Before they had a breakout hit in The Witcher, Netflix launched another medieval fantasy show about a grumpy monster hunter who swears a lot: Castlevania. With season three now streaming, it’s a great time to get into this series, which is animated in a style I describe as “faux anime”—it’s not actual anime, but it’s got that look. The animation is metal as f-ck, with lots of impaled skeletons, burning “witches”, and grotesque monsters running amok. As much as can be accomplished in live action these days, animation suits Castlevania, especially since this is based on a videogame series and the animation keeps it somewhat consistent with the look of the contemporary games. Don’t worry, though, you don’t need to be familiar with the games to follow the series. Season one, which is only four episodes and basically serves as a prologue, does a great job laying out the story, and besides basic lore, the show doesn’t have much to do with the games. In this way Castlevania is also like The Witcher, you really don’t need the source text to get it.
Castlevania lives on a strange curve, where it’s definitely gothic horror, but it’s not SO gothic horror that it’s going to turn off anyone not familiar with the genre. It’s like Introduction to Gothic Horror 101. There is a lot of violence, tons of murder, plenty of cursing, but it’s also a cartoon, so the fantasy element is really heightened to the point of almost total disconnect. If this was a live-action show, monster hunter Trevor Belmont would be like medieval John Wick, but he’s a cartoon—albeit, a hot one— so all of his maiming and murdering is sort of pretty and artistic. In live action, the fight scenes would be super gory, but it’s impossible to get worked up about cartoon blood, which makes Castlevania perfect escapist viewing. Sure, it’s dark, but it’s also a cartoon, so it’s not THAT dark. Also, a bunch of the bad guys are creepy priests, which gives the whole thing a “Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame” vibe. Every time the creepy priests threaten a woman—which they do A LOT—I hear, “The bells of Notre Dame…”
If you’re looking to binge during your time trapped indoors, and you’re getting tired of comedies, give Castlevania a shot. We don’t have a lot of animated shows that are full-on action adventures, so it literally doesn’t look like anything else on television. And it’s witty and funny—Trevor comes in hot with the zingers—but it also has some really devastating emotional moments. The end of season two has one of the rawest expressions of grief I can remember seeing on TV recently. Season three is back on its adventure bullsh-t, but season two ends on a bold down note, diving straight into the moral conflict of a child forced to fight a parent who only broke bad because of insane, overpowering grief. If you’re okay with a bummer ending, you could just stop at season two and leave it there, it is a complete ending through the first twelve episodes. But if you prefer the action-adventure, then definitely keep going with season three. I don’t really care how long you watch it, just that you give Castlevania a chance. It’s one of Netflix’s best original shows, and we never talk about it. Now seems like a good time to start.