Reviews: Castlevania 2017

Just Keep Talking, Talking, Talking

I've not played a Castlevania game, but I've watched enough of them over my brother's shoulder to get the general gist. Borrowing heavily from Vampire Hunter D, Castlevania tells the story about how a medieval nation gets into Dracula's bad books by burning his wife at the stake. I don't know if fans will appreciate this anime-esque adaptation of the games, but I certainly didn't.

Right away, there seems to be some problems with the animation. Characters on screen only do one thing at a time - a character will stand stationery and flap their mouth to talk at a bunch of other stationery characters. Then he'll stop talking so that he can make a gesture with his arm. Whilst he does this, everyone remains motionless. Only when his gesture is done can he then continue talking to the still motionless room. It feels like watching an amateur try out stop motion animation for the first time, lacking the know how to coordinate multiple actions at once. As a result, every scene trudges along, with people saying and doing things very slowly. It's not helped by the writing either, as people will repeat redundant dialogue over and over again in some ridiculously exaggerated regional accent. Even in the show's best and most dynamic action scene, the hero Trevor Belmont starts lecturing to a vampire that he's a vampire that he must kill, whilst he is trying to kill the vampire (who is very obviously a vampire, whom he is very obviously trying to kill).

The characters are also badly conceived. Trevor Belmont is presented as generic prettyboy edgy anime badass No. 403, first introduced in a scene where he reluctantly enters and wins a bar fight with some nameless thugs. How scintillating. Other characters are the broadest, most one dimensional creations, such as the evil priest, the other evil priest, or the elderly evil priest. Even by the standards of the most childish and derivative anime going, they are offensively boring.

A better production would have made this an hour long episode to a much longer story, but instead we get four overly stretched episodes to a boring, unimaginative and uncool series that ends just as things barely get started. Just go watch a Vampire Hunter D movie instead - this thing is embarrassing to watch.

Runs on Rule of Cool and Not Much Else

The first season of Netflix's Castlevania series, written and executive produced by veteran comic book writer Warren Ellis, was long-anticipated. But is it any good? Well, depends what you're looking for. On one hand, there's a lot of strong action and animation, memorable exchanges, humor, and lots of gore.

On the other hand, it also has a wildly inconsistent tone, weak character motivations, so much edge it gets cheesy, some bafflingly badly-written dialogue exchanges, and ham-fisted 'commentary' on the medieval Catholic church. It's a mix of moments of extreme cool mixed with a laundry list of annoyances.

We go from a gory massacre to a discussion about goat-fucking. Dracula is introduced in detail and given motivation before stepping away from the series so that the real antagonist can be a cartoonishly evil Church that poses no threat to the main character (this is after they're the instigation for the central conflict, burning Dracula's wife at the stake for witchcraft because she did science - because conflict thesis just will not leave our popular culture).

The season's fourth episode is easily its strongest, having the best pacing and action, but the season ends before any actual plot happens. It remains to be seen if the next seasons will improve on it.

As it is, it's a mixed bag, but at four twenty-minute episodes it's easy to knock out in a single binge-session and is a fairly low investment. Some viewers will enjoy the humor and action scenes, while others will be put off by the tonal problems and barely-contained author tracting.
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