Netflix’s Castlevania: the teasers of teasers

Blink, and you just might miss it; that’s how I felt after the fourth episode of Netflix’s animated Castlevania’s credits started rolling, and instead of the next episode in 3..2..1.. prompt, it was a preview for something else, signifying the end of the series.  Right there, it became abundantly clear that just four episodes were ordered with the intent to gauge interest and test the waters before a more comprehensive commitment would be made.  Which is kind of ironic in itself, since Netflix and online streaming services are typically the platforms in which longform series tend to get their chance to let viewers, and now they’re pulling the network-like process of short test runs to see if something is worth it.

But for what it’s worth, I liked it, and I was pleased to discover that more episodes have already been ordered.  Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse was always one of my favorites in the series, and based on the fact that Netflix’s series revolve around Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades and introduce Alucard, it’s pretty clear where the source material is coming from, which lit my fanboy’s enthusiasm upon realization.

It is interesting to see something based on a storyline from my childhood, but fleshed out and explained to me as an adult; the Castlevania canon tends to get a little convoluted, and I admit that I stopped playing the series outright in the midst of Symphony of the Night, because when I realized that I had to basically play the entire game over again in an upside-down castle I was like naw, fuck that, and haven’t really looked back at the games since.  But Castlevania III is a property that I was all too familiar with, so it was really easy to get into the Netflix show.

Back when I was a kid, there wasn’t much thought to the plot: Dracula is ruining shit, and Trevor Belmont shows up to fight against it.  The Netflix Castlevania fills in the gaps in the plot that an old NES cartridge either fails to deliver and/or nine-year olds simply can’t comprehend, and it’s way more compelling than when I was sitting on my ass plotting on how to avoid hits and whether or not I was going to take Grant on this journey or try to finish the game with Sypha (never took Alucard, because he sucked).  But I never thought to why Dracula is waging war on humanity in the first place, and why Trevor Belmont was needed to come save the day in the first place.

Naturally, in a fleshed-out plot, Dracula isn’t so much the sadistic evil for the sake of being evil as he’s stereotypically portrayed to be in general, but is actually someone with legitimate motivations and reasons for doing the things he does, even if he might be going a little bit overboard.  I mean, I’d be pretty pissed off if the Church branded my wife as a heretic witch and burned her at the stake while I was off trying to be a man and hiking the world on foot, and I’d want some retribution for those who were responsible for her murder too.  But to no surprise, it turns out that Dracula isn’t really so much a truly bad-bad guy, as much as he’s a guy who’s just royally pissed that his wife was unjustly killed. 

In a not-veiled metaphor, it’s religion that’s truly corrupt, power-hungry, playing god and the real root of all the problems, but unfortunately for them, they agitated the wrong guy who happens to have lived for centuries, is more technologically advanced and more importantly, has supernatural arcane powers as well as the connections to raise armies from hell.  Unfortunately, ol’ Vlad doesn’t quite know the boundaries of revenge, and decides to take out his frustration on all of humanity, and not just those responsible for the killing of his wife, and that’s where we get the seeds that start the saga of the Castlevania series.

I’m not entirely sure I was thrilled with how Trevor was introduced, as he was kind a drunk dullard that almost channeled the invalid Simon Belmont from Captain N, with his dumbass behavior.  But in a way, it’s better than a video game introduction where he’s all heroic and majestic from the onset and no backstory is given at all while he gets a maxed-out whip and triple shot holy water by the first boss, as it gives the viewers a protagonist that has flaws and can actually grow and develop.

Sypha, back in the old NES game, I actually didn’t know was a female character.  He/she was just a wizard with a shitty basic attack, whose magic spells cost too many hearts, and took 5 points of damage per hit instead of 4 like Trevor did, so they just made the game harder in a sense.  It wasn’t until I beat the game for the first time with Sypha at my side does it kind of reveal in the ending her gender.  But in the show, I like that she’s kind of sassy, and it lays down the seeds of a relationship between her and Trevor that future episodes will undoubtedly attempt to sow.

Alucard, surprising nobody, falls into the typical anime bishounen stereotype that obviously exists because the anime world has completely forgotten how to write vampires/dhampirs in any other fashion than this.  Despite the fact that in actual NES Castlevania III, Alucard is introduced as the stereotypical black hair-widow’s peak-black suit-red cape-Bela Lugosi vampire trope.  But Symphony of the Night Alucard eventually gripped the meta, and all incarnations of Alucard and all dhampirs in popular culture have been replaced with the emotionless, near-androgynous bishounen, and the Netflix show is no exception.

But by the time Alucard is introduced, the series is over, and I’m left unsatisfied and wanting more.  But that’s the mark of a decent show.  Perhaps when the next wave of Castlevania episodes roll out, I’ll watch them fairly immediately, and hope to contribute towards the necessary ratings and viewing statistics that Netflix needs to justify making even more.

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