With all the great TV to watch this summer, you'd be forgiven if Netflix's new adaptation of the classic Konami video game Castlevania passed you right by. After all, between big launches for the streaming giant like the new season of Orange is the New Black, and the upcoming star-studded Friends from College, a few things are bound to get lost in the shuffle.
So since we've seen all the episodes, allow us to give you a primer on what works, what doesn't, and what's in between — using the classic Konami Code as a guide:
Up: There's a Great Cast!
Given this is a four episode anime adaptation of a video game series dumped casually after July 4th with virtually no advertising, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was a foreign import, or with no talent behind the, um, animated cels. Not so! Graham McTavish (Preacher) brings a growling intensity to the heartsick villain Dracula, while Richard Armitage (Hannibal) is his opposite, the casual, often drunk hero Trevor Belmont. James Callis (Battlestar Galactica) provides another neat turn after his bang-up guest appearance earlier this year on SyFy's 12 Monkeys. And Matt Frewer (Max Headroom) continues to appear in every genre thing ever as the villainous Bishop.
Up: And a Great Writer!
The whole thing was written by legendary comic book creator Warren Ellis, and has many of his signatures on it (episode 2 kicks off with Trevor hungover and looking for breakfast, which is a weird quirk Ellis puts in almost every book). Ellis is great with characters and big ideas, and there's a lot of that thrown in here — from steampunk science, to riffs on classic monsters, like a Cyclops with Medusa-esque powers that feeds on fear. He also threads one of his favorite story-points in there, musing about the existence of God in the face of absolute evil.
Down: It's Pretty Slow.
That said, there's not a ton that happens on the show. It's essentially a movie, not a TV series (the whole thing is about 94 minutes long, including lengthy credits) — and most of it is set-up for the final battle coming next year in Season 2. The monsters are creative and creepy, but most of the fighting is kept to human on human, presumably to leave the ultimate battle with Dracula for later. So a lot of time is spent on Trevor doing the typical refusal of the call thing, which is far less interesting than seeing him whip people's eyeballs out.
Down: If You Haven't Played The Video Games? Well...
There's a few nice nods to the games throughout — Trevor at several points jumps from platform to platform, and briefly crosses rotating gears in a move straight out of the Nintendo Entertainment System — but if you don't know the mythology of the show, you may be a little lost at points. Things do come together nicely in the final episode, but particularly in the first three it feels like scenes were cut out that would have provided exposition; and it's assumed you've played the games, so they're unnecessary.
Left: A Lot of Dangling Plot Threads.
Like I mentioned, it feels like the show is just getting started by the time it ends; more the first part of a long movie than a completed series. Dracula barely appears beyond the first episode, and an emotional thread about the blood-sucker getting revenge for his slain wife gets brushed under the rug for Trevor's redemption. There's also the whole matter of an army of demons, which the human beings in the series seem strangely unconcerned about most of the time.
Right: The Demons Are Fab!
That said, the series does get the monsters totally right. They're super gross and creepy — one scene involving a "kiss" is particularly disgusting — and when Trevor is dusting it up with them, the series kicks into high gear.
Left: How Much Story Is There?
I know I said it felt like the show is just getting started, but really all that seems to be left at this point is to fight Dracula. Which is great, I love watching people fight Dracula, it's one of my favorite things to watch (and movies and TV have given us ever so many opportunities to watch this). But even at another 94 minutes, that's a lot. Yes, it's contradictory to say there's dangling plot threads, and also not enough plot, but it's true. Deal with it.
Right: Random Scenes.
There's a scene at the end of Episode 1, and beginning of Episode 2 where two bar patrons have an extended discussion about having sex with farm animals that's vintage Ellis. It would be great if Season 2 finds the right mix between bizarre hilarity and intense action that this show seemed to promise going in. Fingers crossed.
B? A? Nah, It's a C.
Ultimately there's a lot to like about Castlevania, particularly during the fight scenes; and that producer Adi Shankar is trying to bring some seriousness to the video game genre. It doesn't work across the board, and even visually is rough — the editing leads to some jokes cut off too soon, and scenes fading from one to another, knocking off the pacing. If you're a fan of the series, or have an hour and a half to kill and want to see some gross demons (and a nerd friendly voice cast), there are worse ways of spending your time. But here's hoping Season 2 plugs in that Konami Code, and unlocks some sweet power ups.
Castlevania is now streaming on Netflix.