Castlevania (the show)

I’d really recommend this. I found it really enjoyable, though not without its flaws.

The choreography and animation in general is amazing. It manages a reasonably nuanced take on religion, which is rare in itself and extremely rare coexisting with evil priests murdering innocent people. The overall structure is…unique, let’s say. This is by a comics author (relatedly, it is extremely gory) and although I do not make comics or animation, you can really feel that this is plotted using comic beats instead of film ones. And the dialogue is at once extremely clever and astoundingly stupid.

I actually watched Castlevania after watching many images pop up on Tumblr with what I assumed were joke captioned, then I watched a short and ridiculous animation that did not seem like it could’ve been easily edited, then I saw a clip that involved the characters saying the words out loud and realized it was marginally more likely that this was the actual unedited show than that people were willing to fandub for the sake of a joke.

Now, I discussed how despite enjoying Dororo, it still conforms to standard tropes about women’s deaths and being there to motivate the men around them.

Castlevania straight up opens with Dracula’s wife getting murdered, leading to him flipping out and setting off the events of the rest of the series. Everything revolves around this dead woman.

What made the this-isn’t-technically-anime-but-if-I-say-adult-cartoon-you’ll-grossly-misinterpret-anime so strangely charming to me is the sincerity that it brings this trope. Part of the bitterness of fridging is that, for all the man claims to be motivated by it, we know he gets over it. Her death is an excuse and he’ll feel better afterward.

Not here. This is a story about people desperately trying to cling to the last dregs of anger to finish what they were doing when they just want to die already. The conflict is between Dracula, who’s going to kill everyone and then himself because she was so great and it hurts so much, and her son, who is pretty sure she said, “Dracula, honor my memory by not killing everyone in retaliation, I do not want everyone dead, don’t kill everyone, I became a doctor to not kill everyone, seriously don’t kill them all in my name when I am explicitly telling you I don’t want that.” so instead he’s going to kill his dad and then himself because she was so great and it hurts so much.

The depressed child is aided by the last remaining vampire-hunting Belmont, who’s more directionlessly depressed and so willing to obey whatever woman starts telling him to shut up and go on the damn quest, and a magic using Speaker, who’s female and so a functional human being. “Is that feminist, Farla?” Oh my no. But like with the fridging, it’s rare you see media actually go, “And the woman was competent and not a neurotic mess…so we have put her in charge.”

(I am really excited for season three and finding out if the current guy who’s sad and angry has more discipline than everybody else or if he too runs out of angry halfway through. On the one hand he seems the most together of anyone, on the other hand he also seems worryingly low on angry already. Possibly denial will fill the gap? Looking forward to watching more people fall apart for my viewing pleasure!)

46 Comments

  1. Roarke says:

    I agree with everything stated here. Also, the brief “It endures in the name of your mother” exchange between Alucard and Dracula was so awesome. Dracula’s voice actor was one of the best parts of the series.

     

    I think it’s funny that the fridging worked because, indeed, it was an actual character death that serves as the bedrock of other characters’ motivations. The bar has fallen so pathetically low that it’s easy to forget how it feels to see it pulled off.

    I really loved the trio’s dynamic, and Sypha was goddamn carrying that crew. She’s like Katara and Azula put together, and not just in terms of her powers.

    I also liked the emerging villains of the next season, though nobody’s going to replace Dracula in my heart.

    1. Farla says:

      though nobody’s going to replace Dracula in my heart.

      I’m betting Issac agrees with you and will be doing something to fix it.

      (We know Dracula’s gotta keep showing up somehow.)

      1. Roarke says:

        I’m betting Issac agrees with you and will be doing something to fix it.

        Hehehehe. You may be right about that, and Dracula possibly returning. I mean, Castlevania the series is sort of built on the premise that you can’t keep that jerk down. Still, I do think that his death scene was fulfilling enough that his return would feel somewhat unsatisfying.

        I thought Dracula’s dynamic with Isaac was really interesting since, on the one hand, Dracula wanted to kill everyone and then himself, but on the other, clearly valued Isaac’s life and wanted him to live on. I do find it sad and sweet that one of Dracula’s last expressions of fatalism is to decide that he’s not going to let a friend die for him. Then he puts the angry mask back on for the showdown.

        1. Farla says:

          Still, I do think that his death scene was fulfilling enough that his return would feel somewhat unsatisfying.

          Yeah, I was pondering that. It’s Castlevania canon that sometimes Dracula shows up again to be like “ugh, you think this way my idea? I’m just as upset as you.” and the story’s been….nontraditional….enough that I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that after a lot of hype about oh no his loyal servants or some other random idiots arae bringing back the ultimate vampire!!! Dracula shows up just to remind everyone he was trying to die last time and this is just depressing him even further, he’s going to just sulk on his chair for the next few hundred years.

          For Dracula to actually do anything ever again, maybe some sort of botched resurrection where they get back Younger Dracula who doesn’t remember the last couple decades.

          I do find it sad and sweet that one of Dracula’s last expressions of fatalism is to decide that he’s not going to let a friend die for him.

          I know! And right after his friend is all, “Boy I sure appreciate using my free will to die for your sake, have I mentioned recently how my life revolves around you and you are the only good thing in the entire world and also minor but I really love being here and not in the desert because that’s just the worst place ever.” It was so kind and so horribly cruel.

          (…well, the desert thing in particular seemed rather wtf, like trying to return a caught spider to where you originally found it in the hopes that’s its preferred habitat. But maybe he figured that if his final act was dumping him in a bunch of sand, Issac would be mad at him instead of continuing the suicide cycle.)

          1. Roarke says:

            The ultimate… nontraditional… Dracula resurrection would be him coming back, learning Alucard (somehow) has a child, and becoming a doting grandfather. I’m 237% certain this has already happened in fanfic.

            Dracula dumping Isaac’s loyal ass back in the desert was a fantastic dick move. That’s the absolute intersection between cruelty and laziness. Isaac’s not even like, at the edge of a desert town. He’s in Bumfuck McNowhere. Maybe, like you said, his intention was to make Isaac mad at him so he wouldn’t want to come back. I think, judging by Isaac’s last scene, he also wanted to spare Isaac from human interaction.

             

            1. Farla says:

              That’s what I don’t get. If he just wanted to send him to some human-free place, he could’ve dumped him off at Hector’s farm since that’s somehow far enough from people nobody managed a lynching. The only chance Isaac had to survive the desert was to find people – even lucking into an oasis, there’s no food, he had to rely on idiots walking up to him. (Mildly peeved he ate one of the horses, incidentally. He already had perfectly good meat without needing to kill any of the animals. That’s just wasteful, Isaac!)

              Maybe Dracula didn’t grasp just how much Isaac didn’t want to interact with his own kind given he hoped Isaac would be friends with Hector? And also didn’t get Isaac’s outfit is not desert appropriate and he was probably just going to broil on the sand.

              Reply
            2. Roarke says:

              Yeah, it makes less sense when you put it like that.

              That’s just wasteful, Isaac!

              Indeed, especially since the horses proved themselves just as capable of ferrying undead idiots as living ones. Strictly superior to humans as living collaborators go!

              Reply
  2. Just commenting to add that I LOVE SYPHA’S FIGHT SCENES SO MUCH. Not only is she a hands-only wizard (the best kind), her casting is so kinetic and visceral, making her just as exciting to watch as the fighters even aside from the magic lightshows. It’s so rare to see a caster get so brutal and up in peoples’ business like that.

    1. Roarke says:

      That’s what made Avatar TLA so great, to be honest. I still haven’t seen that kind of combat mage replicated in any kind of animated series save Castlevania.

    2. SpoonyViking says:

      Yeah, those were great. At the same time, though, they didn’t feel very fitting for the character as presented. I mean, show!Sypha is a Speaker, not a battlemage or something similar.

      1. Farla says:

        As someone who doesn’t know the lore, the impression I got was that she was a ethnically a Speaker and vocationally a battle mage, with the only connection that Speakers have wider access to stuff like that due to the rest of society being kept ignorant.

        1. Roarke says:

          Dracula calls her a ‘Speaker magician’, which he wouldn’t need to do if they were one and the same, so I’m with you on that one. It seems in-character for Sypha to go for the most powerful knowledge available to her, given the opportunity. Given that she was already really accomplished at reading multilingual/ancient tomes, she may not have learned it from her people.

        2. SpoonyViking says:

          Oh, the Speakers were created for the series, so there’s no lore issue here. Ironically enough, game!Sypha was a sorceress working for the Church.

          It’s possible she was a battlemage or similar by vocation, but I never got the impression the Speakers even had such roles, and the implication seems to be that she’s lived with her people her whole life.

          It’s honestly a minor thing, really, because her moves were really cool – in fact, the fight scenes in general were very good -, but it did strike me as odd when first watching.

  3. SpoonyViking says:

    Eh. Personally, I felt it had too many flaws. It was enjoyable, yes, but I mostly lament all the wasted potential. The writing was very shoddy at times,* there were both too many and not enough changes from the source material, Trevor felt very lacklustre as a protagonist – or heck, even as a character – in season 2,  and overall, it felt very trope-ish (I might even say clichéd).

    * “Humans! You have one year to leave Wallachia, or I’m going to kill you all.” Three seconds later: “Damn it, I can’t believe it will take me a year to raise an army to kill all humans! …Maybe I shouldn’t have given them a warning in advance.”

    I also have to disagree with the series being nuanced – I mean, even leaving aside everything in season 1, we have the undead bishop performing a bonafide sacrament, it’s not easy to be less respectful of religious belief than that.

    Basically, I think this could have been a great show if someone other than Warren Ellis had written it.

    One change from the games I did like is that the heroes are less “people who are born special” and more “people armed with proper knowledge”. Trevor, for instance, is quite the fighter, but he’s not superhuman, and the reason he’s so good at fighting monsters is because he has his family’s cumulative knowledge and consecrated weapons, not because the Belmont bloodline is just special.

    1. Farla says:

      There’s definitely…many, many issues with S2, though I’m inclined to be forgiving given it apparently was only supposed to be half as long.

      “Humans! You have one year to leave Wallachia, or I’m going to kill you all.” Three seconds later: “Damn it, I can’t believe it will take me a year to raise an army to kill all humans! …Maybe I shouldn’t have given them a warning in advance.”

      That, though, was hilarious! Which, yeah, I see the issue, but, Dracula doing his whole dramatic screaming head about how I GIVE YOU WARNING and then going home and saying, “Yeah I actually had no choice but to wait a year but like hell I’m going to admit that, if anyone asks it’s totally just because I wanted to dramatically attack on the anniversary.”

      we have the undead bishop performing a bonafide sacrament, it’s not easy to be less respectful of religious belief than that.

      Christianity has a long history of saying dead bodies have magic powers!

      That was definitely wonky given S1 not only established you have to be decent enough for God to empower you but that the specific dude was on God’s shitlist so hard it undid the consecration of the entire church he was in. On the other hand, if there was anything left of him in that corpse – and we know you can bring back puppies as puppies – it could be that he repented and burning himself up blessing a river was something of an atonement. (It could also be that Hector is not on God’s shitlist and that’s why it went through. I could see that in order to do a blessing you need someone who’s been physically ordained to be able to do it and someone who’s not a total asshole directing it for God to answer and zombies allow for an edge case where those aren’t the same person. If so, we know that God has some pretty low standards if Hector passes.)

      1. SpoonyViking says:

        Christianity has a long history of saying dead bodies have magic powers!

        Sure, but there’s a huge conceptual difference between “this person was so holy in life that their corpse continues to perform miracles” to “this complete waste of a human being was reanimated by dark forces and successfully invokes the power of God”.

        I’ve seen the theory floating around that since the holy water only harmed the forces of darkness – both Dracula’s army and Carmilla’s -, that ultimately it was God’s will all along, but that doesn’t really explain why Carmilla was so sure that would even work.

        […] If so, we know that God has some pretty low standards if Hector passes.)

        Poor Hector. I’m not a fan of either Curse of Darkness generally or Hector specifically – both feel too derivative, both in terms of story and gameplay -, but he definitely got the shaft in this adaptation. Isaac was great, though.

        1. Farla says:

          Sure, but there’s a huge conceptual difference between “this person was so holy in life that their corpse continues to perform miracles” to “this complete waste of a human being was reanimated by dark forces and successfully invokes the power of God”.

          But it applies to more than just saints.

          Ordaining someone, across multiple branches of Christianity, has a very physical component where the idea is that the person must have hands laid upon them from a person who had hands laid upon them from a person who…all the way back to the apostles who got it from Jesus.

          And we also know there’s also the early Christian belief that the profane could be made holy but the holy could not be made profane, which means an ordained priest’s corpse should stay ordained, it just can’t do anything with those powers because it’s dead and all. And I believe the whole thing where the Catholic church auto-excommunicates women for getting ordained while simultaneously arguing they never were ordained in the first place can be argued as solid evidence that people aren’t un-ordain-able, you can kick them out but you can’t take it back. And this would certainly be in keeping with the fact that you can ninja baptize people and it totally counts because all that matters is physically getting the magically powered water on their head.

          Therefore! God might refuse to send through the blessing if he’s mad at someone who was ordained, BUT the connection itself formed by the laying-on-hands chain is a no-takebacks one, just as no matter how virtuous and loved by God a person might be, they can’t do ordained-stuff without someone else laying on hands and passing on the connection. Either the bodies are always capable of counting as holy objects and successfully performing the required rituals in absence of a mind to hold sin that would make God refuse, or Hector counts as the body’s mind because he’s giving the orders – and he is less of a dick than the original guy, so that’s consistent enough. This also allows for other shenanigans  – run out of bishops? Dig up some old ones and bap people with their fingerbones to keep the line unbroken.

          I’ve seen the theory floating around that since the holy water only harmed the forces of darkness – both Dracula’s army and Carmilla’s -, that ultimately it was God’s will all along, but that doesn’t really explain why Carmilla was so sure that would even work.

          I’d also say there’s no way Carmilla knew they had a dud priest and may not even be religious enough to know dud priests are possible. She may class it just as magic the church happens to know.

          But yeah, the fact the corpse was being used for ‘good’ and also self-immolating in the process may have counted in favor of the blessing going through. My personal guess would be zombie atonement given they’ve got it collared and we’ve seen the undead have some will of their own but it’s very muted, I’m just willing to argue for the elaborate rules lawyer interpretation too.

          1
          1. SpoonyViking says:

            But it applies to more than just saints.

            Yeah, medieval thinking is that body and soul were so closely linked that one reflected the other. I’ll be honest, though, your line of thought is very compelling, but also feels very rules-lawyer-y, like you admit yourself. :-P

    2. Act says:

      Hearing that it’s stupid-clever and written by Warren Ellis actually makes me want to watch it, that tone is something he’s really good at. Then again, I have no attachment to the IP so the idea of a tongue in cheek take doesn’t bother me.

      1
      1. SpoonyViking says:

        It’s not tongue-in-cheek, though.

        1. Farla says:

          I mean, you may be right but I don’t think it’s possible to tell.

          1. Act says:

            Just watched the first one and it’s definitely written with a nod and wink, it’s exactly the same style and tone as his satirical novels.

            1. SpoonyViking says:

              It’s often irreverent, yes, and everyone is very snarky, but it takes itself too seriously and plays its premise too straight. The example I gave above, for instance, isn’t intentionally played for laughs.

              Reply
          2. SpoonyViking says:

            […] but I don’t think it’s possible to tell.

            Hm! Can you please elaborate?

      2. Roarke says:

        Watch iiiiit! It’s very good and so short as to be easily binged. Season 1 is less than 2 hours of content, and S2 is maybe a little more than double that.

        1. SpoonyViking says:

          Yeah, for all my criticism, it’s worth watching at least season 1.

          1. Roarke says:

            Personally I’d vouch for S2 just for the amazing fight scenes. It’s not going to kill someone to just tune out the annoying bits.

            1. Spoony Viking says:
              But you can find those on YouTube!

              I think, at least.

              Reply
  4. Cosmogone says:
    Thanks for this recommendation! The show sounds interesting, albeit I have some reservations about Sypha’s potrayal. People told me that she’s basically your generic Wise Female Character with no personality. Is it really true or is there more to her?

    >>Part of the bitterness of fridging is that, for all the man claims to be motivated by it, we know he gets over it. Her death is an excuse and he’ll feel better afterward
    Hm, that’s an interesting way to put it, though I’m not sure I fully agree. My personal standard of fridging/not fridging has always been based on whether a) the female character in question is an actual character and b) was her death necessary or could it have been replaced with any random inconvenience. Not sure if this standard is particularly good, either.
    (Offtop-ish: incidentally, I’m in the middle of a God of War 4-related discussion re: “Is fridging Actually Feminist?” which made me realise that the general public has no idea what the original complaint was about)

    1. Act says:

      I honestly think that it really just comes down to the fact that tropes are value-neutral. This particular trope is so overwhelmingly handled in a terrible way, though, that it’s become an Inherently Bad Trope (TM) to a lot of people. I think what Castlevania shows is that no, when you actually treat the woman like a human, it actually can be quite effective, it’s just most people don’t do that.

       

      Spoilers:

      I actually really loved the framing of Lisa’s death, narratively, because ‘witchcraft’ and similar women’s culture really were early forms of medicine, and ‘burning witches’ was a way of punishing women for knowing too much and being too independent. I thought having it explicitly be ‘the church is killing this woman for being a scientist’ was a really good commentary on what actually happened as well as a more subtle allusion to how women are still chased out of the sciences and their knowledge is still constructed as inferior. It made her death have value in and of itself, and that it (apparently) goes on to actually matter when usually it actually doesn’t just seems to further demonstrate that the trope can be used for, if not good, at least not-evil. I also can’t emphasize how much I appreciated that the camera did not linger lovingly on her agony while she made sex noises like video games so enjoy.

      Also, this is a TOTAL digression, but I live near Salem, MA, and can never decide if women in Salem selling ‘witchcraft’ is a really creepy monetizing of a tragedy or kind of a fuck-you to the patriarchy inasmuch as women benefit from the tourists almost exclusively. Or both.

      3
      1. Cosmogone says:
        >>I think what Castlevania shows is that no, when you actually treat the woman like a human, it actually can be quite effective, it’s just most people don’t do that.

        This. Also, your bit about witch hunts made me think of something: maybe the key element that a character death should have and that fridging doesn’t is simply dignity.

        P.S. I haven’t been to this site for a long while and I’m just really glad to see you, Act.

        1. Act says:

          <3333

          I too have not been here in a while. My hands are basically nonfunctional because of chemo side effects and typing is painful so I can’t really go on the computer :( But! My last chemo appt is Tuesday, so hopefully soon things will be normalish.

          I hope you’re well! Or at least better than me, lol

          1. Cosmogone says:
            <3 Get better soon. My thoughts are with you.
    2. Roarke says:

      Sypha’s a generic wise and down-to-earth woman saddled with a generic depressed asocial slob and a generic sarcastic teenager with an Oedipus complex.

      It’s a great show. I think you’ll enjoy it.

      1
      1. Cosmogone says:
        OH this sounds much better than what I was picturing. Okay, I’ll watch it. :)
  5. Nerem says:
    I really want an adaptation of the Soma arc or the DS games in general. Because Soma is cool, Shanoa is super cool, and it’d be neat to see Jonathan and Charlotte fighting together.

    Also at least in Lisa’s death even in Castlevania itself it wasn’t really protrayed as a fridging either, and is kinda nicely handled in the final battle between Alucard and Dracula where Lisa becomes his motivation to become the Dark Lord, but also the motivation to stop.

     

    Which is why pretty much all the games after portrays Dracula as being forcefully revived by others who use his power.

    1. The Sorrow games would be really cool to see, but it’ll likely be a long time before we get there, if at all.

      I’d actually like to see an adaptation of Harmony of Dissonance, even if it’d delay Symphony of the Night and the Sorrow games. It’s often regarded as a forgettable entry, but I actually thought it had one of the better storylines. They could get a lot out of the mystery and the Silent Hill-esque reality shifting.

      1. SpoonyViking says:

        “Harmony of Dissonance” one of the better storylines, really?

        Personally, I (futilely) hope they never even consider adapting Symphony of the Night. Great gameplay, worse-than-terrible story.

        That said, it seems like they’ll go for something mostly new. Isaac avenging Dracula is reminiscent of Curse of Darkness, but then we also have Carmilla appearing much earlier than she should in the chronology, and both of them are basically completely different characters anyway (particularly Carmilla).

        1. “Harmony of Dissonance” one of the better storylines, really?

          It’s a low bar, but yeah. There’s an actual mystery going on with Maxim, they purposefully mess with you to make the two-castle thing less obvious at first, and I found the areas nicely atmospheric. I found it to overall have the most pathos of the Castlevanias I’ve played, and Juste is a cool character and a genuinely nice guy (even if he’s pretty obvious the designers were just copying Alucard).

          And yeah, Symphony of the Night is pretty much just going to be rehashing the storyline we already got for Alucard in season 2, but there’s no way they aren’t adapting it given its popularity. Some are theorizing they’ll weight the story heavily towards Rondo of Blood and those characters, with the Symphony storyline as a short coda, which could work.

          1. SpoonyViking says:

            Hm. I see what you’re saying, but I felt the plot was more than a bit derivative of both Richter’s and Hugh’s plotlines from Symphony and Circle of the Moon.

            Some are theorizing they’ll weight the story heavily towards Rondo of Blood […]

            That would be awesome! Hopefully, they’ll do Richter justice, in that case; I’ve always felt he was shortchanged by the Igavanias.

            1. Nerem says:
              How was he shortchanged by the Igavanias? I mean, Iga hasn’t made any games anywhere near Richter in the timeline and his story already played out by the time Iga was in charge.
              Reply
  6. GeniusLemur says:
    “Dracula, honor my memory by not killing everyone in retaliation”

    Reminds me of

    But vengeance I never did wreak,
    When pow’r was in my hand,
    And you, dear friends, no vengeance seek,
    It is my last command.

    Forgive the man whose rage betray’d
    Macpherson’s worthless life;
    When I am gone, be it not said,
    My legacy was strife.

  7. SpoonyViking says:

    Symphony of the Night, though, where in order to justify having Alucard as the main character, Shaft is somehow brought back (even though he was killed twice in Rondo, one of those as an evil spirit) and somehow takes control of Richter. Kind of an inglorious end for a Belmont, no?

    ETA: What the hell, why did the reply go here?!

    1. Nerem says:
      Eh, it was just to tie in Rondo of Blood to Symphony. They really could have just not even have Richter. I think he was just there ‘cuz they wanted Maria as the new Belmont, so having Richter there was a good way to do it. Of course, that wasn’t even the first time a Belmont had been taken over by Dracula. It happened in a couple of prior games too. Ones who didn’t even get the benefit of being a protagonist ever!
  8. Spoony Viking says:
    Yeah, but a Soleil was a child when that happened, not a grown man who had already taken Dracula down.

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