With the recent release of Castlevania Requiem on PS4 last week, it seemed to coincide either accidentally or not accidentally with the much-anticipated release of Season 2 of the TV show on Netflix. The strange thing about the Netflix adaptation of Castlevania is that, actually, it isn’t total bollocks. Adaptations often don’t go down well on both sides of the medium and for good reason: executives on both sides of the fence don’t really fully understand the source material they attempt to copy but the TV show of Castlevania is a rare example of what happens when the source material is properly understood and then properly converted.
The greatest joy about the Netflix adaptation of Castlevania is how it manages to work the series’ weird foibles and idiosyncratic stories into the fibre of the show. When the original Castelvania games were conceived, not much thought was ever put into the dramatic elements, focussing instead on traditionally ‘spooky’ iconography and fun, tactile platforming fun. The Netflix showrunners have had to come up with novel ways of working the inconsistencies that arise from the iterative design philosophies of those early games into the world of the show. For example, Dracula’s obsession with destroying the human race isn’t painted as some one-dimensional super-villain escapade but rather they are the last desperate gasps of a man in mourning; a half suicidal gesture, a half angsty outburst of violence aimed at a world that has historically hated and rejected him. Warren Ellis, veteran comic book writer doesn’t waste time painting him as some genocidal monster. Everyone knows who Dracula is. Instead, it digs a little deeper, showing us some vulnerability. Netflix’s Dracula is a creature of quiet, angry fragility. His power and strength are understated and subtle but what we’re really afraid of is the crushing of his spirit. And who did all of that to him, you might ask? It was the populist, angry human mob, of course, prompting us to once again the question: Who is really the villain here?
As mentioned earlier, the earlier Castlevania games worked on an iterative basis. This meant that subsequent additions to the Belmont family of vampire slayers were often layered on top of each other without much thought on where it was all going. So good thing, then, that the Netflix series goes to some lengths to explain the strange machinations of the Belmont clan. Netflix’s depiction of Trevor Belmont sweeps away the dust and cobwebs and blurriness surrounding the nature of the family by alluding to a nomadic history: constantly moving around to hunt the world’s population of vampires like a family cursed by their own revenge. Their power and renown as a famed unit of killers loom large in the history of the show, a reputation that now lies tarnished and faded, with Trevor himself an outcast even among his own family. Perceived as both a spoiled rich kid and a has-been from a once great family, the burden of having to live up to the generations before him casts a tall shadow across not only his own path in life but other people he encounters, too.
So in comes Alucard, then. Trevor forms an unlikely team with Alucard, which If you haven’t already figured out is Dracula in reverse. Okay, don’t roll your eyes just yet. Sure it’s a rather crude and unsubtle easter egg by the original Japanese developers of PS1 classic Symphony of the Night, but in the Netflix show, it is wonderfully recontextualized as a derogatory name forced upon him by his polluted half-vampire, half-human bloodline: Alucard lives in self-exile. Lost between the cracks of both being a human and a vampire. He has a uniquely erudite intellect. An elegant man, almost poetic, voiced wonderfully by James Callis. He’s almost a renaissance era bachelor: half romantic poet and half miserable nihilist. Alucard willingly enjoys his solitude even if his class and arrogance sometimes wish it had company. Admittedly, there isn’t much to misconstrue about Symphony of the Night’s Alucard which gives the Netflix series writers a refreshingly blank canvas to draw from. As a result, they start to sew the seeds of discontent early: The unlikely pairing of Alucard and Trevor is simply an alliance of convenience and the Belmonts bloody history with vampire slaying rightfully winds Alucard the wrong way.
Adaptations of video game franchises are cursed. Misunderstood source material is often placed in the hands of people peering down their noses at video games, looking at them like some quaint nerdy curiosity like a graphic novel or a comic. But Netflix’s Castlevania stands distinctly on its own. It blurs the lines between janky, iterative Castlevania video game lore with moody solipsism and Soulsesque dialogue. It doesn’t mind spending a moment or two meandering and pontificating before sweeping the viewer off their feet with twists, turns and other assortments of treachery- an obvious reaction to the blisteringly fast first season that seemed to rattle off its introductions in desperate, apocalyptic fashion. The second season graciously takes it’s time savouring all the details and nuance needed to fill up the dark corners of the world with intricate little details. Netflix’s Castlevania is an excellent adaptation of a classic video game that anyone can jump into and it’s proof positive that Netflix’s experimentation with niche projects is certainly paying off. But if you are jumping back into the second season, be sure to dust off your copy of Symphony of the Night, too. It’s only fair.