Based on the popular videogame series, Castlevania S1 is an anime that follows the efforts of a motley group of monster hunters as they attempt to put a stop to Vlad Dracula Tepes’ reign of terror as he unleashes a horde of demons in the European region of Wallachia.
Videogame adaptations aren’t exactly known for their excellence. Castlevania S1, like 2019’s Witcher, proves that Netflix have a good grasp on how to handle revered source material when producing TV shows based on popular games. The anime-style allows the blood, gore, and horror of the series to be unleashed without restraint much like the hordes of demonic beasts under Dracula’s dominion. Writer Warren Ellis, (Transmetropolitan, Red, Iron Man: Extremis, Moon Knight) uses Dracula as the main focus of the series, a wise decision that allows for newcomers to the world of Castlevania to have a familiar presence to latch onto in the opening series before developing the characters of Trevor Belmont, Magician Sypha Belnades, and Dracula’s own half-vampire son Alucard.
Castlevania S1 provides Dracula a reason and motivation for terrorising the human world. His relationship with human scientist, Lisa, allows the audience to appreciate the depth and nuance to the tragic but monstrous character of Dracula. The Dark Ages setting provides the perfect backdrop for a story that explores the themes of fear of the unknown and science versus superstition. Whilst the general tone of the story and series as a whole is dark and tragic, Ellis weaves in enough humour to lighten the mood and balance the darkness so that it never becomes wearisome. The disgraced Trevor Belmont is often the provider of such light touches with his sarcastic and cynical sense of humour delivered with perfection by Richard Armitage (The Hobbit Trilogy, Hannibal). The voice cast in general is of a higher standard than most anime series with Graham McTavish a highlight of Castlevania S1, displaying the complexity of Dracula with his pain and suffering shining through with each delivery.
Dismemberment, brutal violence, and even the odd f-bomb or two mean that Castlevania S1 is definitely a show intended for a mature audience. The stunning visual style ensures that such gruesome and violent scenes are not played to shock but are beautifully portrayed with care and attention to detail. The gothic world is familiar but also consistent in its ability to create an atmosphere of dread and horror. Other than the always bubbly Sypha Belnades, all other characters seem to carry the burden of either their own tragic past or the weight of the macabre world around them on their shoulders. In just four episodes, the audience is given time to explore the main characters whilst still leaving you wanting more.
Castlevania S1 is proof that videogames can be adapted properly for the small screen. Though not perfect, the biggest issue with the series is that there is not enough of it. The four episodes fly by but are filled with excellent voice work, a stunning, slick visual style that pays homage to the games, and interesting, complex characters filled with more nuance and development than most shows allow for given twice as much time. The R-rating gives room for the series to unleash bloody battles and explore adult themes that fans of Netflix’s Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf will love.