plucky scientist named Lisa travels to Dracula’s castle, having heard of the technology and knowledge he possessed. Upon meeting the reclusive count, Lisa explains that she wants his secrets so she can help people, heal the sick and improve the peasants’ lives. 

Dracula is hesitant, but is eventually won over by Lisa’s fearless nature and desire to help others. He begins teaching her the science he has learned and falls in love with her. Lisa and Dracula are soon married. At her suggestion he begins traveling the world to reconnect with his humanity.

Unfortunately, the Church soon learns about Lisa, an intelligent woman with strange potions who consorts with a monster. They brand her a witch and drag her to be executed. Lisa is burned at the stake, her last words a plea for Dracula to forgive her murderers.

Dracula’s Curse

Dracula: [to his army] “Kill everything you see. Kill them all! And once Targoviste has been turned into a graveyard for my love, go forth into the country. Go now! Go to all the cities of Wallachia: Arges! Severin! Gresit! Chilia! Enisara! Go now, and kill! Kill for my love! Kill… for the only true love I ever knew. Kill… for the endless lifetime of hate before me.

“Witchbottle” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Vlad Tepes was a scary human. As the now-widowed Count Dracula, his wrath is downright biblical. He gives the crowd that watched Lisa’s death one year to repent while he gathers his allies and summons an army of demons. The fools don’t heed his warning and are unprepared for his unholy vengeance.

Blood and fire rain from the skies. Demons of every description descend and slaughter everyone they find. Organs and entrails fly as townspeople are torn asunder. Even infants are shown no mercy. So yeah, not exactly something to watch with the young’uns or your grandparents.

The demonic slaughter is horrible, especially for those who were living ordinary lives although it’s rather cathartic seeing the stereotypical crowds cheering witch burnings and power hungry Templars get what’s coming to them. Another viewpoint is the tragedy of Lisa’s death and a heartbroken Dracula lashing out against those she wanted to help. You wouldn’t think a massacre could be so insightful.

Vampire Killers

Trevor: “Stone-eyed Cyclops, right out of the family bestiary… God shits in my dinner once again.

“Labyrinth” (Season 1, Episode 3)

Heroes are needed in this dark, bloodstained setting. The first is main character Trevor Belmont, the last of the Belmont family of occultists and monster slayers. They had been excommunicated and hunted by corrupt church officials.

Trevor is moody, snarky, frequently drunk, and self-centered. He attempts to keep a low profile, but is quickly drawn back to the family business when Dracula’s forces attack a town he is passing through. Trevor is skilled with a sword, but his primary weapon is an enchanted whip called Vampire Killer, which is especially effective against monsters and y’know, vampires.

His love interest is the sorcerer Sypha Belnades, who studies with a nomadic group that memorize knowledge and seeks to keep it alive through oral tradition. They mostly serve as a magical version of the Romani and are persecuted by the church.

Sypha is stoic and bossy, but has a comedic side. She is usually the first to call Trevor on his BS and tries to keep her allies from fighting each other long enough to kill the demons that are attacking them.

The trio’s other member is Adrian Tepes, more commonly known as Alucard. He is the half-vampire son of Dracula and Lisa. Alucard attempted to stop his father from committing genocide, but was imprisoned in a section of Dracula’s castle.

Trevor and Sypha find Alucard and release him. After a short battle to test their skills, he explains his backstory and asks them to help him stop Dracula. Alucard’s vampire powers make him the strongest member of the trio and include super strength, speed, durability, healing, and flight. And that’s just what he shows in season one.

The Bad

Heretic

Blue Fangs: “Your God’s love is not unconditional. He does not love us. And He does not love you.”
Bishop: “I have done His bidding. My life’s work is in His name.”
Blue Fangs: “Your life’s work makes Him puke.”
Bishop:I am the Bishop of Gresit!”
Blue Fangs:Your God knows we would not be here if not for you. This is all your fault, isn’t it?
Bishop:SHE WAS A WITCH!
Blue Fangs:Lies? In the house of God? No wonder He has abandoned you.”

“Monument” (Season 1, Episode 4)

Unlike the games, Castlevania has a serious bug up its arse about religion. The plot is kicked off by a corrupt bishop burning Dracula’s wife as a witch. Other church members are used as disposable thugs, screwing with peasants, attacking Speakers, and serving as minor threats to the main cast.

Even outside the corrupt church, religion doesn’t get a lot of respect. Trevor occasionally curses God when a particularly dangerous monster appears. Sypha even brings up how the Speakers view God as a tyrant because they misunderstood the Tower of Babel story. 

This problem likely stems from showrunner Warren Ellis and his noted distaste for religion. It’s prevalent enough to be annoying, but not enough to take away from the enjoyable parts of the show. Later seasons also substantially tone down the anti-religion dogma, making it a non-issue after the first season.

Out of Time

Alucard: [last lines] “My father has to die. We three… we can destroy him.

“Monument” (Season 1, Episode 4)

Castlevania’s first season feels like a movie cut up into four twenty minute episodes. While a lot of story is crammed into those episodes, the season ultimately ends just as the story gets going.

The most annoying part of this short season is how the main characters don’t meet until the final episode. Luckily, Season 2’s episode count was doubled, giving the writers more room to stretch the story, show character interactions, and overall feel less compressed.

The Verdict

Castlevania is one of the few video game adaptations that doesn’t suck. It has an eclectic cast of heroes, one of the most sympathetic Draculas ever depicted, and hordes of nightmarish monsters to plague the lands. The short season and attacks on religion are annoying, but ultimately don’t drag Castlevania down. This show is worth your time.

Like Castlevania? Check out our Van Helsing review and our countdown of the Top 6 Monster Hunters.

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