Television * Sam Deats * Dracpocalypse! * 2017
Sometimes I like things that are kind of dumb. Let me rephrase that: A lot of the time I enjoy things which are quite dumb. Castlevania, as a franchise, is dumb as hell and always has been. When I say this, please understand that I mean “dumb” in the best possible way. I’ve been enjoying Castlevania games since the ‘80’s, yo, I’m all about this kind of nonsense. The first game, which came out like 30 years ago, was a NES classic. When I was nine or ten, I’d rent that thing all the time. I could never beat it, but whatever, you get to whip the shit out of zombies and mummies and various movie monsters. Dumb! But pretty fun. The immediate sequel was bad, but for the most part Castlevania games deliver on its very simple promises. What do we want? Creepy, gothic monsters running around. Silly, minimalist storylines. Complicated, unrealistic castles to roam around whilst whipping the aforementioned creepy, gothic monsters. It’s a good formula, especially when the core gameplay of the mainline 2D Castlevania games have been so consistently solid.
Really, the weakest part of the whole thing has been the storytelling, because let’s be honest here, who cares? Dracula is bad. Your guy is good. That’s… pretty much all you need. When the games tried to expound on the story, things start going sideways. That bad sequel? Sure, you can go talk to villagers to get information, but they lie to you. The rest is incomprehensible nonsense. Have you played Symphony of the Night? Well you should! But does the story matter, even a little bit? Aside from Dracula calling me a miserable little pile of secrets, no. The Castlevania games have always been about exploring big dumb castles and murking big dumb monsters. That’s why I found it so curious when Netflix announced they went and turned Castlevania into a series. There’s no real story to adapt, what were they going to do? In retrospect, it makes sense, especially when I discovered they were going anime with it. With nothing of substance to adapt, they were free to do pretty much whatever. As an anime, they could still focus on what’s important to Castlevania: the aesthetic of whipping the shit out of evil monsters.
First of all, I’m not convinced that four episodes constitutes a season of anything. This is a prologue, at best. Honestly, this “season” is best approached in that manner. It’s easily watched in one sitting, even for someone like me, since it adds up to a little over 90 minutes. The series tell the beginning of a story, introducing the major players and providing some context and setting for the action that follows. The rest of the running time is filled with action. And let me tell you right straight up, it’s some quality action. They take the gothic creepiness and run with it. Make no mistake about it, this is griz as heck. If you’re looking for some gnarly animated gore, look no further. The thing is, it all fits. This world is grim, dark, and dangerous. Dracula has unleashed the hordes of Hell upon the soft underbelly of humanity, and they do not hold back. Then Trevor Belmont shows up and he is not shy about gratuitous violence either. Look, you need some atmospheric, over-the-top, gothic-flavored violence? Castlevania got you.
To be fair, there is a story here. It’s more a tale of types than it is a delicate balance of character and plot, but even if there’s nothing particularly original about the story they’re telling, it’s presented well enough. Castlevania begins with a tragic love story. Dracula – who if you’ll recall is a vampire – lives alone in his impractically large castle. The setting is a place called Wallachia, which is a region of Romania, in the late 15th century. So, medieval times. You might be forgiven for being confused, because Dracula’s castle doubles as a science palace. He’s got electricity and bubbly colored liquids. Anyway, Dracula doesn’t like people very much so he just chills in his improbably designed mega-castle and does his science. Then one day a pretty lady shows up on his doorstep and announces that she’s a doctor, witches are stupid, and she would like Dracula to teach her science. Drac is all like, “dang this girl is a trip” and he decides to teach her the science. They fall in love and she manages to redeem humanity in Dracula’s eyes. They get married, all is well. Then the Church learns about this so-called “doctor” travelling the countryside and curing peasants. The Church flips out and promptly burns her at the stake while Drac is out of town. Things go downhill from there.
It is readily apparent that the truly evil dudes are affiliated with the Church. Dracula is, of course, also a bad man and an evil vampire who must be slain. But Dracula earns his torment. He tried to be decent, he tried to do the right thing, and then these sanctimonious assholes show up with their robes and self-righteousness and ruin everything. The Church, or at least the authoritarian representation, is portrayed to be small-minded, manipulative, egotistical, and mean. They would rather condemn entire villages to doom and destruction rather than admit fault. This near-caricature of the Church works in context of the overall story. Again, we’re not talking subtlety here. Never mind that Dracula is having a complete meltdown and sending out a scourge of demons who fly out and eat babies and decapitate fools, the story is treating them as a force of nature that the Church is ignoring for the sake of their own power.
Meanwhile, you’ve got the big hero, Trevor Belmont. He’s a Reluctant Hero. We’re introduced to him as he’s getting slowly sloshed in a filthy medieval inn, listening to a couple of inbred peasant hayseeds talk about goat fucking. As the story moves along, we learn that nobody likes the Belmont’s. They’ve been excommunicated, they’re looked down upon by the general public, they’re also mostly dead. The Church blames them for aligning with the Forces of Evil, and are therefore aligned with Dracula’s demon posse. The townsfolk are easily led idiots, so they believe all this, and therefore any Belmont is looked at as the enemy. Never mind that these demon-whippin’ badasses are pretty much the only ally humanity has against the teeming dark masses.
The final faction are a group of kind-of pacifists who chill out and talk to people about doing good works and oh hey have you heard the Good News? Okay, maybe not quite that, but they are called The Speakers and that’s pretty much all they do. Oh, and magic. There is a particular Speaker who has ventured into the depths of one of Dracula’s outposts looking for some mystical help in the form of a sleeping supersoldier who’s gonna turn the tide against Dracula’s baddies. She’s a sassy lady who can do magic super good and hold her own in a fight. She manages to shame Belmont into doing the right thing and joining the fight instead of running like a little bitch. They teach the villagers to fight and then set off to what they think is Dracula’s hidey-hole. It isn’t, but there is totally a vampire down there. It’s Alucard – and if you’re not a fan of the games, yeah, that’s “Dracula” spelled backward, I know I know – and he’s got a sick sword and then him and Belmont fight and it’s dope. Whatever, though, because all this entire series is doing is setting up the actual story. Alucard joins Belmont and Sypha with the promise of more adventures as they hunt down and murder Dracula in order to end his apocalyptic purge of humanity. I’m looking forward to the next four episodes in like 2019!
Oh, and I’m compelled to remind everyone: