How Magic Can Learn From Castlevania’s Netflix Series

I’ve never been a serial streamer. Didn’t even sign up for Netflix streaming till well into 2021, long after pandemic lockdowns had come and gone. Then I heard that a certain anime called Castlevania was ending after 4 seasons and had received very positive reviews from critics.

The name rang a bell, and after some poking found out that it was long-running video game series started by Konami in the mid-80s. I was shocked – an old game with a huge following and this anime series was going to be my first exposure to the franchise. I binged-watched over a long weekend.

Even though I don’t watch anime religiously, I’ve seen the classics and critically-acclaimed shows such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Castlevania may not exactly be on the same level but I was floored with the quality – the action, pacing, character development are top-notch and it got me interested enough to start digging into the franchise’s history and universe.

Then it hit me: this is exactly what Magic: the Gathering needs for exposure.

Just look at the similarities: an obscure, decades-old game with a strong core fanbase but relatively unknown to the mass public. Both have deep ties to the fantasy genre, though Castlevania is based on Earth or a version of it, while Magic has multiple worlds without an actual Earth. There are vampires, monsters, wizards and magic spells in both, with minimal exposure to modern science.

Not much info and no release date, but a Magic animated show is coming to Netflix. It can learn a few success tips from Castlevania.
Not much info and no release date, but a Magic animated show is coming to Netflix.

With the ultimate goal of putting Magic on the world stage, there is already a Netflix series in the works though the project has gone through so much delay. Not much is know about the series, except that the Russo brothers of Avengers fame are Executive Producers, and from the teaser poster it appears the Planeswalker Chandra Naalar will be the story’s focus.

I really want to see Magic’s Netflix series succeed. And after thoroughly enjoying the Castlevania anime (some personal objections mentioned later), I strongly believe there’s a lot that Magic’s animated series can learn from its brethren and become a smash hit as well.

4 Ways Magic’s Netflix Series Can Learn from Castlevania:

It’s All About Having Character

Remember those Jerry Bruckheimer movies that took a beloved franchise to the big screen, filled with amazing visual effects and loads of lens flares? The Transformers series made a lot of money for the studios, but I don’t think it sat very well with fans of the show. Character development was sorely flat, and nobody ended up caring if one robot died or not. On the upside, the films did elevate the brand image of Transformers globally, making the “robots in disguise” ironically highly recognisable.

While I want to see Magic: the Gathering reach the same levels of hype and popularity, is it really worth sacrificing a good story? In Castlevania, the producers cleverly focused on a core group of characters, giving them maximum screen time and gradually developing their backstories and motivations. From Isaac’s tragic upbringing to the musings of life between the vampire lovers Morana and Striga, these scenes are carefully included so that their actions had meaning and audiences could relate to them.

Isaac, easily considered to be a ‘villain’ of Castlevania, undergoes a very complex and intriguing story arc.

Magic is naturally expected to be a highly visual story – flashy spells amidst wondrous worlds that Planeswalkers can travel to freely. But that could easily be a Transformers movie in the making if the characters aren’t carefully fleshed out. As you’ll read about later, Castlevania employs great storytelling but doesn’t sacrifice on the visuals. So it’s not a situation where it’s one or the other.

Luckily, there are early signs that Magic’s Netflix series is headed in the right direction. Executive Producer Isaac Krauss of Octopie studios has already gone on record saying that the series “will cross the genres of suspenseful thriller, horror, and drama with deeply developed characters the likes of which are not often seen in animation.”

I’ll hold my breath.

Be Bold When Thrust onto a Big Stage

As I was watching the series, what really shocked me was the amount of graphic violence and sex in an animated series. Sure this isn’t new territory for the Japanese audiences, and Konami is a Japanese company, but to see it streamed on a global platform like Netflix (based in the US) took me aback. I couldn’t fathom how young children who played the old Castlevania games could be presented with such gore.

Castlevania anime is highly graphic in its fight and sex scenes. Should MTG go this route?

It’s a perfect example of how Konami allowed the series creators and producers to be bold and push the edge on what the brand represents. Writer Warren Ellis is well known for tough love in his stories, and he certainly didn’t hold back here. Deep and touchy topics like religion, hypocrisy, morality and even the burdens of immortality were all carefully explored in a franchise otherwise known as just an action-adventure game.

Can or will Hasbro be willing to take such a bold step with the Magic: the Gathering series? My gut says they would want to protect their brand image as a family-friendly producer of toys, much in the same way that Disney has an image to uphold. But perhaps the Magic series could be bold in other ways – for example ensuring all part of production are well funded. A good story needs to be back by great visuals and an indelible soundtrack.

Leave Out Fluff and Time Wasters

One of the best aspects of Castlevania is that it doesn’t drag fight scenes for the sake of drama. If you’re familiar with anime, often fight scenes are filled with lots of shouting and melodrama in an attempt to lengthen the show time. Thankfully this isn’t the case in Castlevania. The action is tight and the fight scenes are realistic in the sense that the characters don’t actually talk much. Who rambles while swinging a sword anyway?

Castlevania also made sure to keep the story focused tightly on a core group of about 10 characters over the 4 seasons. I’m a firm believer that everyone has a story to tell, but in the interest of creating a superior show based decades of lore and back story, you really need to focus and choose the best characters to put forth. There would’ve been temptation to give more screen time to some of the other vampires of Dracula’s court, or the long family line of the Belmonts, but thankfully they kept them as enigmas that can be explored down the road in a future series.

You Can’t Rush Creating a Legacy

Both Magic and Castlevania are saddled with long storylines and potentially hundreds of characters to explore. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a legacy as rich as Magic’s shouldn’t be too.

Castlevania did the wise choice of building a great first story arc in Season 1, with a roadmap for future seasons should the projects be green lit. That’s pretty much what studios plan for with all the franchises they make, and I don’t expect Magic to be any different. The key here is to ensure the series starts off strong so that it can last the marathon. Since there is no release date in sight for Magic’s Netflix series, I’m hoping it’s because they’re really trying to perfect it.

So if Magic’s first season will be focused on Chandra, I hope they don’t rush ahead to introduce too many of the other Planeswalkers or dive too deep into the thousands of years before Chandra’s time. In Castlevania, we quickly learn about Vlad and Lisa’s quick romance but we don’t (or need to) find out much about Vlad’s life before getting married.

End Step

Fans of Magic have been looking forward to their small or big screen debut for a long time, and when it eventually does, I hope it’s a show stopper. The Castlevania anime series has done wonders for its franchise so why not copy an already successful formula?

What other franchises should Magic emulate? We’ve also predicted potential Universes Beyond crossovers that might come in the next 5 years and further broaden the Magic brand. Email us at lets@tapandsac.com.

Ted

After playing from Tempest to Urza's Saga block, Ted took a 20 year break from the game before returning to the classic Plane of Dominaria in 2018. His favourite formats are Commander, Draft, and, grudgingly, Standard.

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