If you haven’t played Castlevania, it’s an old adventure/horror/platform game from 1989 for the NES. Castlevania is now an anime series on Netflix, which is somewhat curious as Castlevania didn’t spend much time on its story or character development. I was dubious at first, having had my heart broken in the past with Hitman, Tomb Raider and holy crap remember the Super Mario Brothers movie? Urgh. So, I was surprised to hear of this anime debut, and in turn wondered where this series would lead. On July 7th Netflix released the four-part series of Castlevania; produced by a team who have worked on games, movies, TV adaptations and anime. With a wide range of experience to draw on, they aim to “…end the streak and be the westerns world’s first good video game adaptation” – which is a lofty goal for producer Adi Shankar to set.
Video game movies or show adaptations are well known for being generally shite. To be honest, it’s hard to comprehend why that is. Video games that are lucky enough to make the cut and be given a movie or show are often successful, story-driven games, with strong and developed characters. These are the games that directors and producers think will lead to an equally successful film. Yet, the transfer from game to movie has proven very difficult for most projects, despite the huge success of the games themselves.
After watching Castlevania, I was very impressed. My high praise may be somewhat related to having low expectations, but overall it was a really enjoyable watch. I have a few theories as to why this has done well compared to other adaptations. At the moment, it’s being rated in the 80-90% rating on RottenTomatoes; they’ve done something right, but what made the big difference?
The Game’s Story is Fleshed Out.
The game’s storyline gave you just enough details to make sense of things. The Belmonts fight the unholy creatures of the night and have been for generations. Dracula is the big bad, which the Belmont family have fought throughout the ages to destroy. You’re given the crucial information, but the gameplay was the leading factor for the Castlevania series. With a minimalist, bare-boned story, it is easy to create lore around it and flesh it out. That’s how good fanfics are written after all. With the integral lore of Castlevania being carried on throughout the game’s franchise, it allowed a history to be created around this. The adaptation fleshes out from the skeletal storyline provided by the games, allowing a lot of creative freedom to take the story in a variety of different directions.
You Don’t Need to Know the Lore of the Games.
Even if you haven’t played the games, the anime can be appreciated on its own merit. If horror anime with amazing voice acting is your bag, you don’t need to know anything about the franchise before watching it. Most movie versions of games usually have references pouring out the hoo-ha, as if the movie was just aimed at people who have played the game. Usually, they don’t even do that job well, and fans are disappointed regardless. If you have played the games, the references are there but not being constantly rammed down your throat.
An Experienced Team Who Have Worked on Anime or Games in the Past.
Warren Ellis, Sam Deats and Adi Shankar are some of the big names behind this show. Between the three of them, they have worked on numerous adaptations, games and TV series from fan films such as Power/Rangers, big names in movie and games like RED and Dead Space. With such a range of skills and experience, it appears that they actually care about the game, the anime genre and horror movies. They respect the source material, as opposed to making a quick buck over an already successful franchise. They flesh out the skeleton of the Castlevania story and history, using this to evenly spread out the horror, the references, the emotional story and characters that you meet. Their balancing of all aspects of the anime, makes it clear that the group used their expertise and shared love of the Castlevania franchise to create something worthy of the game and worthy as a stand alone horror anime.
Anime Is Ideal for Adapting a Horror Game.
Anime is the perfect choice as a tone shift from game to series. It avoids the risk of shitty CGI and terrible acting. Anime allows for a dark tone without feeling unnatural. This world is believable, and even has subtle tones and colours reflecting the original game colours used in the NES. By using animation, it removes the actors who simply cannot live up to our favourite heroes. No one can play Agent 47. They tried twice with different actors and they both sucked! Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft? Pfft. No. And with the new Uncharted movie in the works, whoever they cast as Nathan Drake won’t do him justice. Anime is a good choice for this purpose. Voice actors are better than visual actors when it comes to portraying a character we love from games. The leap from one genre of animation to another is less jarring than live action that tries hard, but simply just doesn’t make the cut. Just look at the Doomfist Overwatch short, the switch to anime style suits the frenetic action of the game. The surreal quality of certain games in live action would be jarring as hell. Anime is such a vast genre that leaves creators to use artistic licence, and it just makes sense!
Overall, I think this a legit beauty. A rarity, in the world of hack-job adaptations, that leaves me keen for the next season. I strongly suggest you give it a watch if anime is your bag or you want a fleshed out story based on a game they love. It’s super short, which is a bummer, but Netflix may have just been playing it safe. Video game adaptations are tricky business. After the success of Castlevania, it has been given a second season and I can’t wait.