Film Review: Castlevania

If you asked me what I think is important about Netflix, I’d say it’s willingness to take risks with its original programming, my favorite being the Castlevania animated series. The long-awaited second season finally dropped last week, and after bingeing it within two days, I can safely say it’s one of the best animated shows on Netflix.

Based on the long-running video game franchise by Konami, Netflix’s Castlevania follows Trevor Belmont, the last of the infamous vampire hunting Belmont family, as he teams up with a female mage and half-vampire prince in order to kill Dracula. The series was produced by Frederator Studios (Fairly Odd Parents, Adventure Time) and animated by Powerhouse Animation Studios; its first season premiered in July of 2017. What’s surprising is that it only consisted of four 25-minute episodes, but it amassed a huge fan following and a second season was put into production.

There’s so much I love about Castlevania, but the first thing I want to discuss is the level of voice acting talent. Richard Armitage as Trevor Belmont brings a coolness to the character, but also a level of exhaustion and sass that keeps him fun. Among the new characters, Adetokumboh M'Cormack as the forgemaster, Isaac, brings a cold, dedicated and very self-sacrificing nature to the character. However, Graham McTavish as Vlad Dracula Tepish will always be my personal favorite. He is especially exciting to listen to and is able to bring volume and fear in the calm, quiet tone that the centuries old vampire speaks.

           With the amount of talent in the characters and voices, you’d think that it would be enough to carry the series, but Castlevania’s greatest strength lies within it’s fluid animation and incredibly well-choreographed fight scenes. I love a good fight scene, weather it’s in an anime, kung-fu movie or superhero blockbuster, and Castlevania manages to knock their fights right out of the park.

The most important things I look for when watching a fight scene is one, how creative and inventive can this fight be and two, what winning/losing means to both of these characters. Castlevania has a good grasp on both. Seeing Trevor Belmont’s whip fly across the screen is gorgeous to watch, but seeing it used in ways besides a whip is what makes the fight truly exceptional.

The same goes for a lot of characters. How Alucard can levitate his sword off the ground, or how Sypha’s mastery in magic can lead to some very inventive encounters. Seeing her weave and generate ice and fire is especially exciting, as you can never quite predict how she’ll utilize it to her full advantage. Season 2, episode 7 had some of the best fights in the entire series, ending with the climactic showdown between our three heroes and Dracula. Dracula and Alucard’s long-awaited encounter left me with chills.  

           Netflix’s Castlevania also has a great handle on the amount of writing that goes into the show’s villains. The first episode of season one is entirely set up for Dracula’s reason for hating humanity, and by the end of it, we sympathize him. We don’t agree with his actions, but we can support a man who has lost his wife, a woman who believed in science, helping people, and was able to see the goodness in a man who puts skulls on sticks outside his door.

Then there’s Camula, one of the best female villains I’ve seen in a very long time. Camula is not only malicious and sadistic but smart and patient. She knows what Dracula’s thinking because she’s seen a man go into a downward spiral before, so she doesn’t want to be dragged down along with him.

           But that’s not to shy away from the show’s heroes. What I think works so well about Sypha, Trevor and Alucard is the banter between them. They’ve only known each other for a few weeks, but they talk like a group of old friends in the middle of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. I love seeing Trevor and Alucard trash talk each other and how Sypha lectures Trevor; it’s unfortunate we don’t get to see more of it.

For the better part of season 2, the three of them are in one location, and I think it may have worked better to see them as they traveled across Wallacia. Other than that, the only other noticeable issue I had with season 2 is the unfortunate lack of voice actors. The additional new characters of Isaac, Hector and Camula are all wonderful additions to the cast, but several new characters had also been introduced who had not even a single line of dialogue. It’s unfortunate to see characters with such amazing character designs not be able to be given a voice or personality, but I imagine the studio wasn’t given a bigger budget and therefore couldn’t afford more voice actors to add to the roster.  

Castlevania had no right to be as good as it ended up being, being by far one of the best video game adaptations of all time. The series combines my favorite parts of Game of Thrones, Cowboy Bebop and Naruto: Shippuden. With both seasons on Netflix consisting of only 12 episodes total, it’s a must-see show for anyone who’s a fan of anime, dark fantasy settings or compelling character drama. It has it’s pacing issues, but I still found it incredibly enjoyable; it’s still one of my favorite shows on Netflix. If you were at all curious about the series, I highly recommend checking it out now.

Lee RussoComment