Alamo Cinema Massacre Presents:
By Daniel R. and Trista K. Robichaud
When Lisa (voiced by Emily Swallow) approaches Dracula (Graham McTavish) with hopes of convincing him to teach her science, which she might use for the betterment of the human race, she does not expect her interests to bear fruit. However, the lord of vampires is convinced, and she sets wheels into motion that will result in her own destruction. The church, you see, has no patience for science or its practitioners. It’s all witchcraft, and those who perform it regularly are witches. When the church learns of Lisa Tepes’ “medicine,” it sets out to destroy her, and in the process causes Dracula to unleash all the beasts of hell onto the countryside.
Town after town is destroyed by the monstrous hordes. The Belmonts, a noble family with a history of destroying monsters, might have been able to stand against the demonic forces. However, the church excommunicated them for mysterious reasons. One Belmont remains in the land, a drunkard and braggart called Trevor (Richard Armitage). Armed with his whip, his short sword, his familial knowledge, and his witty repartee, Trevor Belmont will have to collect some allies if he hopes to save the world. And his only reason to save the world seems to be: Who will fill his ale mug if everyone else is dead?
Adapted from the classic Konami video game franchise, the animated series CASTELVANIA (2017) presents an opening salvo of story, launching viewers into a world of gothic horror and graphic violence as only the witty writer Warren Ellis can imagine. This prequel to the games is divided into a series of four animated episodes, each approximately twenty-five minutes long. Ultimately, all four shorter pieces tell one big tale, which is itself part one of a dark fantasy epic.
Readers familiar with Ellis’ comics work already have a hint of what to expect with this series’ scripts. The banter is solid, the jokes are rather profane (there’s a lengthy bit between tavern goers about an unfortunate goat, the man who sexually assaults it, and the goat owner’s proficiency with applying an shovel to the bastard’s face, which had me in stitches), the violence is brutal, and the hero has even chances between actually pulling off his heroic efforts or losing his footing and ending up on his ass. With an assembly of titles including, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, PLANETARY, FREAK ANGELS, BLACK SUMMER and more, Ellis knows a thing or two about telling an intriguing story. CASTLEVANIA has a lot of interesting stuff going on and several moving parts.
The world of Castlevania sits at a crossroads between a feudal society and a more Renaissance/Enlightened society, with magic and demons thrown in. It’s a great noir backdrop—the lights in this world are brighter, because the dark places are so much deeper. Most of the characters are pleasing shades of gray in this universe, rather than simple warriors for Light or Darkness. Ellis’ dialogue is sharp and laugh-out-loud funny. I love his keen views on human nature in extraordinary circumstances. (See the comic book series TRANSMETROPOLITAN for many, many awesome examples of this.)
This appears to be director Sam Deats’ first project for Netflix, but he is a veteran of fan-made films such as DIRTY LAUNDRY (2012) and POWER RANGERS (2015). Sam Deats loved the material as a kid and has worked hard not to foul up this opportunity; indeed, CASTLEVANIA currently enjoys an unprecedented 90% Fresh rating at RottenTomatoes.com. Character animation is lovingly hand-drawn and beautifully done, over color-saturated backgrounds. The characters look fluid and the angles are intriguing for the action sequences. I wish the backstory parts were more interesting than a bunch of folks sitting in a room expositing and sniping back and forth, though.
CASTLEVANIA has plenty of great moments leading toward its conclusion. What it lacks is . . . well, a conclusion. I am not sure why there are only four episodes here. The show feels like a volume one in a lengthy graphic novel collection. Basically, by this installment’s end, we have the premise set in motion, we have some villains on stage, we learn about three factions (the Un-Dead, the Church, and a secret society called The Seekers) and we have our core team of protagonists . . . But viewers will get very little in the way of resolution.
I’d say there are four factions in play at present. We have Dracula and his Hellspawn army. There is a corrupt Church, with thuggish priests taking orders from a mafia-don Bishop (Matt Frewer). A group of wandering monks called Seekers are present in the city. Lastly, there is Belmont as a representation of the common people. (Which he does with humorous gusto.)
The Church is beleaguered on all sides, it seems. Even before Lisa’s death, Dracula was interested in sciences the Church regarded as heretical. The Seekers do not directly threaten the Church, but the Bishop responds to them as if to lance an infection – perhaps he fears their questioning natures as heresy? It may be that the Bishop seeks to remain a light of faith in a world gone mad, but this Church doesn’t seem to have the welfare of the common people at heart.
Into the Church/Seeker standoff walks Trevor Belmont, trying to find the honorable, merciful way to deal with these people as human beings and to protect human life from monsters of all shapes. No wonder he’s a drunkard in this mad world!
I wish some of the characters had actual names. The Bishop has the ability to be a fascinating character, a real villainous douchebag who is a cog in a great machine (his Church) who aspires to be so much more with no concern about who he has to destroy to achieve his ambitions . . . Yet he is only known as The Bishop? Hmm.
Well, Daniel, to be fair in this series he has no equals to chat with who would NEED to know his name. Though someone calling him Big Britches at a Neo-Victorian high tea would be awesome.
Put a little more frock in his frock coat, eh?
Now, at this point, I think we can try to do a little speculation about what the subsequent seasons will have to offer. Warning! Spoilers will follow.
SPECULATION (SPOILER WARNINGS)
Well, it looks like Dracula is set up to be a big bad, but in reality I think old Drac will pale in the face of an even bigger bad. The Bishop is an ambitious man, and his encounter with some demons who are grateful to him for ultimately giving them their release ends in an ambiguous way. I’m thinking the kiss the demon bestows is less about biting The Bishop’s head off and more about turning him into a Cenobite-like character. The Arch-Bishop of Hell. He might be a good big bad, as well.
However, the Church itself has been presented as a mystery overshadowing this and many other lands. I think there may be some kind of Soldier of God who will arrive and reveal him- or herself as the biggest bad of them all . . .
I’m thinking that there will be a fifth column that shows up late in the series to help out the heroes. We open the series with Drac as a man of science, and his wife convinces him to help people and give them a chance. While boss-man Dracula may have gone mad with grief, I don’t think he was the only scientist. It’s quite likely there are underlings toiling in the shadows for the betterment of humanity. I mean, who made all the light bulbs and the techy-toys that we see in Dracula’s strongholds? Wouldn’t they be interested in curbing their mad boss’s excesses, especially if threatened by an outside Big Bad like a demon-Bishop?
In other spoilery news, we know Dracula and Lisa had a son. Is that their only child? Could a daughter head the missing Makers?
Furthermore, it turns out that the Seekers have some magic at their disposal—who knows how common magic truly is in this world? I’m definitely interested in the Seekers as a group, especially if they train more secular mages.
One thing I dread will happen is the heroic Seeker Sypha (Alejandra Reynoso) will go the way of Lisa Tepes. Right now, Trevor and Dracula are presented as distorted mirror reflections of one another. Dracula was pulled out of his immortal funk when Lisa arrived and offered him a breath of fresh air. Likewise, Trevor seems to be returning to his heritage as a monster slayer because Sypha is pushing him. I hope she won’t get refrigerated just to let Trevor become some apex predator of the monster world . . .
Yeah, that would be the least interesting path in my opinion. Unfortunately, Sypha doesn’t seem to have any friends (female or otherwise), and the isolation of her character bodes ill for her survival. I’m hoping she saves Trevor from a monster and then literally kicks him in the pants for it. Maybe then she can run off with Dracula’s son. That would be more fun from a story point of view, IMHO.
My last question is this: Trevor says that he’s the last Belmont. But the titular characters in Castlevania are Dracula, Alucard (James Callis), and Simon Belmont. I wonder if Simon will turn up?
I can’t wait for the next installment of the series. Internet scuttlebutt says that although a release date has yet to be announced, an eight-episode Season 2 has been ordered. This is great, especially since I’m learning how to get Ellie to fall asleep by nine-thirty. Woohoo!
© Copyright 2017 by Daniel and Trista Robichaud