Episode 4 begins with a desperate proclamation: that Castlevania contains theology (“Your God’s love is not unconditional”) after 60 minutes of mentioning churches and demons in conjunction with the tangential themes of an action platformer. More criminal still is the death of the bishop of Gresit in these opening minutes. His promise to become the pope and practical dictator of all Walachia was the only adversity I had projected for the rest of the series. Only the pope was involved in the execution of Dracula’s wife – now that he’s gone, not a single person in this story has a stake in its past.
The second interesting notion is the second to go: the idea that Trevor Belmont is forsaken by the people whom he saves. A lone mercenary criminal holding back the demons against both their onslaught and the ignorance of the people is not a new notion (it has more than a taste of Batman in it). But if authority and caste could have been motivated to enter the show as real themes to go along with the mention of them (as they do in Attack on Titan), something might have been done about how uneventful Castlevania really is.
But Trevor easily convinces the people to brutally murder a member of the church, alienating our interest by resolving interesting conflicts on a whim. Does the fact that they were so easily swayed to eviscerate a holy man have any meaning in the assembly of the show’s themes? No – their moral fluidity is passed over as just another thing that happens. Castlevania doesn’t have any time in four episodes to make itself known even to itself: this first season could have easily been one or two episodes of a normal anime lasting 13-26.
It could have been, that is, if the framerate were higher. The action doesn’t approach that of Devil May Cry, the gold standard for these kinds of adaptations. Some of the extra faces, particularly in the crowds, are crude and unemotive. Our principle characters have a vocal presence but no active emotional depth. Sometimes they bicker, but only to pass the time between the episode 3 battle and the episode 4 battle.
This time the battle is briefly between Alucard and Trevor. Battlestar Galactica fans ought to petition the press that made it known that James Callis was playing a principal in this show – he doesn’t appear until the last eight minutes. He may or not be the embodiment of the legend of the sleeping soldier, but not so direly as he is that of the sleeping viewer.
I don’t suppose Castlevania is bad. In the 60s, when networks were producing cartoons with only a dozen episodes to put on perpetual rerun loops, it would have been fascinating and mature. But animation has grown since then. Content has matured in Batman: The Animated Series and Spawn in America, Attack on Titan in Japan. It has developed theology in Death Note and comradery in The Spectacular Spider-Man. This show just doesn’t compete in an entertainment-centric economy, post-anime.
And on Netflix, the sentiment is humorous at best. With all the original content coming out in full seasons stuffed with action (Daredevil) and intrigue (House of Cards), these four episodes are barely a teaser.
Relationships aren’t established between characters who have only now just met. Meanwhile, the most interesting setup (Trevor’s relationship with his own reluctance) is cast aside in these final minutes for a traditional hero mission. Armitage is great at deepening Trevor’s salty wit, but can we now expect epic isms and droning lore? Even what is established in Castlevania is just as soon unraveled.
My real trouble is just that the viewer makes no discoveries in this medium as the player does in the video games it attempts to adapt. We already know that the church is responsible for the hordes, and we know that Dracula’s wife was burned at the stake by the priest, and we know that Belmont knows it. There is nothing noteworthy about finding it out again in this final episode, when the priest is disillusioned by a spider-bear on the nature of the demonic occupation of Gresit. There is nothing for us to discover in Castlevania, nothing that unearths itself like the corridors of a new level or makes itself available at the acquirement of new equipment.
So I felt passive watching its decency. It didn’t ring as Castlevania, nor excite on its own merits. While there’s nothing wrong with a good job, when exceptionalism is the norm (as it is in Japanese animation) aping the act has to come with assurances that Castlevania just can’t give. It’s the equivalent of a Japanese romance anime about Batman’s high school days. No matter how seriously it takes itself, it is so inappropriately themed that it’s not much more than serious parody.
Video game adaptations struggle with staying faithful to their material, but Castlevania usefully proves one thing to future efforts. It proves that a bad show is still bad, no matter how unfaithful it is. Writing something compelling for television may require creators to look beyond the linear experience of gameplay, but if the theming is all aesthetic, then the quality is too. And as I said, the framerate is half of what it should be. I think I’ve had enough.