So you saw the teaser for the new Netflix animated series Castlevania, and it's piqued your interest...
Anime fans, gothic horror/medieval fantasy buffs, gamers, whatever you are you were intrigued by the trailer for this series, coming to Netflix on July 7, and if you're anything like me you want to know more.
Well you’re in luck because Castlevania has been around for a long time and I’ve been a fan since its infancy.
The History and World of Castlevania
Castlevania is a series of video games that has been around since the mid-'80s. It tells the story of the Belmont clan's continuing battle against Dracula and his dark forces. It starts with a Crusader in the 11th century and finishes in the near future of the 2030s with the Belmont family remaining a near constant presence as they lead the fight against darkness.
There's a pretty great timeline here. Warning, it's HUGE, and contains non-canon games (Legends, Circle of the Moon, 64, Legacy of Darkness).
The world of Castlevania is of a type you've probably seen many times before. A world where all things spooky and nightmarish, the monsters and demons from myth and legend, are 100% real. Vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies, sea creatures, etc. They all exist and they all want to kill you. In the land of Wallachia (Warakiya in earlier games) they are legion. Especially when the dark lord, Dracula, returns.
Initially, Castlevania was really only about legendary vampire hunter Simon Belmont storming Count Dracula's castle of monsters. It was decidedly inspired by the monster mash tradition of rounding up classic monsters from cinema, but also included more Halloween-ish elements and a touch of mythological and demonic horror. Almost immediately it went in a more gothic horror direction while keeping the monster roundup aspect, continually sporting an unrivaled bestiary. See for yourself.
It was in 1989, after releasing three versions of the same story starring Simon Belmont (Castlevania, Vampire Killer, and Haunted Castle), and one sequel (Castlevania II: Simon's Quest) that Konami did something pretty unheard of at the time. They released their first Castlevania game for the Game Boy, Castlevania the Adventure, starring a completely different member of the Belmont clan.
Christopher Belmont, the hero mentioned in the original Castlevania manual as having stopped Dracula 100 years before Simon, was a new hero in a familiar world. With this move Konami set up a series that did not follow a single hero or single era, but many. It would go on to include 35 games, 37 if you include graphically updated re-releases, 44 if you also include gambling machines.
Throughout the series we'd end up playing as eight distinct members of the Belmont family and a litany of other powerful characters who inhabit the world.
Not only is Castlevania one of the longest running video game series of all time, it has been released on possibly more consoles than any other.
It's been hosted on...
- Game Boy
- Sega Genesis
- Tiger Handheld
- Cell phones
Characters and locales from the series have also cameoed in many other games such as Konami Wai Wai World, DDR, Geomon, Eternal Knights, New International Track and Field, Evolution Skateboarding, Bomberman, and many more.
It has also been adapted into several other forms of media, including manga, a graphic novel, light novels, a radio drama, and several action figures.
Simon Belmont even found himself in a Saturday morning cartoon.
And now an animated series. Speaking of which...
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
It was in 1990 that Konami released Castlevania III. This was when the games really came into their own as a franchise, setting a standard for world building, narrative themes, and gameplay mechanics that would be built upon throughout the sequels. It's also the game that would eventually be adapted into an animated series for Netflix.
This was no surprise to longtime fans given that it is a pivotal point in the continuity with heavy backstory, interesting characters and high potential for both drama and spectacle, both in the original NES game and the retro-active additions to the story in later games. It also introduced the narrative themes of legacy, betrayal, and corruption that would become central to the canon.
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse tells the story of the Belmont clan's first major confrontation with Dracula and the first time that he is slain. It stars Trevor Belmont and features three additional playable characters.
Now I will break down the basics of what you might want to know while trying to keep all spoilers tagged.
Castlevania Netflix Series: Everything Confirmed So Far
Now you might have just blurted out “Dracula! I love that guy!” But hold on a minute because this version of Dracula is a little different than you're used to. While he hits the notes of your standard Hollywood Dracula, he is decidedly not the Romanian King Vlad Tepes Dracula.
It is established early on that this version of Dracula was a dark sorcerer centuries before Vlad the Impaler was born. We eventually learn that his name was Mathias Cronqvist and, without spoilers, we'll just say he had an unorthodox method of becoming a vampire, which allowed him to become much more powerful than usual.
He stole the soul of a powerful vampire named Walter Bernhard.
By the mid 1470's, the period of Cv3 and by proxy this series, he commanded an army of every monster you can imagine, and planned to do with it exactly what you would expect. I won't give away the specifics of what drives him to this decision as it's likely a semi-major plot point in the upcoming series.
Villagers executed his human wife for witchcraft.
Castlevania is his monstrous fortress, where his army bides its time.
In 1096 Baron Leon Belmont, a celebrated knight from the 1st Crusades, is betrayed by his closest friend, leading to the death of his fiancé and the creation of Dracula. These same events are also what lead to the creation of the “Vampire Killer” whip and to Leon dedicating his life and the lives of his descendants to the hunt against evil, specifically Mathias, A.K.A. Dracula.
It's almost 400 years until we see them again, 1476. The Belmont's are living in exile from civilized Wallachia due to people's fear of their power. It is not until all other options against Dracula fail that the church finally reaches out to them (or him really). Trevor Belmont (Ralph in Japan), star of Cv3 and the Netflix series, is the last true Belmont heir, the only one able to wield the “Vampire Killer” whip created by his ancestor.
The Vampire Killer, the primary weapon throughout the series, is a magical whip that can only be wielded by pure blooded Belmonts. It can be passed on to families descended from the Belmonts, though only through difficult trials, with horrible consequences. It was created by Leon Belmont and the alchemist Rinaldo Gandalfi in 1096. It is the end all, be all of monster hunting weapons, able to destroy virtually any supernatural being. This whip, together with generations of training, make the Belmonts a force to be reckoned with.
The next major player you'll need to know, the one you're most likely to know already, is Adrian Fahrenheit Tepes, A.K.A. Alucard, the half human son of Dracula who would go on to star in arguably the most beloved game in the series, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. but before he was the white haired, pale skinned, Bishonen heart throb we know and love, he was a slick 1930s Dracula archetype with a little '50s greaser thrown in to differentiate him from his dad.
Alucard was born sometime around 1450, growing up in Dracula's castle along with his human mother Lisa during one of Dracula's more peaceful spells. But when Dracula moves his focus to eradicating the human race for reasons Alucard could very well be expected to understand, he betrays his father and joins the crew of hunters sent to kill him. Alucard uses a variety of melee weapons as well as several magical abilities and spells. Interestingly, in the Lords of Shadow series reboot Alucard is the name Trevor Belmont takes after he is killed and turned into a vampire by his father, Dracula.
Another very important character in the game/Netflix series as well as for the games' continuity as a whole is Sypha Belnades. Sypha was definitely at least partially inspired by fellow badass NES heroin Samus Aran in that you were meant to think she was male until, at the end of the game, she reveals her long blonde hair in a post-final boss scene. She was an elemental witch who the church took in after she'd been orphaned and found wandering near a monastery.
In Castlevania Judgment, a game whose status as canon is debatable, it is stated that Dracula's follower Carmilla caused the church to initiate vicious witch hunts and it is insinuated that Sypha works with the church as a means of convincing them to leave her kind alone. She is sent by the church as part of a hunting party to take out Dracula. Sypha can attack with fire, ball lightning, and ice crystals.
Other Possible Appearances
Now this is the part of the article where things get a little fuzzy. Up to this point I’ve basically dealt with everything from the games that has been confirmed will appear in the series. However, given how faithful/respectful the series producers seem to be to the games, and the long, drawn out history of this project (I've literally been following its progress for over a decade), there are some other characters we can probably expect to see. Some more likely than others.
Starting with Grant DaNasty. Grant is often confused for a pirate, because his character design and sprite look exactly like one, but he's not. He’s actually a leader in the Wallachian militia, a freedom fighter who fought against Dracula's army after they killed his family. In the game he himself was transformed into a monster until he was defeated/restored by Trevor. The name DaNasty is actually a translation error, the name Danesti historically comes from a clan that was a rival to the Draculesti family.
Now, while Grant has not been mentioned in reference to the Netflix series, when it was in production as an animated trilogy, writer Warren Ellis devoted two blog posts to him. One basically laughing at his name and the absurdity of a pirate in the story, but the second calming fan outcry by assuring us that he would appear in the 2nd film in the trilogy. For this reason I believe it is safe to assume that he will show up in some form in the 2nd season of this series.
Another character who hasn't been mentioned by anyone involved with this series but who almost certainly will appear is Death. Usually appearing as your standard Grim Reaper, he has served as Dracula's greatest confidant/servant throughout the series, appearing in 26 of the games including the first game released and the first game to take place in the chronology.
The Less Likely Candidates
Now things get even more hypothetical as there are characters that could in theory appear who were not in the original NES game.
The Devil Forgemasters
Isaac and Hector, while not appearing in Cv3, were retroactively inserted into its story in Castlevania: Curse of Darkness which took place just three years later. They were Dracula's students, demon summoners who helped him delve deeper into the dark arts. They also served as generals in his army. Hector ended up abandoning Dracula when things got out of control, like Alucard, while Isaac remained a loyal follower until his eventual death. They would both serve as great supporting characters for Dracula and possibly for Alucard as well.
A vampire who has appeared multiple times throughout the series as one of Dracula's top confidants and followers. Going so far as to resurrect him by herself on at least one occasion. In the previously mentioned Castlevania Judgment it is stated that she was by his side during the events of Cv3, and just like Hector and Isaac she would make a great supporting character for Dracula and Alucard.
The final and least likely non-Cv3 character to make an appearance is not even exactly a character per se. Chaos is the name given to the semi-sentient entity that gives Dracula most of his power. It is established in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow that at some point prior to Cv3 Dracula makes contact with this supremely powerful being and is elevated from powerful vampire to the Lord of Darkness. This plot line is rich with dramatic possibility so it could serve as a wonderful tool in Dracula's development and downfall. But it's a very complicated and confusing period so I won't be surprised if it is saved for future seasons or left out altogether.
Well there you have it, everything a non-hardcore Castlevania fan might want to know before diving head first into a new Netflix show. But before I leave you I’d also like to write just a few quick words about a couple of the people involved in this series who were not previously related to the Castlevania games.
First, Adi Shankar, who is the only reason we're finally going to get to see this series. As I mentioned previously, this project started out as an animated film, then an animated trilogy, then went through ten years of development hell before this guy swooped it up and served it to us on a silver stake... I mean platter. He is best known for his work on the awesome cult films Dredd and The Grey, as well as the spectacular fan made shorts Punisher: Dirty Laundry and Power/Rangers. He has demonstrated without a doubt that he understands what a fandom loves about its franchise of choice, and how to faithfully deliver it in a new medium.
And Warren Ellis, the series writer who has been connected with it since the beginning. He wrote the initial animated movie script that would eventually become the series and to say we couldn't have asked for a better writer is putting it lightly. He is the genius behind Transmopolitan and Planetary and has made great contributions to Ultimate Fantastic Four, Iron Man and the best run of Thunderbolts since its inception. He's also worked on Justice League, Hellblazer, and Moon Knight among many others.
So watch this show! Binge it, again and again! So that we Castlevania fans can enjoy an endless flow of seasons covering the entirety of the near 1000 year story, and maybe, just maybe we'll finally get that 1999 story we've been waiting for since 2003.
And be sure to check out my other posts! I love discussing nerd culture.