Remember way back to early Summer of 2017? It was a banner season for gamers everywhere. Our mutual fair-weather-friend The Big N announced its intent to release the Super Nintendo Mini and as an added bonus, even promised not to match it with an abysmal, poorly thought out marketing campaign.

We also knew it would be just a matter of days until the good folks at Netflix brought Castlevania to the small screen. When its release was first announced at the beginning of the year, fans of the iconic game series were a bit worried, but that was to be expected. When even the best adaptations of video game franchises are made for film or television they’re usually not good, though sometimes they can fall into the “passable” or “guilty pleasure” range. But when they fail, they fail hard. As far as Dracula themed movies go, well those haven’t been so great lately either. If you combined the two, the closest we’ve seen that could resemble a Castlevania production would be 2004’s Van Helsing which is generally considered an average popcorn flic with Richard Roxburgh portraying Dracula as an over-caffeinated drama king.

Forget throats, the only thing this guy was chewing on was the scenery

So that brings us to July 7th and a long overdue Castlevania animated series is brought to us by Netflix which has a great reputation for excellent original content. From the trailer alone, the animation style is sleek and very fluid with a bit of an anime feel to it. Powerhouse Animation Studios in association with Frederator Studios capture the dark and gothic feel of medieval Europe. It’s also set on making the most of it’s MA rating: graphic violence, gore, and numerous F-bombs, so you know this ain’t no Captain N: The Game Master. Without further ado…  (Warning: Spoilers!)

The Netflix title screen appears and already it’s better than any N64 Castlevania entry. The intro to the show itself builds the mood with macabre imagery. There’s also a great score to it and the casting choices are excellent. Interestingly enough, Episode 1 begins with the backstory on how Dracula and Lisa Tepes met and would eventually fall in love, producing the dhampir Alucard (Adrian Tepes) from the union. There’s a bit of an Odd Couple vibe and she brushes off walking by hundreds of impaled skeletons, practically invites herself in, and insists Dracula teach her secret knowledge and various sciences pro bono. All the while, she dismisses him as any possible threat or supernatural evil.

Fast forward a couple of decades and Lisa’s being burned at the stake as a witch by the local bishop and his crew. Dracula’s been thoroughly domesticated and now travels around by foot and is out of town during this whole mess. Lisa’s death brings out his inner beast and he’s back to his humanity-hating self again. Dracula gives the people of Wallachia an entire year to pack up and leave which many of them ignore. At this point, the Belmont clan isn’t even mentioned; Trevor of Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse fame is the last of the excommunicated house of Belmont. He’s also off getting hammered in a tavern while the church takes on the role of tritagonist for the first act. Dracula sets legions of monsters upon the land and poor inebriated Trevor, who can just about survive a bar fight, must come to terms with his family legacy once again. Arriving at the town of Gresit, Trevor chats with peasants (that seem to give better advice than those punks in Simon’s Quest) and learns of a legend of a sleeping hero that is deep under the city. Our despondent hero also makes a play to save the Speakers, a troupe of mystics searching for the sleeping hero. They also refuse to leave the town even if it means their deaths, as the crooked bishop is using them as scapegoats for the misery that’s befallen the land. Trevor ventures into the town’s underground catacombs and that’s when this series pays some serious homage to Castlevania 3 in the rescue of Sypha Belnades. As in the game, her small screen counterpart has also been turned to stone and waits until Trevor comes to vanquish the evil Cyclops in a really epic battle – epic in the series, at least. In the game, the cyclops just sort of paces back and forth like an idiot.

Castlevania 3 on the NES: Cyclops battle, Sypha freed, and her synopsis from the instruction manual (Note the “he.” Not unlike Samus, there was an initial implication that Sypha was a dude.)

With nightfall approaching and time working against him, Trevor pulls himself together and thwarts, not only the bishop’s forces but pulls a The 3 Amigos! and mobilizes the town to form ranks and fight back against the demons. With Sypha’s help, they win the battle, but she and Trevor fall through the ground back into the catacombs (that have an odd clock tower feel) and find Alucard’s coffin. The latter awakens and is less than impressed with the jaded Trevor’s snarky attitude. After a well-matched duel (again, an homage to the game) a shaky truce is made and our trio heads out, dead set on their mission to stop Dracula’s genocide.

From Symphony of the Night (1997) – fake Trevor, Grant and Sypha as bosses. Three against one, but also a cruel, sick head game against Alucard.

If I had to give it a letter grade, B+ seems pretty fair. It felt a little too short – even as a mini-series – with just 4 episodes, though it’s already been greenlit for a second season, so this initial run was a good setup for things to come and can be binge-watched in under 100 minutes. So score another one for Netflix. They respect the source material as well as their audience.

Michael A. Jones

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