Netflix and Konami announced a new Castlevania show. Well that’s surprising! Netflix’s track record with anime isn’t stellar (I didn’t care for Knights of Sidonia) but Warren Ellis (author of the glorious post-punk dystopic trash epic Transmetropolitan) is writing. That’s comforting. Frederator Studios (Adventure Time) will be animating. That’s … comforting. But will it make a difference?
The first problem will be the same as with any of these adaptations. A video game’s story, characters, and situations can be adapted into movies and television, but the act of playing them can’t be. The infinite possibilities of player choice, whether the game is Pac-Man or Final Fantasy, cannot be translated into one linear story.
This means that video game movies aren’t really adaptations at all. They are a new product inspired by a game’s world.
The two latest instances that come to my mind – Assassin’s Creed and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter – demonstrate this perfectly. Copied characters and situations can only Xerox the game space. The experiences are as different as vacationing to the Bahamas is to looking at a postcard.
But the Castlevania lore, if it isn’t richer than that of those other series, is arguably more cinematic. Its roots in Gothic literature give it a distinct flavor to draw from, most importantly, as an inspiration to be combined with other material. Its ability to be Castlevania as well as Dracula and The Wolfman and Penny Dreadful may help pin the universe to folklore, instead of just to plot.
As opposed to, say, adaptations of Super Mario Bros., Castlevania doesn’t have to fabricate an excuse for its elements or maneuver around being too “video gamey.” Its story is more mythic which makes it more typical and, hopefully, easier to adapt. The Super Mario Bros. scenario is a cluster of elements that I’m not surprised failed on television. But Castlevania? It’s a lone anti-hero revenge story, the kind the Greeks couldn’t stop telling. We’ve seen the style work before – in Vampire Hunter D, Black Butler – and these precedents may provide the perfect platform for the least terrible video game adaptation ever.
We’ve all complained about a movie not living up to its material, from the Harry Potter series to any of the new Marvel franchise films (Iron Man 3 *cough*). But we usually act like the film should have taken more heed of its original, and I suspect that the opposite may be true. An adaptation must work in its own medium first, and I think if the Castlevania show will work, it will shed its game and forge a new story out of a rich and multifaceted brand, first and foremost as a new anime, second as an adaptation of a game. If it tries to refer too much, it could end up in the Resident Evil boat with the rest of the Konami corporate dog-paddlers trying to save their poor, Kojima-less, sinking ship.
But I’m excited. If video game adaptations will ever be less terrible, it will be by the influence of a medium as flexible as anime. The trailer is just a tease, but it’s enough to make me tune in June 7. I’ll get back to you then.