Castlevania Netflix-series (2017)

Castlevania, a Netflix original series (2017), directed by Sam Deates, written by Warren Ellis, based on Castlevania by Konami, starring Rochard Armitage, James Callis, Graham McTavish, Alejandra Reynoso 

I don't really know a thing about the Castlevania game series. To my recollection, I've never played them, so I can't really say if this new animated series from Netflix is in any way or form even a close approximation of what the games are like. I know the basics, of course, that there's a main character with a whip. who has to battle Dracula, but that is as far my knowledge of the series goes. So if this is a travesty towards the source material, I would not be able to tell. I do know, however, that what I saw, I liked.

This write up will have a tonne of spoilers about the first 4 episodes, which also is the first season the series, so if you haven't seen it yet and don't want to be spoiled, stop reading now.

Castlevania is a dark series. It's not in any way or form a light fantasy series, which is kind of what I've assumed the game series is like, considering its age and the original platform of 8-bit Nintendo. Very unlike I imagined the series would be, it does, in reality, revolve around questions of corruption, greed, religious fundamentalism, the collapse of human civility, violence and concepts of sin and retribution. Warren Ellis, who's also a renowned comic writer, has managed to conjure up a concoction that is at the same time almost juvenile in its ruthlessness but also thought-provoking with its concepts.

The story begins, when a young woman, Lisa (Emily Swallow), enters the castle of Dracula (McTavish). Unlike what you'd expect, she has come to him in order to learn about science. In the world where they live, the church has shunned the practice of science, as that takes people away from God. Lisa wants to learn, however, as she wants to become a real doctor, who uses real science instead of just ages old witchcraft.

The rift between science and religion is one interesting aspect of Castlevania. The world of mortal, ordinary people, is shackled by the religious extremism of the church. High technology, the like Dracula possesses, is seen as witchcraft, as something that corrupts the souls of men and drives them to sin and away from the grace of loving God. This rift is something that sets in motion the revenge of Dracula, as years later Lisa, who by then is a wife of Dracula, is burned at stake because of the devices found from her home.

As Dracula learns of the death of his wife, the only human who, in his words, made the rest of humanity, worthwhile, he vows revenge.  He gives humans of Wallachia one year to put their things in order, after that he'll release the hordes of Hell upon them. The church doesn't believe it, as they think the almighty God will prevail and protect his children. How wrong they were, the corrupted preachers in their mighty churches. A year passes and the heavens start raining blood and winged daemons, who act as a weapon of Dracula's revenge.

Trevor Belmont (Armitage) is a man, who is burdened with a family name. Being a member of an excommunicated family is tough, as people are always willing to look down upon him on their high horse, despite his family has made their lives work to battle against the hordes of evil. That was something the church didn't like and accused them of dark magic and heresy, thus the name of his family was dragged down. Now as a last son of the once great house, he tries to spend his days wandering the country and drinking wherever he can.

It's not that easy for him though, as he's soon dragged in by the events that take place. Grudgingly he at first agrees to help Speakers, a group of wandering oral historians, who are trapped in a city of Gresit on the grounds of that a grandchild of their elder (Tony Amendola) has been lost in the catacombs under the city. Trevor plunges deep under the city and finds her, Sypha (Reynoso), turned into stone by a powerful, stone-eyed cyclops, who's feeding of the terror of his victims. After defeating the monster, Sypha returns back to flesh and Trevor returns her home.

But the things are escalating. The bishop (Matt Frewer) of Gresit meets with Trevor, giving him an ultimatum to leave, as his presence surely is an abomination to God. Leave now, he says, and leave the Speakers behind, for surely it is them, who God sees as a cause of the misery that has befallen on Wallachia. Therefore, the Speakers need to be cleansed off this Earth. Trevor can't have that. He can't idly stand still when his new friends are in danger, so he comes up with a plan for saving them.

The night falls on Gresit and the daemon hordes are unleashed yet again. On this new attack, Trevor Belmont manages to convince the mobs of Gresit of the erroneous ways of the church, of how they have been misleading the people. Bloody savagery isn't the answer the seek for defeating the monsters of Dracula. The deeds of the church were to blame for the things that are happening now and no amount of innocent blood is going to wash those deeds away. The only thing they can do is to band up together and fight as one against the forces of evil.

There's a legend about a sleeping Messiah under the city of Gresit. That legend was the reason for Sypha to travel to the catacombs. The Messiah is said to be able to defeat Dracula, but Trevor doesn't believe that as the things he saw under the city reminded him of something else, of the things his family's knowledge has said about the castle of Dracula, how it was filled with technical marvels. He believes in a trap.

Together, Trevor and Sypha, go deep underground, only to find a stone coffin, which has a blonde haired man inside. Trevor knows what he is, a vampire. But not any vampire, but a son of Dracula and Lisa, Alucard. After a battle, Sypha and Trevor learn, that he too wants to stop his father, as that is what his mother would have wanted. She never wanted Dracula to wreak vengeance upon people who know not what they do.  So together the three of them set out to Wallachia to end the reign of terror the mighty vampire lord has brought up.

In a sense, Castlevania is a series that could have gone wrong in a lot of different ways. First, of, it is a series based on a game series, a long-running one at that, and movies and series based on games don't really have the best track record in the world, especially what comes to writing. But in here, Ellis manages to pull it off, as the writing really is what makes Castlevania work. It takes itself seriously, but not too seriously. There are moments, which I believe are nods towards the game series itself, but none it feels forced or tacked on. There's fluency in the style of all the four 25-minute episodes, which make the presented events, situations and people feel fleshed and believable in a way not many similar series, or even longer form of fiction,  manages to do.

Castlevania is a stylish, well-animated series, with a solid voice cast and great writing. It is, as a series something I had no big expectations towards to, but that managed to surprise me on how well made it is. The first 4 episode provide a solid foundation of what might be coming in the future and me, for one, hope that there is a future for this series.  This might actually be the first time, a series based on a game has been done in a fashion, where almost everything works.

I do not know if Castlevania the series will mark a new era for game adaptations. There have been many that have tried to make games work outside the original medium and most have failed to resonate. Castlevania does, however, manage to do so, because despite if you aren't familiar with the games themselves, the series works on its own.

Or maybe it just works for me because I don't know a thing about the games. Maybe this is the biggest misrepresentation of a game series since the Super Mario-movie. Dunno, but what I do know is, that I really liked Castlevania.

Castlevania is now available through Netflix.