Castlevania

3 out of 5

Directed by: Sam Deats

covers season 1

Holy crow, y’all – Netflix scored an animated series based on classic videogame Castlevania, penned by comic book malcontent Warren Ellis!  Look at that completely generic figure design and animation!  Look at how they essentially chopped up an OVA into four parts – yeah, a four episode season, just like those crazy Brit shows! – and how it’s all essentially a big teasing prelude!  Weee!

…I spent my time in the trenches with Castlevania (and its various sequels and upgrades), but admittedly, it’s never exactly been a story/experience I dreamed of translating to the screen, because it just sort of boiled down to whip-dude-fights-vampires, and there’s nothing about that that hasn’t already wondered its way into motion pictures in some format.  But hey, let’s not let my limited imagination (and lack of awareness of whatever deeper Castlevania mythology may exist) be the final word, and an animated series seems like a smart way to go crazy with the visuals and expand the scope.

But it still boils down to whip-dude-fights-vampires in this outing, with a little bit of Belmont / Dracula history sprinkled in to justify our hero (voiced with rather annoying permanent smugness – which is intended to be cool anti-hero smugness – by Richard Armitage) wiping away his drunken stupor to pick up his whippin’ tools once more, and a little bit of anti-Church lore via the monk group The Silencers to allow for cross-razing along the way.  If you’re familiar with Ellis, you’ll recognize the excessive swearing mixed with tough guy insults, the inability to craft a story sequentially so that it has effective cliffhanger conclusions – each episode just kinda ends – and the attempted injection of intelligence via some faith and morality jibber jabber.

You’re reading this right: I’m not generally an Ellis fan, and overall, I was danged unimpressed with this “season.”  But, a ridiculously slow lead-in to Belmont aside, it’s appreciably paced between action and dialogue and well-directed and designed in the sense that the action and interactions are clear and feel like they occur in fully realized spaces.  It’s certainly not very flashy, but I’d prefer that over something trying too hard to be tough and cool.  And though I criticize the characterization of Belmont, Armitage admittedly pulls it off so that we recognize his smugness as partially bumbling.

It’s definitely watchable.  And the season leaves us in a good place to actually start moving the plot forward.  However, without a game legacy backing this up, I’m not sure I would’ve even hung around the four episodes to see it get to that point.

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