Earlier this month, Netflix released Castlevania, an anime based on the game of the same name. Castlevania has received a fairly positive reception, receiving a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 71 on Metacritic, and a stellar review written by Mithrandiel which can be found here. While Castlevania seems to be enjoyed by a wide array of audiences, most reviews I have seen identify one fault with Season 1: it’s too short. While I would always prefer to have more of a good thing, I would argue that Season 1 of Castlevania is a perfect length and that Netflix would strongly benefit from more shows like it.
Season 1 of Castlevania serves as both a pilot season and an introduction and does both without feeling rushed or forced. Generally, television shows produce pilot episodes as a proof of concept before releasing the actual show. When the show is finally aired, the pilot episode always feels like one of the weakest. This is because a pilot episode needs to do a few things in a very short period of time. First, a pilot episode needs to introduce you to the main characters and establish their relationships. Second, the pilot episode needs to establish a plot similar to what is going to be shown in the rest of the show. And third, the pilot episode needs to introduce the themes and overall purpose of the show. If the show is a comedy, the pilot needs to have representative jokes. If the show is action, the pilot needs to have representative action.
As an example, think about the pilot episode to Rick and Morty. In the episode, the show establishes that Rick is Morty’s grandfather, that Rick takes Morty on adventures for “purposes,” that Jerry is Morty’s father and is against these adventures, that Beth loves her father and concedes easily, and that Summer exists. This is a lot to pack into a single episode, and the pilot suffers because of it. While in other episodes, there is an actual concrete purpose to the actions of the characters, in Episode 1 the adventure to gather seeds for “science” feels more forced.
The first season of Castlevania is able to successfully perform the functions of a pilot while still providing episodes that feel worth re-watching. Episode 1 of Castlevania takes its time in establishing Dracula’s character, making the audience actually understand the villain of the story and his motivations. The show spends a little more time in establishing Trevor Belmont’s character and transforming him from an apathetic loner to the hero of the show. In the span of four episodes we are given the time to slowly get to know the characters, their relationships, and their struggles while also doling at the action of the show at a reasonable pace.
If Castlevania’s introduction was limited to a single episode, we’d have to lose something. Either Dracula’s backstory, Trevor’s redemption arc, the verbal sparring between Trevor and Sypha, or the action of the show. Yet if the first season were longer, we’d either have a drawn out version of the show’s introduction or a sharp change in the pacing and tone of the show as a new arc begins. By setting the first season of Castlevania to four episodes, the producers were able to deliver an introduction to the show that feels like it will be on par with the rest of the seasons.
While the writers, directors, and producers of Castlevania deserve much of the praise for making a compact but worthwhile introduction to the series, Netflix also deserves praise for breaking us free of the bonds of universal episode and season lengths. Netflix’s unique structure allows for the production of shows that don’t fit the mold in either the number of episodes or the length of the show.
Most shows on television are either twenty two episodes long in order to fit into a half-hour block with commercials, or forty four minutes long in order to fit into an hour block with commercials. Exceptions such as Robot Chicken or Game of Thrones alter the usual length to eleven minutes and an hour respectively, but are still confined to a standardized block. Because Netflix does not need to fit its programming into a television schedule, they are able to produce television shows where episodes vary in length based on how long the episode needs to tell its story in the best manner. An excellent example of this is Aziz Ansari’s Master of None which features episodes ranging from thirty to fifty minutes.
It seems Netflix is slowly becoming more comfortable releasing shows that break the oppressive standardization requirements imposed by modern television. Castlevania’s four episode season is just one example of what television can become without the limitations of old. I look forward to seeing the changes in the art of television production that streaming services like Netflix can bring.