When Adi Shankar says he made Castlevania “for the fans,” it’s initially a little worrisome. That, after all, is the line that frustrated studio filmmakers bust out when their summer blockbuster gets lambasted by critics because it’s a bad movie. But Castlevania, Netflix’s new anime is largely a hit with fans and critics alike — no small feat, since it’s based on a video game series. And Shankar explains that his version of “for the fans” is very different than some other filmmakers’ version of the phrase.
“It’s like, no, [they] didn’t make it for the fans. The fans are the ones who say they didn’t like the movie,” the executive producer tells Inverse over the phone, having recently recuperated from a red eye flight. “This was made for people who like games. This show was a love letter to this game.”
And Shankar was sincere when he wrote that love letter. “I kind of hyped the show a lot back in February. I made a lot of promises, and I think the general consensus is ‘Oh wow, he wasn’t just blowing smoke up everyone’s asses. It was legit.’” he says. “It’s because, the bottom line is, I wasn’t going to fuck up my own childhood.”
Shankar made a name for himself with dark and gritty fan films, while achieving sanctioned mainstream success with movies like The Grey and fan-favorite Dredd. For Shankar, there’s no need to compartmentalize being a fan and being a creator. And so he’s aware that one of the complaints that even fans levy against the short, four-episode first season of Castlevania is that it ends somewhat abruptly; it gathers the core characters together and functions more as a prologue than a complete narrative. The main character, Trevor Belmont, doesn’t even come close to meeting Dracula in the episodes that have been released.
Shankar says, essentially, trust him.
“To me, it’s a multi-year plan,” he continues. “It’s like you’re building a much larger narrative.” Step one of that plan is introducing our cast of characters — including Count Dracula, the surprisingly sympathetic villain who is unleashing hell and death across the land of Wallachia. The entire first episode is about Dracula, as it introduces us to his human wife and the religious leaders who burned her at the stake, invoking the vampire’s wrath. Shankar says it was important to start with Dracula because “Your story is only as good as your villain.”
“We live in a world that isn’t black and white,” he continues. “The show exists in a world that isn’t black and white. So, to have started with Dracula as this ‘monster’ would have been a disservice to not only his character, but to this entire mythology.”
Those shades of gray extend to the protagonists as well, especially the vampire hunter Trevor Belmont. “You look at everything I’ve ever done, and the only common thread is that, yeah, they’re all violent, tend to be R-rated and mature, stuff like that, but they’re all about antiheroes,” Shankar says. “I can tell you from firsthand experience: writing antiheroes is difficult. You don’t want to make, like, the emo kid who is just kind of a downer for no reason.”
Trevor is much more than the gruff, hyper-masculine beefcake who whipped Dracula in the original game art. (Shankar says the show’s Trevor wears a shirt instead of a Conan-like outfit because “You’ve got Alucard without a shirt, and it’s like, where do we draw the line? Does every dude just have a six-pack and no shirt? Is this now a Channing Tatum movie?”) No, the Trevor of the show is weary, a little rusty, and not necessarily eager to answer the hero’s call to action. He’s also surprisingly funny, with a dry wit that helps keep things light amidst the gore. Shankar credits writer Warren Ellis’s trademark gallows humor and Richard Armitage’s decidedly not-mopey voice acting with helping make the difficult character likable.
Now that we’ve met Trevor, and he’s met up with his teammates (the young witch Sypha Belnades and Dracula’s good guy son, Alucard) they’re ready to get into some scrapes in Season 2. Originally, the sophomore season was meant to be a four-episode run just like the first, but Netflix doubled the order to eight episodes. Shankar won’t say if he’s planning on using the extra time to make next season cover the second and third acts of the story, or just give part two some breathing room for extra nuance. He does, however, note that he and his team aren’t fans of “adding time for the sake of adding time.”
So no word yet on whether the new seaon will include Grant Dynasty, a wall-crawling pirate who was the only player character who didn’t make it into Season 1. He’s also not going to say for sure what familiar Castlevania bosses may or may not show up in future seasons, but he will admit that the classic sub-boss, Death, “opens up a lot of interesting wormholes.” He also really likes the idea of a doppelganger, a common trope in video games, but knows it’s rarely pulled off in movies and TV. Maybe Trevor will fight an evil version of himself. Maybe he’ll meet Dracula in the flesh for the first time.
“The groundwork has been set. Everyone has their mission now,” Shankar says, comparing Season 2 to Halo 2, which was the first Halo video game just… “bigger.”
“Season 2 is awesome. It’s just frickin’ awesome,” he teases.
After that? Who knows. Shankar says that as long as his fellow fans support the show he’s making, he’d love to tackle other Castlevania games.
“I want to do all of it. I want to keep telling stories because ultimately Castlevania is a universe, it’s a story about this family. It’s about generations of this dope family,” he says, referring to the Belmont clan. “Each generation has their own problems has their own little nuances, and they’re dealing with the realities of the time period that they’re living in.”
That’s all in the future, though. For now, Shankar’s feeling good after somehow making a good video game adaptation. Up next, he needs to focus on Season 2 and the just-announced Assasins Creed series. Are there any lessons that he learned making Castlevania that he’s going to bring to the next video game anime?
“Absolutely,” Shankar says. “Don’t fuck up your own childhood.”
Season 1 of Castlevania is currently streaming on Netflix.