Based on the popular gaming franchise of the same name, Castlevania is an experimental anime dripping in beautiful Gothic-inspired visuals. There’s no denying the slick aesthetic boasts a distinct moody 1400s vibe hanging over the four episodes. Themes around religion and witch-hunting are poignant and direct but are handled surprisingly well too. Despite some promise, Castlevania is not without its problems. Rushed characterisation and a cliched protagonist in vampire hunter Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage) bogs down this anime but a lot of this can certainly be chalked up to the short run time that hurts the overall credibility of Castlevania. With a measly 4 episodes, there just isn’t enough room to get invested in the characters and the abrupt ending leaving many of the show’s plot points unanswered doesn’t really satisfy the itch this show produces.
In many ways Castlevania is an anime that tests the waters for Netflix in relatively uncharted territory for the streaming provider. Throughout the blisteringly fast-paced episodes, the first season feels like a prequel, laying the foundation to an eventual larger plot to take hold in the second season. For the four episodes that are here, Castlevania does manage to at least satisfyingly produce an enjoyable story, even if its only the first act that’s shown. The plot is certainly intriguing; an enraged Dracula unleashes hordes of demonic, blood thirsty creatures onto the town of Wallachia and its up to antihero Belmont to stop them. Disappointingly, there isn’t anything particularly unique with any of the characters either who all stick closely to their archetypal stereotypes without deviating. Its a bit of a shame and certainly hurts the show’s prospects for future investment.
Even if the story is a bit hit or miss and the pacing is in desperate need of slowing, Castlevania is a visual delight. The colours work harmoniously together and everything has a polish and distinct Gothic feel to it that pays homage to the original games. The detail put into some of the landscapes and shots of gore and blood are really detailed which ironically juxtaposes the animation that varies from good to outright bad. The last episode in particular highlights some of the series strengths, with a blistering sword fight boasting enough quick and direct cuts to show the action whilst not getting lost in the detail. Counteracting this are some of the slower segments, depicting characters standing around and talking to one another. These are awkwardly animated and the jarring motions and unnatural facial expressions only accentuate this. Its a bit of a shame given the incredibly beautiful visuals of the landscapes and world but a little more polish and more refined animations would have helped this anime stand out more than it does.
So is Castlevania worth watching? There’s no denying this anime is a beauty and the plot line is certainly intriguing. The trouble with Castlevania’s first season is its very much a prequel that lays the foundation for an eventual second season and until this is released, its hard to tell whether the show has lasting appeal. The four episodes that are depicted here lack finesse; stiff animation and bland, archetypal characters hurt the overall appeal of the show. When the second season eventually hits, these issues may well be easy to ignore given the small run time, but right now there isn’t anything inherently special about this anime in a bloated field of other animated titles.