Back when Castlevania the animated series was released on Netflix in 2017, not many knew what to expect. However, it became clear pretty quickly that this would be no ordinary gaming adaptation and would become something really rather special.
The first season was only four episodes and was mostly a cautious aperitif, to see if an animated adaptation of Castlevania would stick. Loosely based on the events and characters from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, the first season set up Dracula as a uniquely sympathetic character.
This was because the first episode of the first season introduced us to Lisa, a curious woman that wanted to learn the ways of science in order to help people. Her passion for knowledge and feisty personality had her knock on Dracula’s door for answers.
What followed was a charming conversation between Lisa and a somewhat taken aback Dracula, surprised at Lisa’s upfront character he started to question his appraisal of humanity.
From here there is a time skip of a few decades, only for us to see Lisa being burnt at the stake in the square of Targoviste, Wallachia. Convicted of being a witch, she pleads with Dracula to go easy on humanity, all the while as the flames engulf her.
All of this transpires before we get to see a single Belmont or whip, and it was and still is a masterstroke in terms of storytelling.
In the games, Dracula was always portrayed as an unstoppable, evil and demonic force. Here though, we learn that Dracula lost his wife, whom he loved dearly, to the people she tried to convince him were good.
The inevitable carnage that follows then has a very different and somewhat justified dimension to it. The reason behind Dracula’s wrath is clearly explained and the stakes, no pun intended, are nothing short of apocalyptic for humanity.
While there is a fair bit of gore and fighting in these first four episodes, it’s mostly laying the narrative groundwork for what is to come. So by the end of the first season, we are introduced to our triumvirate of heroes; Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades and Dracula’s and Lisa’s son, Alucard.
It’s when the second season starts that the real story starts. Now with a longer running time of ten episodes, humanity is now at the brink of extinction and Dracula’s forces are decimating humanity. New factions and other vampiric villains are also introduced, and the intrigue builds as not all of Dracula’s minions are quite as loyal as he assumes.
The finale of the second season is nothing short of epic, yet against a backdrop of bittersweet heartbreak. With both Dracula and Alucard mourning the loss of their wife and mother respectively, and that it was this grief that precipitated this blood-soaked madness in the first place.
In short, these first two seasons of Castlevania captured the essence of the games and managed to justify the carnage that Dracula inflicted upon the world, as well as making him a sympathetic and relatable villain.
All of this was backed up by some truly lovely animation and excellent acting, with the voice cast being nothing short of superb. From Richard Armitage’s roguish portrayal of Trevor Belmont to James Callis’ aloofness of Alucard. Not to mention Graham McTavish’s amazing rendition of Dracula. Put simply, if you want to dub a fantasy anime properly into English, hire proper British actors.
The music for this series, by Trevor Morris, also had a lot to live up to. This is because the Castlevania games have always had an amazing musical score, so the anime had to do likewise. Thankfully, Morris delivered and many of the cues in the show worked brilliantly. Not least his rendition of the classic track Bloody Tears.
While this series is available on Netflix, this Blu-ray set does afford pristine visuals and excellent audio over the streaming option. This set also includes some lovely extras as well, from animatics to storyboards, showing how the series was animated and put together.
The only thing I wish Viz Media would add to this would be a standalone art book for the show, as there is clearly enough material to warrant one. This set is also very reasonably priced too, coming in at $20.99 and easily available from places such as Amazon.
Overall, the first two seasons of Castlevania are a neat and enthralling narrative arc, with great characterization, performances and beautiful animation. While the convenience of watching the series on Netflix is one thing, having it available at this kind of fidelity is another. So delve into the realm of vampires and monsters, and the indomitable Belmonts that stand in their way.
Disclosure: Viz Media sent me a copy of this Blu-ray set for the purposes of this review.
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