Friday, July 14, 2017

What's On Netflix?: CASTLEVANIA

Welcome to another installment of WHAT'S ON NETFLIX?, where we pick out a film or series currently playing on Netflix and review it for the fans. This week we review the Netflix original series CASTLEVANIA, based on the video game series from Konami.

I have exactly zero problems with video games being turned into, or otherwise inspiring, a TV series. One of the reasons I will always love video games is the worlds they create and the stories they tell, and when a game does this well, I appreciate the opportunity to explore that world further in the way that only the other entertainment media can provide.

Castlevania may be my new favorite example of this. Apparently based on the events of the game Castlevania III, Castlevania takes place in the country of Wallachia, which is, as you might imagine, under a curse unleashed by Dracula. Unlike the Castlevania game series though (at least in my experience), Castlevania the series sets up some back story as to why Drac has such a mad-on for the general population. A year before the story opens, Dracula was approached by a woman named Lisa. She was looking for a patron to help her persue scientific research, with a view to bringing practical medicine, to say nothing of reason and understanding in general, into the people's lives. Time passes, and the two are married. One year later, Lisa is executed by the church for witchcraft, and Dracula finds out about it only just too late to save her. In his grief, Dracula raises a demonic army and begins visiting a vengeance upon the land that can only be described as Biblical.

On the other side of the equation is the Belmont du jour, because it wouldn't be Castlvania without a Belmont. Trevor Belmont at first sees no reason to get involved. His family has been excommunicated by the Church for their dealings with the creatures of darkness; apparently the whole "saving people from monsters" thing just didn't weigh heavily enough in their favor. This has given the House of Belmont a bad reputation abroad, and so Trevor is at first content to wander in search of nothing more than a mug of ale and a bed for the night. But the family blood won't let him just walk away from the horrors unleashed upon the land, though it will be a moment before Trevor finds something worth fighting for. In their fear and ignorance, many of the people in Wallachia have become little better than the hellspawn that prey on them.

I was, at first, skeptical about this series, because the first thing I noticed about it was that it was another example of American anime. I do not like anime-style animation when it's produced by Americans, not because of any "cultural appropriation" hogwash, but because American-made anime always feels to me like a cheap knockoff of the real thing. I can't say for certain why this is; maybe it's because we have yet to fully embrace animation as a legitimate storytelling medium across the board in the way the Japanese have.

I say that to acknowledge that Castlevania is at least another example of American animators experimenting with darker themes in animation. Yes, it's may be a cop-out to to include gore and profanity on the level that Castlevania does -- this series is most definately not meant for children -- but maybe some entrails and liberally applied f-bombs are what's needed short term. Moderation in pursuit of prying animation out of Disney/Pixar's gnarled, grasping fingers is surely no virtue. I still have love for Disney, but they're not doing animation as a medium any favors with the near-monopoly they have on cartoon distribution along with Dreamworks.

But it isn't all blood and cuss-language; Castlevania scores in terms of both its writing and its cast. Richard Armitage plays a great Trevor Belmont, who manages to be both world-weary and frighteningly badass by turns. The series is paced well and has many quotable lines. So it's disappointing this first series is only four 28-minute episodes. And those episodes are done so well that they didn't feel 28-minutes long to me; every episode ended with me thinking, "What? It's over already?" I know the second season has already been confirmed -- with eight episodes, yet! -- but this series was just getting good! I don't want to have to wait a whole year to find out what happens. Guess I'll have to blow the dust off some games in the series to pass the time.

Castlevania features intense scenes of fanatasy violence and adult language. And it's too bloody short.

Robert's Score: 8/10

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