The history of video game adaptations to TV shows and movies is littered with failure, but Netflix may have flipped the script with its new Castlevania series. The four-episode run has been so successful, in fact, that it's already gotten the greenlight for a second, eight-episode season.
But what do the critics think? While some find the series' focus on religion novel and full of life, others see it as Ellis working through his own pathos on the screen. Here's what the critics are saying about Netflix's latest animated series.
Tom’s Guide Editor Marshall Honorof says that the first season was a thing of beauty. While the pacing could have been better and the finale didn’t give us anything approaching a resolution, he thinks the sheer artistry and care that went into the writing, directing and voice acting speaks for itself.
"The technical aspects of Castlevania are beyond reproach. In addition to gorgeous, breathtaking animation, the all-star cast breathes new life into beloved characters, buoyed by a script that’s comic and tragic in equal measure."
"Like the games, the show strikes a perfect balance between action and horror. The good guys are morally complicated, and the bad guys may not be as bad as they seem. But at the end of the day, Dracula is a threatening antagonist, and Trevor, Sypha and Alucard are compelling heroes to follow in their quest to stop him."
"I don’t mind that Castlevania’s first season is only about 90 minutes long, but it could have used its time better. The whole first episode is somewhat tedious setup; the last episode ends with a prolonged fight rather than moving the plot forward. The pacing could have been more consistent."
"The over-the-top violence sometimes feels gratuitous. The Castlevania games have always been more pulpy than gory, and the show feels too serious to play the sliced fingers, gouged eyes and crushed heads for laughs. The end result can be incongruous."
The A.V. Club
In his review for A.V. Club, Matt Gerardi explains that while he enjoyed Castlevania for its depth, the short season felt lacking in terms of story. Fortunately, that second season should alleviate his qualms, he says.
"The show's writers smartly latched onto one of the games' most simple yet pathos-rich threads: the story of Castlevania III and the tragedy that turned Vlad Dracula Tepes into the leader of a genocidal hellbeast army."
"To the show's credit, this doesn't come off as a hackneyed swipe at the notion of faith. People's belief in the unseen leads to both calamity and triumph throughout. Extremism, avarice and discrimination are more the evils that plague this church."
"With this first, painfully short season lasting only four episodes, Trevor's march toward Castlevania itself (yes, that's also the name of Dracula's castle) has been relegated to the next season"
"... this first batch feels more like a 100-minute prologue than any sort of full self-contained story."
In a spoiler-filled review for The Verge, Michael Moore joins the critical chorus claiming that Castlevania ranks in the upper echelon of video game adaptations.
"There is a care taken that clearly shows those involved have an understanding not just of the franchise's Wikipedia synopsis, but of the more abstract ideas and feelings that have made it so appealing.
"As far as video game adaptations go, Castlevania is certainly one of the best."
"This fluctuation between bland tropes and creative risks is present throughout the show. It sometimes presents a potentially interesting idea or situation, only to struggle to justify the internal logic holding the scene together."
"Characters' goals can turn with little more incentive than a twist of dialogue."
Dan Seitz, writing for Hitfix, credits the series for managing to pull a compelling narrative out of complicated source material. The show's structure, though, seems to suffer from an early emphasis on world-building, he writes.
"It's surprisingly detailed, too, right down to Sypha's backstory being straight from the game, in-jokes about being mistaken for a man and all."
"It's to [Castlevania's] credit that it manages to get something relatively focused out of the whole mishmash."
"The series ... has some pacing problems; the entire first episode and most of the second is basically elaborate backstory."
"So Warren Ellis, prolific and beloved writer of comics and novels, fills in the blanks … with a rather lengthy discourse about his opinions on organized religion."
In a review for Collider, Dave Trumbore praises the show for Ellis' work in infusing the script with a message, making it more than an animated hack-and-slash adventure.
"Warren Ellis' script makes some strong decisions in Castlevania, and the series is all the better for it. Rather than a straight-up action-adventure adaptation that lacks personality or controversial message, this story pulls no punches when it comes to the danger posed by religious zealots and their demonization of both science and magic."
"Castlevania is a supremely satisfying video game adaptation that pulls no punches and is not for the faint of heart."
"And yet the violence and gore serves the story, one that's not about a simple action-packed adventure of a trio of heroes wandering the Wallachian countryside, but the very real battle of complex heroes fighting for what's right and protecting the innocent from darkness, death and ignorance."
"The only downsides to the series are the occasional bit of wonky animation, some strange music choices (the soundtrack overall is delightfully Gothic and spooky), and some pacing issues, but these are minor quibbles."
Steve Greene, writing for IndieWire, is the only critic we saw who lavishes praise on the show's voice acting, specifically that of Richard Armitage (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) and Matt Frewer (Watchmen, Max Headroom).
"Among the voice performances, Richard Armitage brings a slight level of dry humor and fallen nobility to Trevor's quest, a helpful shortcut to the redemption story he's hurtling toward."
"But the real Season 1 standout is Matt Frewer, who savors the villainy of the wicked Bishop in every syllable. It's an appropriately theatrical performance for a character defined by his ability to prey upon people's fears and insecurities."
"Gruesome, bloody and (for most of its run time) mostly devoid of hope, 'Castlevania' doesn't skimp on darkness. It never quite reaches the demented highs of its pillar-of-hellfire pilot."