Castlevania – Hello Grimdark, My Old Friend


Castlevania, a beloved video game franchise, was the basis for one of the better Netflix anime (or in this case, pseudo-anime) adaptions. Three seasons in, it certainly remains one of the most popular.

Its third season continues to showcase many of the series’ strengths as well as its faults. Characters’ expressions can be limited and occasionally animation “cheats” are employed in action sequences. Despite this, the Animesque visuals are very pretty and the backgrounds richly atmospheric, creating a suitable Gothic aesthetic. While eschewing certain innovations found in Western animation, the series can still be applauded for avoiding the endless still shots used by cheaper anime.

Castlevania‘s action scenes are exciting and most sensual ones – deliberately, one suspects – disturbing. The rare animation shortcuts are probably necessary due to the demands of the script and budget constraints. By the season’s finale, massive battles are practically de rigueur as the story sprints towards a climax.

The fault here lies with Ellis’ scripts. A talented writer and one largely responsible for the birth of “wide screen” comics, he can be self-indulgent. Here he tends to focus on spectacle over substance. The controversial ” The Harvest” episode features a 25-minute battle scene interspersed with not one but two lengthy sex scenes. Neither I nor the show’s target audience are prudes but at times, the mature content felt, if not gratuitous, than a little tiring. In works like Saga or The White Trees (both penned by Ellis’ contemporaries), sex and violence are used to underscore certain themes and kinetic action sequences are contrasted against quiet moments of surreal beauty. Sadly, Ellis’ script doesn’t give Castlevania much breathing space. The result can be overwhelming.


As can the religious iconography. Thanks to Anne Rice, Catholic imagery and modern vampire lore are firmly entwined. Ellis takes this even further, repeatedly casting fanatics as villains and using the most obvious of religious metaphors as a shorthand for corruption and control. While some viewers might be delighted to see Judeo-Christian lore interpreted in such a way, others might find it overstated. At times, the endless use of crucifixion poses, thorned crowns and churches seems to verge on parody.

If the show has one major fault, it’s that it sometimes lacks that ephemeral characteristic called “heart.” It’s beautifully animated, competently scripted and with more than enough edge to appeal to its target demograph. But casual fans and newcomers might find themselves wondering at the significance behind all the sound and fury.



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