We last left Trevor Belmont and his companions in the search for the means to find Dracula’s castle and slay the master of the keep. I left Castlevania with a positive impression though uncertain of whether it could hold up beyond what was, essentially, the opening to a series. Much to my surprise, yet again, Castlevania is superior to what I had anticipated by way of an interesting narrative focus.
Season 2 opens in the past with the arrest of Lisa (Dracula’s wife) by the Church for the “witchcraft” of medicine. While this is a retread, it gives us more detail and makes for a chilling first scene when you know what happens to everyone for ignoring her warning.
After this, we jump to Dracula’s war room, where his strongest vampires from across the kingdom have gathered to plot humanity’s annihilation. However – and this is where the brilliance started – he selects two humans as his generals to lead the scourge, much to the disgust of some vampires, especially one of the Vikings. Beyond their deep-seated loathing for humanity and their tactical ability, these two have the only clear heads in the army not driven by bloodthirst.
Now, at this point, it’s just a good idea (and I’ve harped on often enough about the importance of execution over ideas in past reviews). The brilliance comes in the backstory of these characters, contrasted against the vampires, and their actions going forward. They are simultaneously committing some of the most heinous atrocities against humanity while conveying sympathy. One of the two, Isaac, is Dracula’s Forgemaster. He doesn’t forge weapons, however. His speciality is bringing the dead to life, often forged into demons of great power, though he has equal inclination to revive a fallen puppy as a companion. Makes for an interesting ability.
The appointment of these two as generals leads to much unease among the vampires, many playing politics to gain power or favour with Dracula. There are whispers among the ranks about Dracula’s soundness of mind after the loss of his wife. How will vampires feed if he wipes out all humans? Carmilla the vampire queen of many legends is particularly sly and sharp of tongue. I relish the political drama she brings to the court. I did not expect politics, of all things, to be such a significant portion of the narrative and so well executed.
I haven’t talked much of Trevor and his two companions so far because they aren’t the focus this season. They have enough to do for the eight episodes as they return to Trevor’s home for blessed weapons and a means to access the castle, but the focus is truly in Dracula’s camp. It’s a bold risk to shift from the protagonist. It works. Sure, we could have more of the trio in addition to all screen time with the opposition, but that would go into overtime.
Castlevania Season 2 isn’t all blood, politics, and goodness, unfortunately. The end feels too quick. For seven episodes, we have methodical build up packed with social and political dynamics, feeding us juicy backstory and character motivations until we reach the final episode where, suddenly, so much of it wraps up with too many questions and possibilities remaining unexplored. It needs more. It gives the impression that they didn’t know episode 8 would be the last until they started work on it, realising they needed to close several threads.
I want more – more vampire society, more politics, and more lore (and bring the Church back! Tap that potential). I am grateful to know a third season is on the way. Even so, they could have gone deeper with Dracula’s arc in particular.
Still, I am far from disappointed with CastlevaniaSeason 2. The action is as gory as before (you see someone decapitated by hanging from a bladed noose), the orchestral soundtrack is a perfect match to the atmosphere, and the acting is still quality, now with more accents from the corners of Dracula’s kingdom.
I love that this outdid the first season.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Watch it. Castlevania Season 2 improves upon the first season in almost every way and now goes far enough into the story to warrant investment. If season 3 is any better, I’ll have to consider a Very High rating.
Princess Elizabeth collapses into a pub during her quest to find the Seven Deadly Sins, legendary warriors said to have betrayed the king. The perverted child that owns the pub saves her and turns out to be the Sin of Wrath, Meliodas. He soon agrees to aid her plight and, accompanied by his talking pig, they search for the other Sins.
The Seven Deadly Sins came recommended, so I watched it in anticipation of seeing something worthwhile. I waited, and I waited… And I waited. Something worthwhile never came. I like the talking pig – he’s good for a few laughs – and the pacing never drags. That’s about it.
The first warning sign beyond the blobby character designs (though never judge an anime by its cover, and all that wisdom) is the protagonist. Meliodas looks like a kid despite being thousands of years old. (If you’re wondering why from a marketing perspective, it’s to match the age of the target demographic.) His defining trait is groping women. This anime isn’t subtle about his “rapiness” and I’m sure they would have him do far worse if it didn’t affect the age rating. It isn’t funny like what you find in Golden Boy and Great Teacher Onizuka. The gag is that he gropes women – usually the princess. And that’s the whole gag. These jokes only work when there is some form of repercussion or counterplay. It is so encouraged that a point of conflict between him and another character is about how he doesn’t grab her arse as he does to other women.
This “humour” alongside the alcohol jokes had me questioning the target market at first. I had gone into The Seven Deadly Sins without research, so perhaps my age group assumption was off. However, everything else is in line with a typical battle anime for a middle school audience. The baby-faced art and dumbed down story don’t mesh with the sexual and alcoholic humour. It’s not that it’s inappropriate for kids – this is for the individual to decide – but rather, I don’t think they’ll get it. And it’s not the same as adult jokes hidden in Pixar and DreamWorks movies, which slip by children for adults to find hilarious. Thankfully, the series seems to grow tired of this joke and barely uses it after a while.
I don’t know what to make of the other characters. Most don’t do much. Elizabeth is a nuisance who cries at everything, including in the middle of a deadly battle because Meliodas is nice to her. It’s as lame as it sounds. Ban, the immortal Sin of Greed, has the most screen time after Meliodas and the only real character arc. I liked his backstory with the Fountain of Youth and his theme, naturally, of greed. I thought this to be a turning point in the series, but alas, it goes back to Meliodas the Boring. The other Sins are filler characters preceded by much hype and no payoff. I assume they will have their time to shine in later arcs, in which case they should have come into the story later on.
One thing Hunter x Hunter does well is not keeping side characters around when they aren’t story relevant. Naruto is similar with the team system, where it can logically bring along only story relevant characters for the current mission. In The Seven Deadly Sins, once a character joins the group, you know they will hang around doing nothing most of the time.
A final point I want to make on the characters relates to the seven deadly sins theme. This was most famous in Fullmetal Alchemist with the villains, where you get why they have the model the seven sins. Each of those villains is a perfect match to their sin while not being one-note either. They are fantastic characters. The seven deadly sins in this anime don’t seem to have any point of relevance to the theme. Why are they titled after the sins? They each committed some sin as part of their backstories, yet it doesn’t relate much to the sin with the slight exception of greed. Meliodas, for example, failed to protect someone. What does that have to do with wrath? Most of these characters have similar sins, so they could equally fit the Wrath title. Furthermore, unlike FMA, these personalities have nothing to do with the sin, weakening the theme even more. I’m willing to bet a considerable amount of anime bucks that the author read FMA, thought the villains cool, and decided to use the theme in his manga, but made them the good guys to differentiate himself without understanding what made the others so great.
These aren’t terrible characters – apart from Meliodas, perhaps – and have enough dimension to avoid being flat. They simply don’t have anything to elevate them, which is where the theme could have played a significant part.
I haven’t even talked of the action yet. The action is as stereotypically battle anime as you can get. It has impossibly fast moves (no need to animate), delayed damage, invincibility to attacks when standing still, crying ability names, and a secret move for each fighter. The Seven Deadly Sins greatest action crime is the “just kidding” fake-out. Once every fight, a character will take massive damage or an instant kill attack, pretend to take the hit or be out of the fight, but then, “Just kidding!” they’re actually fine. (If they would all die, then we could get out of here.)
It also has the laziest battle progression. With the use of lightning fast attacks almost exclusively, we don’t see how someone survives an attack – they stand there and take it – and the defender has to tell the attacker how his ability worked for the audience’s sake. Every. Single. Fight. If that’s not lazy, I don’t know what is.
When someone breaths fire and the opponent creates a shield to block said fire, we don’t need an explanation. In The Seven Deadly Sins however, someone breaths fire, the opponent takes the fire to no consequence, and then has to tell us how invisible fire-eating thetans cover his skin or some nonsense like that. This is what I imagine a boxing anime would look like if the creator knew nothing about boxing. Did he get through the opponent’s guard by feinting left to land a right hook? “What does feinting mean? His punches just go through because of abracadabra. But don’t worry, the opponent takes no damage because of mumbo jumbo.”
No effort went into figuring out how the abilities work and how characters would attack/defend with them in battle. I’m sure you, dear readers, could all point out instances of impossibly fast or fake out actions in other battle anime and wonder why I criticise them so much here and not there. These action techniques are valued in rarity. When Rock Lee drops the weights and goes lightning fast (note how we can still see the action and slow motion adds impact), it matters because it’s a change from the norm. Sticking with Naruto, you see Gaara survive all manner of attacks without a scratch and you’re thinking, “How the hell does he survive?” He’s the exception, which makes him more interesting. When the series does reveal the secret behind his sand armour, it only has to explain once before we can see it in action, in detail, from that point forward. Deadly Sins’ problem is that these techniques constitute 90% of the action. Add on to this the “everyone has a trump card” ability mechanic, and it becomes boring real fast.
If you are new to battle anime, The Seven Deadly Sins will likely seem decent. It has competent production values – it’s no Beet the Vandal Buster – and fights don’t have padding to last several episodes. The tournament takes a few episodes, not an entire season, which is refreshing. However, in all other respects, I would recommend the established series like Naruto, My Hero Academia, or Hunter x Hunter. The battle genre is one of anime’s most competitive and it certainly isn’t lacking in content to keep you busy for the next century, so to turn to The Seven Deadly Sins, you must be desperate.
Art – Medium
I detest the character designs of The Seven Deadly Sins, especially the baby faces. Though it looks made for kids, the art doesn’t match the content other than in its immaturity. The animation is better than the style.
Sound – Medium
The dub cast uses their Sword Art Online character voices, which I couldn’t un-hear, so you may want to go with the Japanese. Could do with more memorable music – battle anime usually have memorable soundtracks.
Story – Low
When the Holy Knights of Britannia overthrow the king, a princess goes in search of the legendary warriors known as the “Seven Deadly Sins” to reclaim her kingdom and defeat the tyrants. The Seven Deadly Sins is as generic as imaginable in its action, often at the expense of character and story that showed potential. The pacing is good.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: For action anime fans only. The Seven Deadly Sins feels worse than the sum of its parts, owing to a lack of anything to differentiate itself from the competition. You could watch so many other battle anime first.
Tales from Earthsea is often the lowest rated feature film by Studio Ghibli on anime database sites, sometimes by a significant margin. This discrepancy for such a venerable studio has always made Tales from Earthsea stand out to me. It looked like a Ghibli movie, so what could be wrong?
The world is deteriorating. A division of desires between dragons and humans has thrown nature off balance. Archmage Sparrowhawk goes on a journey to find the cause, meeting Arren, young prince of the kingdom, who has just killed his father and is on the run. The prince harbours a darkness within that grants him both strength and cruelty. The sorcerer Cob sees Arren’s weakness as an opportunity to tip the balance further and open the gate to immortality.
Confusion. I characterise Tales from Earthsea best with the word ‘confusion’. The above plot outline isn’t clear until the movie is almost over. The storytelling is so vague. It doesn’t lay out any clear information at the start. You don’t know what any character wants, where anything is going, or why anything is this way. In any story, you must give the audience something to care about from the beginning, whether it is a character motivation, a goal, or an ideal. You wander aimlessly through Tales from Earthsea. I paused several times to watch a YouTube video out of boredom. I care nothing about this film.
Sparrowhawk is a one-note noble wizard, Arren doesn’t have anything going for him outside of these visually intriguing nightmares, and Cob is just Evil Guy 63728. His subordinate slaver is more interesting. We don’t receive reason to care for their actions or their fates. Lacking are the ‘human’ moments that make us love Ghibli’s other characters. How charmed are we by Howl’s first interaction with Sophie? How lovable is Chihiro within minutes? Who could say no to the fluffy Totoro after a single yawn? How strongly did we feel for Seita’s predicament before we even knew his name?
The world of Earthsea almost made me care. When the main characters reach the town of Hort, it’s a magnificent sight, hinting at a deeper world. A back alley shows us citizens crippled by an opium-like substance. A slaver insinuates he will sell a girl into sex slavery. Drugs, slavery, and other dark elements speak of a depth created by the novel’s author, yet not translated by the film studio. These dark elements don’t matter in the movie.
I can see why praise is scarce for Tales from Earthsea with so little to recommend itself. With the basics of storytelling and characters missing from here, there’s no point commenting on the higher layers, such as the scene-to-scene. It’s a waste of time when every problem could be summed up with, “You need to go back to the story/character and fix it first.”
Tales from Earthsea was the first feature film directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro, and he hadn’t grasped the Ghibli magic that made the studio’s films stand out.
Art – Very High
Even with a bad story, Studio Ghibli delivers quality art. The shot of the city impresses me in particular, as does the cinematography on the dragon’s back in the opening scene.
Sound – Medium
The acting is decent. The dub needs more energy, especially from the girl. In the dub, Willem Dafoe replaces a Japanese woman as the sorcerer, oddly enough.
Story – Low
A boy combats his inner demons as an evil sorcerer seeks immortality. Tales from Earthsea lack direction, foundation, development, and depth to make a compelling story.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Don’t bother. Unless you must watch Tales from Earthsea to complete the Ghibli library, there is no reason to waste your time on this film.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress starts at full steam ahead with an intense scene of an armoured train under attack by undead Corpses. One soldier detonates his own heart after a Corpse bites him in front of his comrades.
Once the train arrives in the safety of the city walls for some downtime, the problems come hard and fast. For example, the exposition. Every crewmember has to strip for inspection of bites from Corpses, as they would infect the whole city if gone unchecked. Despite seeing this before us, Ikoma and his sidekick explain this to each other as if they’ve never seen it before, which is a clumsy way of telling the audience. Why do writers keep writing themselves into bad exposition when the visuals do the job?
What follows is a tedious scene for conflict when soldiers shoot an innocent man under suspicion of infection. Its purpose is to give Ikoma a moment to grandstand and play the hero. The problem is that there was no threat and the situation would have resolved by inspection, which they were just doing! An actual threat would serve better – say, a stowaway Corpse.
I pushed this clumsiness aside in the hope that once past introductions and back to the action, Kabaneri would become good again. This hope is dashed with the introduction of Mumei, a cutesy princess-looking girl that feels out of place. She not the right sort of ray-of-sunshine-in-a-grim-world character. To worsen matters, she can kick off a Corpse’s head with her bladed shoe in one swipe. I thought that was ridiculous until episode two had her parkouring through the streets, felling Corpses like zombies out of Left 4 Dead. Why is humanity afraid when one person can take on hundreds? She also has that annoying “I guess I’m strong, whatever…” trait to make her insufferable. The revelation behind her ability is that she’s half Corpse – a Kabaneri. This transformation also occurs to Ikoma.
All the danger presented in the opening scene with Corpses stronger than humans? Gone. Tension? Evaporated.
Not even a train full of Corpses crashing through the city gate can revive the dead intensity. You would imagine that the potential conflict of mistrust from having two Kabaneri on your train of human survivors would be great, but you’d be wrong. The commander locks them up, which is a good start, yet this confinement resolves itself with little effort. Instead, the story focuses on some useless old people that want to stop the train for a funeral for the city’s fallen. Never mind that Corpses are on their trail and that they don’t have enough food to reach the next city at full steam. What is this, a population of idiots?
Everyone foams at the mouth to kill the Kabaneri, but two seconds later, when Mumei kills a Corpse amongst them, they bray for her blood because the Corpse was pregnant, despite the foetus being tainted already. Make up your minds! That’s when I understood this plot: Conflict only exists in this world because the people are all idiots.
The story has no point of redemption. Yes, they introduce stronger undead and a human villain, but no audience would care when it’s all so generic. It’s not clichéd in the right way – it’s not the cliché people pay for when buying a Harlequin Romance. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress cobbles together every mistake that comes from the predictable. You can predict the bad conflict and weak scenarios it will present.
People fight off the undead from fortress trains in a steampunk feudal Japan – sounds awesome, right? I’m not the only one who thinks so, yes? How do you make this so uninteresting? If not great, such a premise should guarantee an entertaining anime, at least, and yet, they didn’t even manage that.
Art – High
Wit Studios’ art style is immediately recognisable, as shared by Attack on Titan. Though Kabaneri doesn’t have all the flash of that anime, it is more consistent in quality, particularly when it comes to the CG. The art evokes strong atmosphere.
Sound – Medium
The music may not be to everyone’s taste, combining orchestral with electronic, which I enjoyed. The voice work is fine, but serves shallows dialogue and characters.
Story – Low
In a steampunk feudal Japan, humanity fights off Corpses from the safety of their mobile rail fortresses. After an intense start, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress derails into a story and characters with no thought beyond the clichés.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress should be great on the premise alone, but its execution is so predictable and banal that you’ll feel like you’ve seen it before.
In the same way that game-to-film (or vice versa) adaptations bring the worst out of art, game-to-anime conversions are mind-numbing experiences that contain none of the game’s magic. When Netflix announced a Castlevania series, I didn’t even bother adding it to my ‘might, perhaps, one day if there is no more anime, eventually’ list. The series releases and the strangest comment reaches my ears… It’s good. What unspeakable pact did the creators enter into?
While not an anime, Castlevania adopts plenty from the likes of Hellsing and Vampire Hunter D in its adaptation of the game franchise of the same name. More specifically, this uses Castlevania III as a launching point with some Symphony of the Night elements.
The first episode introduces us to the human Lisa as she enters Dracula’s castle and meets the vampire lord of Wallachia himself. Rather than throw her out – or worse, drain her – he is endeared by her desire to learn science and spread such enlightenment across mankind. She doesn’t run away like the others. He teaches her chemistry to help the villagers and marriage is not far behind. However, the Church grows suspicious of her newfound curative abilities and finds heathenistic devices in her house, such as instruments of glass too thin to be of human creation. They burn her at the stake.
Oh what a grave mistake.
Dracula’s wrath unleashes a demon horde across Wallachia. The land is now a place of death. At a small inn still untouched by the horde, Trevor Belmont is drunk and getting drunker. His family of demon slayers fell from grace since their excommunication by the Church, so there’s little to do but drink these days. Even a horde of game doesn’t interest him. A human plea will soon change this.
So, the story starts like a Castlevania game, and it does well by setting the stakes as high as Dracula’s castle and giving a flawed yet likeable protagonist. Then there’s Dracula, exuding majesty and awe-inspiring power. They didn’t tone him down. I was prepared for something like the Devil May Cry anime, where the characters, especially protagonist Dante, have none of the personality that makes them enjoyable. Instead, Castlevania added more than what was to be found in the games.
These four episodes serve as the setup to a grander series. They establish Dracula, Trevor and his allies, and the subplot of the Church, which added the story depth to turn this from good to great. I hope to see the Church subplot throughout the series.
The action is no wet skeleton either. It’s gory and brutal, as it should be for the franchise, and the choreography has thought behind it. Duels are especially satisfying.
With all this praise, what’s the downside? Well, it’s hard to say at this point, as I am reviewing the start of a series. I have no complaints right now, but elements could become problems. For example, Trevor’s bravado will turn annoying if overused and he trash talks instead of fighting, like a bad villain monologue. The inside of Dracula’s castle may also have little story, with all interesting plot occurring outside under the Church’s influence. Who knows? It’s too early to say. Still, it looks right, sounds right, and feels right.
I can’t wait to see what comes next for Castlevania.
Art – High
The art feels like the games turned animated, dripping with gothic atmosphere. Some animation is jittery, but good overall.
Sound – High
The accents work well in English. The Japanese is good enough if you prefer that. Music complements the dark atmosphere.
Story – High
A son in the long line of once-noble Belmonts prepares to fight the Lord of Darkness, Dracula. Castlevania is a great start to adapting such a venerable franchise.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Watch it. Unless you can’t stand gore, Castlevania’s four episodes give a good taste of whether you should look forward to more.