“Castlevania” Season 1

Dear readers, you may have heard, long, long ago, the tale of the fearless basement monster hunters. You may have heard the whispers of bullwhips and laser guns blasting in the Stygian gloom, or of hours spent clutching a tiny glowing box for the good of all humanity. Most importantly, you may have heard of a new generation of hunters, and how they helped your Furious Academic make the bad life decisions that led to his meteoric rise in the mythical land of Angry People Writing About Dumb Things.

Put another way, you have surely deduced by now that I am an irredeemable dork who has been obsessed with Castlevania for more than a quarter of a century.

Over the years there have been many iterations of Castlevania, beginning with the NES and moving all the way up through the previous generation of game consoles. To my knowledge there’s only been one film adaptation, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there are anime one-offs floating around. MercurySteam’s short-lived gritty Western reboot of the franchise tried to take it in a new direction, and all things considered did admirably well; but since the last of those games was released in 2014, the franchise has been essentially silent.

Three years and more without a peep. Which is why it was so crazy when Netflix announced its new animated Castlevania series. What’s even crazier is that they have returned to the series’ 8- and 16-bit roots, and they seem to have gotten the lore right. They even refer (constantly) to the setting as Wallachia, not Transylvania.

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They got Dracula right, too, down to the weird anime elf ears.

Castlevania’s first season tells the story of the original NES’ Castlevania III. (Which isn’t hard to do, given how the stories of the earliest games were all but nonexistent.) The hero is Trevor Belmont, who in this imagining is the last scion of the disgraced Belmont clan. This is Central Europe of the 15th century, dominated by religious zealotry and a crippling fear of supernatural powers and heresy. None of this ever made it into the earlier Castlevania games, but it makes a lot of sense to use this as the backdrop for a story in which the content of supposed “superstitions” turns out to be real. The season is only four episodes, and we don’t learn much of the Belmonts’ history or the nature of their powers as vampire hunters. There’s also a mad rush, in the first episode, to explain the reason for the season–i.e., Dracula–and his hatred for humans. This bit is, in my opinion, the least impressive of the first season. Happily, it’s also the least important. While Lisa, wife of Dracula, mother of Alucard, and tragic victim of churchish stupidity, is an interesting figure in Castlevania lore, she’s also far from central. We want whips and swords and demons, and the producers clearly know this, so they don’t keep us waiting too long.

Lisa is a precocious human who marches into Dracula’s castle–she doesn’t believe the stories about him–and demands that he teach her the secrets of science. Amused by her confidence, Dracula agrees, and they eventually marry. Obviously this golden era can’t last, though, and the Church intervenes, branding Lisa a witch and burning her at the stake. This is what prompts Dracula’s rage, and he unleashes an army of demons to plague Wallachia and eradicate the humans he views as ignorant vermin.

This is a handy way of explaining Dracula’s reappearance and the suddenness of his attacks, and it smoothly integrates the sparse stories of the original games into something broadly believable. The themes of ignorance and superstition are interesting here, again, in that the supernatural is real and dangerous. The Church emerges as the true villain, not for the content of its beliefs but its insistence on controlling the people. This conceit was never really explored in the original games, but I think it fits perfectly.

The character design is excellent, clearly modeled on Japanese animation, and the writing by Warren Ellis (!) is, with few exceptions, compelling–and often very funny. While there’s some goofy slapstick that I could have done without, Castlevania is extremely fun. Trevor is a drunken misanthrope who’s given up on the people his family have tried for centuries to help. (In this universe, the Church has branded the vampire-hunting Belmonts as black magic users and heretics, which makes a perverse kind of Dark Ages sense.) The first arc is largely about him coming back into his role as hero. Try not to cheer when he gives his “I am Trevor Belmont, of the House of Belmont, and dying has never frightened me” speech.

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*weep*

This first part of the story introduces fan favorites Alucard, the dhampir, and Sypha Belnades, the sorcerer (and Trevor’s eventual love interest). The only key character not included so far is Grant Danasty, the wall-crawling thief from Castlevania III, but there’s time yet for him to show up. The eventual meeting between Trevor and Alucard is suitably epic and my favorite scene so far. Also–and let’s be serious here– freaking ALUCARD.

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ALUCAAAAAAARD

Some minor issues with pacing and crude humor notwithstanding, I obviously really enjoyed this, and I’m very happy to learn that Netflix has already renewed the series. It’s especially enjoyable to longtime series fans, but even Castlevania newcomers will find something to like here. (Do be warned, though, if violence isn’t your thing: it’s quite gory.)

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I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long again. Life, etc. I’m hopeful that I’ll be more active on here in the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, if you’re still here, drop me some love in the comments and let me know how’s things.

Dragon Quest Heroes 2

Oh god, why do I do these things to myself.

It’s no secret that the shitty, shitty Warriors games are a guilty pleasure of mine. If you’ve never played any of Tecmo-Koei’s crappy one-versus-army beat-em-ups, suffice to say that they’ve basically released the same game approximately 25 times over the past 17 years or so. You control a lone military hero–in their flagship series, Dynasty Warriors, you choose from among ancient China’s Three Kingdoms; in the spinoff Samurai Warriors, you get to pick from feudal Japan’s Warring States–and you go up against literal armies, mashing buttons to the tune of square, square, square, triangle over and over again until thine enemies art smited. (Smitten?) They even changed things up in the Warriors Orochi series, which combines both Dynasty and Samurai into a single, equally stupid and equally satisfying mashfest. (Zhou Tai and Ginchiyo Tachibana ftw.)

(Incidentally, Tecmo-Koei also owns my favorite game series.)

They’ve pasted skins from major franchises onto the Warriors skeleton before, as they did with The Legend of Zelda in Hyrule Warriors (which I didn’t play). In Dragon Quest Heroes 2, they’ve done the same with the second-fiddle RPG series to Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy franchise. (Ancient history now, but it still seems ironic to me that the two greats of the JRPG subgenre, Enix’s Dragon Quest and Square’s Final Fantasy, are now owned by a single company, Square-Enix. It’s like if Russia and the US became a single hybrid entity. On which topic, stay tuned!) I never played the first DQ Heroes, as I didn’t have the appropriate console until just recently. But I’m enjoying DQH2 very much. Which is to say, it’s a stupid, stupid, mindless, repetitive button-masher wherein one is privileged to decimate hordes of enemies in a generic cutesy-poo fantasy anime setting and I fucking love it holy shit.

The plot is stupid and who cares. You get to control a party of four as they run around a generic fantasy world full of Akira Toriyama-designed monsters, slay said monsters, and then do it again forever because slaying monsters is the only thing that matters. Characters have unique weapons and attack patterns, though they really do–in true Warriors fashion–come down to square, square, square, triangle. Again, and again, and again…

I still think it’s fucking adorable that these games have a block button. A BLOCK BUTTON. HAHAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Here’s my girl Maya, who despite the impractical metal bikini is unarguably like the best at taking out big crowds of stupid monsters:

Pay no attention to the fact that her head is approximately the same length as her torso. It’s Akira Toriyama, dawg.

So yeah, okay. It’s a Japanese game, and there’s a fair amount of fanservice going on, which in this context is more than a little ridiculous and even worrying. But I don’t care because square square square triangle DEATH.

(For whatever it’s worth, Maya also turns into a dragon. As if that makes it better.)

AKIRAAAAAAAAA TORIYAMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

I’m not saying you should buy this game. It’s kind of crap. But I’m also not not saying it.