Is Netflix's Castlevania An Exception To The Rule?

Video game adaptations usually get a bad rep. Is Castlevania the best video game adaptation to exist?

· 6 min read
Castlevania feature image

The phrase “video game movie” usually carries a deeply set negative connotation and with good reason. Most video game adaptations turn out as completely forgettable messes or unforgettable travesties. Bringing video games to the screen is not an easy task.

They need to please the game fans and be understood and accepted by the casual viewer just the same to ensure success.

There are obvious reasons for video game adaptations to fail, such as it usually being a cheap cash grab marketed on the back of a successful IP and/or not respecting the source material. However, there are certainly some deeper causes of their failure.

Why do Video Game Adaptations Suck?

Video games are an interactive storytelling medium. The flow of a video game is dictated by the player even if the ending is pre-determined.

However, in a show or a movie, the viewer has no active participation in dictating the flow of the story. Moreover, as is the case with book adaptations, some things are always lost and gained as the story changes mediums.

Additionally, the simplest of video games require more immersion than any visual story ever could. To expect the same kind of immersion from a movie or a show is setting yourself up for disappointment.

Resident Evil screenshot
Resident Evil

Think of the Resident Evil franchise. The video games require you to explore and discover new things as you progress through the story killing zombies, all the while trying to survive. By the end of it, you are bound to feel a sense of accomplishment.

In contrast, the Resident Evil movies, while a spectacle, fail to provide the same level of engagement. There is only so much pride you can feel in Alice’s accomplishments with her next to no personality and equally bland companions.

Moreover, video games can get away with little to no character development as the player can always project themselves onto the characters they play as. In this case, it helps to have a completely blank slate for the pov character. The same can not be said for on-screen adaptations.

So the adaptations suffer from being too faithful to the source material. However, they also fail if they stray too far away from the source material.

The Wing Commander is a perfect example of this as it failed to gain traction from critics and fans alike. The fans felt the visual style and plot differed far too greatly from the games to be worth watching.

Detective Pikachu

All these factors aside, more often than not it just boils down to a poor screenplay and intent behind the creation. Sonic the Hedgehog movie gained some praise for its visual style and character design (eventually) but fell short of becoming an iconic movie due to its lacklustre screenplay

What Castlevania Does Right

Trevor, Alucard and Sypha looking at the viewers

Netflix launched the animated series Castlevania in 2017. The series is loosely based on the 1990 edition of the Japanese game, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. While Castlevania is a fairly popular game, it hadn’t been in the public eye lately.

Moreover, it is usually expected that the person adapting a book or a game or a manga for the screen should be intimately familiar with the source material.

However, the creator of Castlevania the show, Warren Ellis has admitted to never having played “any of the games”, and “never even looked at them”.

This is usually a recipe for disaster but for Castlevania Ellis’s unfamiliarity with the source material works in the favour of the show. While the show has taken its primary cast as is from the game, everything else is an original storyline.

What Is Castlevania All About

Trevor, Alucard, and Sypha looking at the viewers

Dracula’s wife has been burned at a stake and he is out for blood. Jaded Monster hunter Trevor Belmont joins hands with spirited magician Sypha Belnades and Dracula’s hybrid son, Alucard in search of a method to kill Dracula.

This simple premise of “Killing Dracula” alone is gripping enough to draw your attention. But what manages to keep your attention through the four seasons of this show is its extensive character growth and world-building that go hand in hand.

Even the secondary characters of the show have their own character arcs to follow that tie into the larger plot of the story one way or the other.

Vlad Dracula and his tears of wrath

Trevor Belmont, the protagonist of the show has no innate desire of killing Dracula. If anything, he is mostly apathetic or even sympathetic to Dracula’s sentiments. He will still the task at hand to its end though, because of a sense of duty. Sypha is an all-around force for goodness with a spirit for adventure.

Alucard is the only character in the show who morally opposes Dracula and the only character who could stand up to Dracula in a fight, if only for a moment.

Oh yes, Dracula is an absolute overpowered Monster. Living up to his name, the guy exudes pure fear of death every time he gets serious. That is when he isn’t busy brooding or sighing and being generally disinterested in his surroundings.

However, even in his most distracted moments you know nobody can so much as lay a finger on Dracula. He is just that much of a badass.

The four vampire sisters
The four vampire sisters (Convince me Carmilla isn't Cersei Lannister reincarnate)

The secondary characters have very well-explored arcs of their own, making for an all-around immersive experience. Carmilla is the vampiress Queen of Styria and the show’s secondary antagonist.

She is a cunning and deceitful noblewoman who once served as Lord Dracula's general and ally with a hidden goal to seize his authority over the vampires.

Isaac is a loyal necromancer in service of Dracula who happens to hold great contempt for his own humankind. After being abandoned/saved by Dracula, Isaac sets out on a journey to understand humanity and find his place in it. The show doesn’t shy away from slowing down and following all these different tangents to their ends.

Why Castlevania Works?

Vlad and Lisa

I went into Castlevania pretty blind. I wasn’t aware of the premise or that it had Dracula in it. However, the show drew me in from the very first moment. It opens with a shot of pierced skulls garden, followed by Lisa entering a huge, haunting castle.

And what do you know, it's the freaking Dracula’s moving castle! The aesthetics of the show is flawless, from the broodiness in the air to the pace, to the low, soft, poised baritone every single character talks in, the show is a mood in itself.

It fully embraces the goth and revels in its dark details while still maintaining a self-aware levity to it all.  Also, a certain blond, graceful, snarky half-vampire is very crucial in holding my attention and keeping it.

Just look at those gorgeous locks 

What really makes Castlevania an amazing show is the creator’s intent. Warren Ellis managed to tell a gripping original story while not alienating the game fans.

The animation of the show and the dialogues are very atmospheric and almost like an RPG game. The writing and animation are top-notch (more so in the first two seasons, the show gets a bit lazy after that).

The character building is phenomenal and so are the dynamics between the characters. You would want the show to go on for longer just so you could enjoy the organic banter between Alucard, Trevor, and Sypha.

In the backbone of good writing, there is authorial intent. Ellis is a humanist and his philosophy bleeds into the show very evidently (although not always subtly or even coherently).

The show examines themes such as the need to preserve knowledge, the worth of human life, and the benefit of having friends and comrades to depend on when all else fails. This meme summarises all of it pretty well -

This sums it up