I’ll admit this up front: I know almost nothing about the Castlevania game. I have never played it, never read up on it. All I know is that it has Dracula in it. But when I heard there was a Castlevania cartoon written by Warren Ellis, I knew I had to watch it. And boy, am I glad.
The entire first season of Castlevania is just four episodes, each episode 23 to 25 minutes, so watching them all actually feels like you are watching a movie. Each episode bleeds (heh) into the next, but you never feel lost. Everything is carefully explained, but the exposition is handled well, if a little clumsily at first. But all that is just a prelude to the action, which is awesome and well made. The show is also surprisingly gruesome, with a rain of blood, severed fingers, a severed eyeball, and loads of stabbings.
The story, however, is very well established: in 13th century Wallachia, a woman named Lisa visits Dracula’s Castle in search of knowledge. She manages to intrigue Dracula enough so that she becomes his wife, but years later is eventually burned at the stake for being a “witch.” When Dracula learns of this, he decides to unleash the “night horde” upon the town and, basically, kill all humans. Once the town is dead, the night horde travel onto other towns. And the only one who can possibly stop them is Trevor Belmont of the House of Belmont, a family of monster hunters who were excommunicated by the church.
While the story itself may come from the game (I’m not sure), it’s interesting enough; it’s actually Warren Ellis’s writing and dialogue where the show shines. He manages to input just the right amount of humor to make sure the show doesn’t drown in its own melodrama. For instance, at the end of the first episode, right after we’ve seen an entire town destroyed by demons, we cut to a bar where a patron is complaining about someone fucking his goat. Trevor Belmont himself gets loads of witty lines, but the story also concerns itself with his journey from apathy to interest to pledging himself to kill Dracula or die.
There are a lot of set pieces in the show — fight scenes where Trevor can show us his whip action (he’s like Indiana Jones crossed with Captain Mal Reynolds) — but there are a lot of bigger themes as well. There is a great scene in the fourth episode where the bishop who burned Dracula’s wife is confronted by some of the night horde — and it sounds like it came right out of The Prophecy.
Which brings me to the voice acting. Often, English anime lives or dies on the voice acting, but this show is like a murderer’s row of awesome talent: Graham McTavish as Dracula, Richard Armitage as Trevor Belmont, James Callis as Alucard, and Matt Frewer as the Bishop all put in great voice performances. Hell, character actor Tony Amendola showed up as the Elder Speaker and I knew who he was instantly, but it never brought me out of the show.
I pretty much love everything Warren Ellis does, but I didn’t quite know what to expect with this show. And yet, somehow, it surprised me by being immensely awesome and decidedly bloody. Even if you’ve never played the game (like me), you can watch it in delight.