Sunday, 16 July 2017

Castlevania: Season One Review - "But Enough Talk...Have at You"

By Sam Graham

Video game adaptations have had a rough time, and they deserve to. I'm still trying to forget Super Mario Bros, never mind the lacklustre Assassin's Creed film (I was already forgetting it while I was turning it off). It took two Hitman films to try and make it worth the time, and they still failed.  It’s a tightrope to try and find a new audience while simultaneously putting enough in-references and fan-service for the hardcore nerds fans.

Ask me, they won't be taken seriously until they start acting it. The only game films worth watching for their own merit are Resident Evil (the first one and only the first one), Silent Hill (the first one and only the first one) and Mortal Kombat (the first one and only the first one, and because of the best dance track of the 90's). Yes, I've heard of Uwe Boll, and yes I've seen some of his work. The last day of Jonestown was more entertaining. Look it up.

So, Netflix's Castlevania is next in front of the firing squad like this is the late 90's and we, the audience are Kosovan. To spare an actor from the career-ruining task of playing a Belmont, or Dracula, they made it animated and got Thorin to voice Trevor Belmont and one of the lesser important dwarves to voice Dracula. Voice-acting doesn't damage your career like physical acting does, so it’s alright.  Well, unless you're Mel Gibson 'acting' drunk and angry down the phone to your girlfriend, that is.

At only 4 episodes, it’s basically a prelude to Castlevania 3: Dracula's Curse for the NES. The first episode does a great job of setting Dracula up (something the games couldn't be bothered to do at first). At first you think he might be some sympathetic anti-hero, but by the end of it you realise that if anything, he's an absolute bastard. A good kind of bastard though. Unrestrained. A level of evil you rarely see these days, because nowadays everybody has to have some redeeming quality.

Enter Trevor Belmont, hero of the program. I say hero, but in truth he's a bit of a prick really. He has his reasons though: his name has been erroneously dragged through the dirt more times than Anders Breivik, he's a tramp, he stinks, and he's hungry. He meets the magic-user woman, Sypha and the vampire Alucard (read it backwards, kids. You'll shit bricks), also from Castlevania 3 and they don't really get on.

Castlevania isn't just 'man walks right, jumps and whips monsters/furniture': it actually has a story with some depth. Sure, it might put off people who just want to watch a playthrough of the NES game with better graphics (and that one review on IMDB who calls it 'anti-Christian propaganda'- I wonder if he spits his dummy out every time there's anti-Muslim propaganda in the news every single day?), but I appreciated it taking a step back and showing us the characters. Trevor, for example, starts off ambivalent to the people's plight. Over the course of the series he chooses to accept his role as a Belmont and shows off his badass skills with a whip. He realises that with great power comes - you know the rest. And they don't even have to struggle to find a new way to say it like Martin Sheen did.

The art style is a modern anime and the scenery all looks great. Finely detailed gothic architecture, rural towns and churches. The only things I'm not keen on is the detail on the main characters. It's good, but a bit lacking compared to the backgrounds, and the action scenes would benefit from a few more frames. There are a couple of parts where Trevor moves so fast, but the lack of movement frames make him look like he's having lag issues.

That's really my only gripe with it. It’s too soon to tell yet where the plot is going to go (aside from Dracula's castle, obviously), but I'm looking forward to it.  The music in the series is sparse and atmospheric, which might be a point of contention for some, and I've seen people complaining that they don't like the plot. But at least it has one, and as for the score, would those upbeat, adventurous 8-bit jingles you remember (or that one from Castlevania 4) suit the image of a demon skulking around with a half-eaten baby in its jaws, or claws puncturing a man's eyes through the back of his head? Thought not.

All in all it’s worth a watch. It’s only 4 episodes, so there's not really much to lose. I get the feeling they were testing the water with it, and I hope the second series that's already been greenlit will be longer. I give it 3 series before Sypha gets tentacle-raped.

Enjoyed this piece? Then 'like' The Crusades of A Critic on Facebook. Sam also has a novel which can currently be viewed here, and features ten times the swears, snarc, and rage of the above piece.