The final episode of Netflix’s CASTLEVANIA series feels like the closest we’ve come to capturing the experience of playing a video game on-screen. In the episode, the show’s hero, Belmont, fights off a horde of demons, and then survives a series of traps and obstacles, all of which leads to what feels like a final cut-scene that explains the motivations of the big boss, before they fight. Other works have tried – the goofy and great first person shooter scene in DOOM, for example – but CASTLEVANIA brings back the felling I had when I would watch friends play the CASTLEVANIA games, because I sucked at them.
I pretty much know jack-shit about the CASTLEVANIA video game series. I mean, I know it’s a video game, and it always looked cool when I would watch other people play it, but that’s about it. I remember one night when I was in middle school, or early high school, one of my friends had a party (sleepover, but “party” makes it less lame) and we played a bunch of video games all night. One of the games was CASTLEVANIA 64, and there was this one dude who would not stop playing it, so I sat there and watched him for a while. It seemed neat. There was a lot of rain and skeletons from what I remember. Whatever, I just wanted to play WAVE RACE. Netflix should make a WAVE RACE show.
If I were to make a WAVE RACE show, I think it would go something like this: Former “Wave Race” champion, Dave Mariner, is down on his luck and living in a small house in Southern California. One day there is a knock on the door; standing on the other side of the door is, Ryota Hyami, a young wannabe wave racer who has moved to So-Cal in hopes of becoming the next big thing in wave racing. To make ends meet while he pursues his dream, Ryota has taken a job serving people eviction notices, which is why he is on Dave’s doorstep. Ryota, of course, recognizes Dave immediately, and instead of serving him the papers, Ryota offers to pay him and help get him on his feet if Dave will train him and teach him what he knows about the art of wave racing before the big “Wave Wars” event later that summer. That would be my pitch to Netflix, and as you can see, it’s pretty much the same plot as the 1990 beach volleyball film, SIDE OUT, starring C. Thomas Howell and Courtney-Thorne Smith. If you’re gonna steal, steal from the best, I say.
Anyway, back to CASTLEVANIA. It’s fun. And short. I read somewhere that CASTLEVANIA was originally intended as a movie that clocked in around 90 minutes long, but was later split up into the four 21-23 minute episodes that comprise its current form. This is a strange way to do things, but I get it. If the intentions are to continue CASTLEVANIA as a television show, then its probably not a bad idea to just do it as a show from the start. From a narrative perspective, it makes things kind of choppy though. The single episodes feel a bit truncated, and they also seem like they just end out of nowhere a couple of times.
I will say this: Overall, I didn’t mind the length of the season at all. Get me to the good shit, plz. The first episode of CASTLEVANIA wastes no time with that, and hits the ground running; dropping us into a world of monsters, draculas, witches, and an oppressive church that stifles knowledge from the inhabitants living in the small village near it. So, yeah, all the good shit, basically.
CASTLEVANIA is written by Warren Ellis; a screenwriter, novelist, and comic book writer known for his runs on Moon Knight, Ultimate Fantastic Four, and the “Extremis” arc of Iron Man. I’ll be the first to admit, I am more familiar with Ellis than I am with anime. I think the entirety of my anime knowledge consists of AKIRA, GHOST IN THE SHELL, a few Miyazaki movies, and like 5 or 6 episodes of FULL METAL ALCHEMIST; so I am not gonna call myself an expert on the themes that are usually found in your normal anime, but CASTLEVANIA seems like it has some heavier-than-normal stuff on its mind, and a lot of that stuff seems in line with Ellis’s past work.
Religion and science do not mix well in the world of CASTLEVANIA. The incident that drives Dracula’s thirst for vengeance revolves around the death of his wife, Lisa, who is burned at the stake after a Bishop follows her to her home and discovers the scientific equipment inside, causing him to rush to the church and accuse her of witchcraft. The church is the villain in CASTLEVANIA, and there is a running theme of organized religion stifling scientific knowledge and progress. It works well, and it gives the show something deeper for older audiences to grasp onto, if they want. If they don’t, there is plenty of other cool shit to enjoy.
For example, there’s the show’s lead character, Trevor Belmont; a TOTAL FUCKING BADASS, and also the last living member of the Belmont clan, a family that was excommunicated from the church and whose family name was besmirched by it. Trevor is so sweet. He’s like the epitome of what a teenage boy would come up with if they were asked to describe the RADDEST dude. He’s disaffected, drinks all the time, and swears a bunch. He also carries around a baller-ass whip that he calls a “Vampire Killer” and hits things with. There is this one scene where he comes across a couple of asshole priests harassing a town elder (classic priest move imo), and he takes the whip and nails one of them in the face and knocks his eyeball out. It’s so dope. And Trevor doesn’t care. Just another day at the office for my man, Belmont.
By the way, when I say Belmont is the epitome of what a teenage boy thinks is cool, that isn’t meant as an insult. It’s totally meant as a compliment. I would have loved this show when I was 13 years old. CASTLEVANIA has a ton of blood, action, and some magic; elements that are pretty much everything teenage me would be looking for in a show, and I think that’s the sweet spot CASTLEVANIA should be aiming for. I also shouldn’t limit the potential audience to people who like stuff aimed at teenage boys; teenage girls can enjoy this too. I think a lot of people can enjoy the show even without knowledge of CASTLEVANIA, or an affinity for anime, and that’s a good thing. It’s the best cartoon I’ve seen since SPAWN on HBO, and that’s the highest compliment I can give.
CASTLEVANIA has been renewed for a second, twice-as-long season, on Netflix. Which is good. The first season feels like an introduction to a world that can be expanded and built upon in a longer story. I guess I’m maybe a little worried, because I liked the short length of the CASTLEVANIA. If you double the length of it, I’m concerned we’ll get more scenes of exposition that cause me to zone out. I know you need those, and you can’t just have Trevor Belmont drinkin’ and whippin’ monsters all the time, but I hope they remember to still find plenty of time for that too.