Review: Castlevania Season 1

Netflix’s Castlevania is an anime style dark fantasy TV show based on the universe of Konami’s Castlevania games.  While short Season 1 is an interesting start that paints a beautiful picture of a lurid fantasy Wallachia.

The plot is solid, focusing more on the characters and their motivations than any complicated schemes.  Castlevania’s portrayal of the Catholic church as an antagonist is rather heavy handed but I felt invested enough in the protagonist that the conflict was satisfying.

Trevor Belmont and Dracula himself  are both charismatic and easy to sympathize with; the high quality voice acting helps here.  The other characters are not particularly memorable but they are likable and I cared about the fate of the supporting cast.

Castlevania’s animation is high quality, and the world seems alive and colorful despite the gothic setting.   There are some stills used but nothing egregious and the key scenes are beautiful and detailed.

The show is very gory in the pulpy anime style- limbs are casually severed,  deaths number in the hundreds if not thousands and at one point demons festoon an open air market with entrails.  It fits with the gritty and dark nature of the setting but if you strongly dislike gore I would not recommend this show.

Despite the darkness Castlevania never feels overly intense or like a downer.  The characters are funny which provides a nice foil to the darker moments.

The fight choreography is great- the characters feel like they have a real weight to them  and the environment is both well established and incorporated into the fights.  Things are well paced and I never felt bored or like Castlevania was trying to fill time.

My only real complaint is the length.  “Season 1” is four episodes of what feels like at least an 8 or 12 episode season.  It ends at a natural stopping point but similarly to Under the Dog it feels almost deceptive in its shortness, the difference being Castlevania is already getting a 2nd season.  If there had been more episodes I would have kept watching and I look forward to the next season, but you might want to wait for more of the series to be released before getting invested.

TL,DR: A colorful and entertaining dark fantasy TV show well worth keeping an eye on.

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Review: Under the Dog

Under the Dog is a science fiction anime OVA about government conspiracies and experimentation gone wrong.  It channels a mixture of Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell, both in the art design and the world, including a shady pseudo-governmental organization that uses teenagers as its operatives for reasons that remain unclear.  Episode 0 was just released following a 2 year production period after the Kickstarter, with no future episodes planned.

The production values were good but not gorgeous like the first few episodes of Evangelion, or what you would expect from a movie.  Avoiding spoilers, the episode’s plot surprised me.  Under the Dog plays with the “chosen hero” and “government conspiracy” tropes in a way that feels fresh.  The ending leaves an opening for a series but stands well enough on its own, feeling a great deal like a classic science fiction short story- briefly exploring the consequences of a theoretical technology on people’s lives and society as a whole, with disturbing implications.

The acting had its moments, though the subtitles in some scenes give the usual feeling that there is a subtext that has been lost in translation.  Some character speak only in English, with the quality of acting varying wildly.  The fight choreography is good, better than what you would expect from a series, though not as good as Darker than Black or the trailer for Under the Dog.

Character development and world building are both excellent, showing rather than telling what is happening, and paint a rich yet fleeting picture of the world without an exposition dump. Under the Dog Episode 0 is well constructed with good animation and a fresh plot and if there were later episodes I would watch them based on the strength of the first.

Yet as a Kickstarter backer, it feels like a raw deal.  The single episode produced is good,  but for $25 and a two year wait I was hoping for more than 28 minutes.  This is probably a failure to manage expectations on my part, but to people uninvolved with the Kickstarter I would not recommend paying $25; wait for it to hit a streaming service or go to retail.  My disappointment is with the Kickstarter process, which was expensive, long, and created inflated expectations, rather than Under the Dog itself.

Under the Dog stands well on its own, telling a satisfying story in a skillful way that could be continued but doesn’t feel like it has to be either. The main complaint being there isn’t enough of it speaks well about the quality.  It works as a unit and I want to see more of it not because it ended on a cliffhanger, but because it is well done and interesting.

TL,DR; Under the Dog is good and worth keeping an eye on in the future if the series is picked up, especially if you like classic dark science fiction.  Don’t back Kickstarter projects.