Return when Castlevania the anime series was released on Netflix in 2017, few people knew what to expect. However, it became clear pretty quickly that this wouldn’t be an ordinary game adaptation and would become something truly special.
The first season was only four episodes long and was mostly a cautious appetizer on whether an anime adaptation of Castlevania would stick. Loosely based on the events and characters of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Cursethe first season made Dracula a particularly likable character.
Indeed, the first episode of the first season introduced us to Lisa, a curious woman who wanted to learn the ways of science in order to help people. Her passion for knowledge and fiery personality led her to knock on Dracula’s door for answers.
What followed was a charming conversation between Lisa and a somewhat taken aback Dracula, taken aback by Lisa’s outspokenness, he began to question his appreciation of humanity.
From there, there’s a time jump of a few decades, only for us to see Lisa being burned at the stake in the square of Targoviste, Wallachia. Convinced that she is a witch, she begs Dracula to spare humanity, while being engulfed in flames.
All of this happens before you see a single Belmont or whip, and it was and still is a masterstroke in terms of storytelling.
In the games, Dracula has always been 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 ensues then takes on a whole new dimension and is somewhat justified. The reason for Dracula’s anger is clearly explained and the stakes, no pun intended, are simply apocalyptic for humanity.
While there’s quite a bit of gore and combat in these first four episodes, it’s mostly about laying the narrative groundwork for what’s to come. So, at the end of the first season, we are introduced to our triumvirate of heroes; Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, and Dracula and Lisa’s son, Alucard.
The real story begins at the start of the second season. Now, with a longer runtime of ten episodes, humanity is now on the brink of extinction and the forces of Dracula are decimating humanity. New factions and other vampiric villains are also introduced, and the plot builds as not all of Dracula’s minions are as loyal as he assumes.
The second-season finale is nothing short of epic, but set against a backdrop of bittersweet heartbreak. With 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 Dracula inflicted on the world, while also making him a likeable and relatable villain.
All of this was backed up by some really lovely animation and excellent acting, with the voice cast being nothing short of superb. From the mischievous portrayal of Trevor Belmont by Richard Armitage to Alucard’s distance by James Callis. Not to mention Graham McTavish’s incredible interpretation of Dracula. Simply put, if you want to dub fantasy anime in English properly, hire suitable British actors.
The music for this series, by Trevor Morris, also had a lot going for it. It is because the Castlevania the games have always had an amazing musical score, so the anime had to do the same. Luckily, Morris delivered, and many of the show’s clues worked brilliantly. In particular his interpretation of the classic piece tears of blood.
Although this series is available on Netflix, this Blu-ray set offers pristine visuals and great sound via the streaming option. This bundle also includes some nice extras, 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’s clearly enough material to warrant one. This set is also very reasonably priced at $20.99 and readily available from places like Amazon.
Overall, the first two seasons of Castlevania are a neat and exciting story arc, with great characterization, performances, and beautiful animation. While the convenience of watching the series on Netflix is one thing, making it available to that kind of fidelity is another. So dive 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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