One thing I did at Otakon 2017 this summer – besides dress up as Yusuke from Persona 5 and get lost in a sea of Futabas (so much red hair) – was watch the new animated Netflix Castlevania series by Warren Ellis and Adi Shankar.
I liked it more than I thought I would, but I have to admit I hadn’t set my expectations very high. I wasn’t impressed by Shankar’s gritty take on Power Rangers, even though it’s supposedly a parody of Hollywood’s tendency to make dark reboots of kids’ properties (interesting, then, how the actual Power Rangers movie has a heart as soft and damaged as a therapists’ teddy bear).
All credit to Shankar: He can take criticism. He reacted very well when I said the last thing I want in the world is his hoped-for gritty take on Mega Man. So, no problem with Shankar himself. From my angle, he’s a mensch – albeit maybe one who’s a bit high-energy. But I’m cool with the man, even if I’m not a fan of his work.
Besides, again: I liked Netflix Castlevania. I don’t love it, however, and there’s a good chance the reasons I don’t love it are Ellis’ fault, not Shankar’s.
Put it this way. I’ve been looking forward to this animated Castlevania shindig since it was unveiled in 2007 as a straight-to-DVD adaptation of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. Shankar’s name wasn’t in the credits back then (I guess he was around 22 at the time, not exactly young enough to be gumming wall meat, but not quite old enough to ply his trade), but Ellis’ was.
We never learned much about the Dracula’s Curse adaptation outside of some lovely concept art by James Jean and a tiny snippet of script from Ellis. The script was a conversation between two peasants—background noise Trevor Belmont picks up while having a drink—and the solemn matter of goat-fucking. Seems Peasant A’s goat was being fucked off-screen by Peasant C, so Peasant A clubbed the sex offender with a shovel, then had to pay damages. Peasant A didn’t think that was very fair, and Peasant B concurred.
When I laid out the reasons why I’m not looking forward to the Castlevania Netflix series on USgamer, I mentioned the decade-old goatfucking discourse. It was an amusing joke, yeah, but it was also the only trace Ellis ever showed us of the project. Here was a single thread of proof that an animated work based on one of the best action games of all time ever had a presence in this world, and it was a throwaway conversation about peasants sticking their pizzles in goats.
One commenter who read my fears on USgamer told me it was unfair to pre-emptively judge Ellis’ capabilities as a writer (and thus the Netflix Castlevania series) on a single lewd joke he paraded around the internet in ’07. That’s fair, and I don’t want to piss on Ellis’ legacy as a writer, especially a comic writer. But then doesn’t the mad old bastard just resurrect that god damn scene for Castlevania Netflix.
Well, it is a series about zombies and ghosts and other things coming back from the dead. I guess jokes can be resurrected, too.
Much as I hate to turn the conversation away from the topic of making love to barnyard animals, here’s what I like and dislike about Castlevania Netflix:
– The character development between Dracula and his wife, Lisa. Lisa searches out Drac in hopes of learning about new herbs and potions for healing. They have interesting chemistry: She encourages him to be kinder and more human, while he’s hesitant to let her forget humankind’s follies. I think as their relationship deepens across the coming episodes, we’ll – oh, Lisa’s dead. Fuck. Oh well.
– The depiction of Sypha Belandes, Trevor Belmont’s hunting partner and eventual wife. She has a strong background and decent motivations in the animation. That’s nice; the actual games lay down a bit of history for Sypha, but generally throw up jazz hands and say “eeeeh, whatever,” when attempting to execute anything definitive. Unless you count Castlevania Judgement. I’d rather not.
– Alucard. Just … Alucard.
I DON’T LIKE:
-Barring the Cyclops that canonically turns Sypha into stone in Castlevania III, there aren’t any recognizable Castlevania monsters in the show. Trevor and company fight against hordes of generic demons that are interchangeable with baddies from Ninja Scroll and other ’90s anime that tried very hard to convince us how cool and adult they are. Netflix Castlevania’s lack of recognizable monsters is highly disappointing. For one thing, the game series makes excellent use of demons and monsters from innumerable cultures, countries, and religions; the Netflix series should similarly let itself have some fun. When I see Dial-a-Demons pour all over Transylvania, it gives me the impression—whether warranted or not—that Shankar and Ellis penetrated the first layer of Castlevania lore on the series’ Fandom wiki, then decided against going any further. It’s lazy—and the bad guys outside of Dracula are all very boring, besides.
-Oh, pardon, how could I forget Netflix Castlevania’s bad guys aren’t really Dracula and his demons. The real villain here is … !!!The Church!!!. Whereas Dracula is allowed a little dimension and development, the Church in Netflix Castlevania is flatter than the average 8-bit Castlevania screenshot. It persecutes Sypha’s peace-loving people, burns an innocent woman, and literally dances on her grave. See, people who profess to serve God are usually very hypocritical—and if the message somehow whizzes over your head because you were fall-down drunk until the end of the show, a helpful demon kindly regurgitates the message directly into viewers’ mouths with a monologue declaring, “You religious types are soooo very much like us.” Edgy. If Warren Ellis was a grade two student, writing Netflix Castlevania would prompt Missus Anderson of Room 202 to arrange a Parent-Teacher interview.
Overall thoughts and feelings: Yeah, it’s good. I’ll keep following it. Just don’t tell my mom I’m watching a cartoon with words that make Jesus cry, she might change the Netflix password again.