Early Thoughts on NetFlix’s Castlevania Series

J. M. DeSantis's Thoughts on Netflix's Castlevania trailer

Back in February, a number of websites began publishing information about a new Netflix series based on the Castlevania franchise. Then, just yesterday, the first trailer was released. It’s no secret that the Castlevania series has been a major influence on my work. It’s the first video game series that I felt was “mine”, in that I discovered it for myself; I started with the very first Castlevania in 1986–though it probably wasn’t until 1987 or 88 that I played it (games had a longer shelf-life back then)–and it featured all of the things I loved best: horror elements, a massive castle, spooky music (I love that word) and Dracula! So with all of that, you’d think I’d be excited to know a screen adaptation of the games is finally happening.

The truth is, I’m highly skeptical about it. You could say it’s PTSD related to Konami’s systematic destruction of all of their properties in the recent past (including Castlevania–which was first in line, I might add, with the Lords of Shadow series). That may be true; however, I don’t know that everything about this upcoming Castlevania series seems like it’s being handled in a faithful way–or at least the way I, as a long time fine, would have liked to see Castlevania adapted into a film or television series.

According to the reports and as evidenced by the trailer, the Castlevania series is going to be an animated, episodic show about “the last surviving member of the disgraced Belmont clan, trying to save Eastern Europe from extinction at the hand of Vlad Dracula Tepes himself,” and is rumoured to be based off of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.

The involved parties are producer Adi Shankar, writer Warren Ellis, and animation studio Frederator Studios (Adventure Time). Ellis comes as little surprise because I vaguely remember happening upon some vague rumours on the internet many years ago that he working on an unofficial animated adaptation of Dracula’s Curse. So it is possible this is the very same project, finally coming to fruition.

Most of that sounds hopefully. After all Dracula’s Curse is both a fan favourite and one of the principal stories in the Castlevania timeline, so much so that it was spun off into Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (both fantastic games), not to mention the Lords of Shadow series had strong connections to it, despite the reboot’s deviations. And on a personal level, Trevor Belmont and Alucard are two of my favourite characters in the series. But again, it’s not the source material which is troubling to me; it’s the way it’s seemingly being handled.

My initial misgivings for the series started with Shankar’s words about the series back a few months ago. He described the Castlevania series as having a “Game of Thrones” feel, being “R-rated as fuck” and “the best fucking video game adaptation we’ve had to date.” He even added that the show stands to “flip the vampire sub-genre on its head.” I mean maybe that sounds great to you, but to me it seems more like the thought process behind the development of Lords of Shadow 2 (which was a huge disappointment) rather than the classic Castlevania upon which the show is supposed to be based. I don’t need R-rated “as fuck” (are they making a softcore porno?), I don’t need another Game of Thrones (political drama in a dark-fantasy story about a vampire hunter and the Prince of Darkness himself?), and it doesn’t need to flip the vampire subgenre on its head. I mean, it is the vampire subgenre: Dracula is the main antagonist! This may seem nitpicky, but really this doesn’t scream Castlevania to me.

Furthermore, I can’t say that I’m thrilled to learn the show is going to be animated. It’s not that I have anything particularly against animated shows (some of the best stuff I’ve seen has been animated), but again it doesn’t seem like Castlevania to me. If anything the choice seems arbitrary, like because it’s a video game it needs to be animated. It brings to mind Sylvain White’s words about the Castlevania film that was in development years ago: that Castlevania had an “anime feel to it.” Plus, I’m not partial to the style I’ve seen in the trailer (that’s the problem with animation–people have to like the art too). I would have much rather seen a gritty, live-action series. Somewhere in all of this, I feel like they’re missing what Castlevania actually is, and it has the potential to go poorly.

Though in truth (like my initial thoughts on the new Hellboy film), I suppose it’s too early to tell how the series will be. So, I’ll wait to cast my official judgement when the series releases on July 7, 2017, but I’m not holding my breath. At the very least I’m satisfied that NetFlix stepped up to help make a Castlevania adaptation happen (and they’ve had a decent track record with Marvel shows–from what I understand). I just hope that Castlevania doesn’t disappoint, because despite my skepticism, I’d like nothing more than an amazing adaptation of this series.






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