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Interview: Castlevania producer Adi Shankar

by Zac Bertschy,

Named “one of the most influential global Indian men” by GQ magazine in 2014, producer and director Adi Shankar has very quickly made a name for himself among anime fans as producer of Netflix's Castlevania, an animated adaptation of Konami's long-running vampire-slaying video game franchise. Though it isn't quite “anime” – Castlevania is produced by an international team with a primarily Western senior creative staff – Shankar's production is heavily inspired by the hard-edged horror action OVAs of the 1980s and 1990s. The finished product – four episodes with a firecracker script by Warren Ellis, approved by longtime Castlevania designer Koji Igarashi – debuted to rave reviews. The next eight episodes have already been greenlit for 2018, and Shankar has already announced he's working on a similar project to bring Assassin's Creed to life. We had the chance to ask Shankar a few questions about how this project came together, what his major influences were and whether or not they were daunted by the inescapable expectations of the fanbase.

ANN: Do you have history with Castlevania, either professionally or personally?

ADI SHANKAR: Personally, hell yes! I've played most of the games. 

Professionally, yes also, but I've always been adamant that the show had to be done in a specific way. For example, I was approached in 2012 about making a live action Castlevania, by another group (to be clear, none of whom are involved in the Netflix version). I passed on that opportunity because I didn't feel like that group wanted to make an authentic Castlevania movie and instead were making a movie titled Castlevania to leverage off the “pre-existing brand awareness” associated with the title. I was told, for example, that Trevor Belmont had to be American and that Channning Tatum was my front runner. I walked away from what would have been a lucrative deal for me financially because I was a fan, because of my personal relationship, and because I didn't want to massacre my childhood.   

Some version of "a Castlevania movie" has lived inside fans' heads for a couple decades now, which means your audience comes in with a lot of preconceived notions about what this should be. Did that make the source material intimidating for your team? How did you deal with that, creatively?

We weren't intimidated because this show was made by fans. 

In my experience as a fan, even if a movie or show has lived inside my head in one way, I'm always open to ‘alternate’ interpretations as long as the people making it love the essence and understand the DNA of the universe. For example, if you're a fan of Mobile Suit Gundam, even though Iron Blooded Orphans deviates from The Universal Century arc it still captures the essence of Gundam albeit with a different interpretation. As another example, if you're familiar with my Hard-R Power Rangers short film (Power/Rangers Unauthorized) even though it's a completely different tone from the original tv-show it was made as a love letter to the franchise and as such was embraced by fans of the original TV show.  

Anime seems like the perfect medium for a Castlevania adaptation - you've mentioned classics like Ghost in the Shell and Ninja Scroll in other interviews, but what other anime creatively informed this series? What are some of your personal favorites, and do you think any of them were reflected in the final product?

Vampire Hunter D was an early reference that I threw out. I also threw out Space Pirate Harlock for their use of color. I used the classic Berserk as an example of what to do and the CGI reboot as an example of what not to do. 

A lot of people are comparing Castlevania favorably to the beloved hyperviolent, foul-mouthed anime OVAs of the 80s and 90s, like Wicked City, Demon City Shinjuku, Genocyber and more. Is that what you were aiming for? Is the dialogue so colorful ("snake-fuckingly crazy" was a favorite of mine) as a result of Warren Ellis' style, or were you intentionally going for that 90s throwback vibe?

I'm so glad you picked up on the 90's throwback style! I grew up in Hong Kong in the 90's and when I first moved there I was blown away by Trigun, Gundam, Dragon Ball Z. I went through insane lengths to find out who these characters were (since I didn't speak the language). I found most western live action entertainment boring and the most interesting movies were the OVAs like Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D, Fist of the North Star

Did you court Japanese creative staff, or was the plan always to have a chiefly American creative team with an international team for animation?  

The show IS international. The writer is British and I am an Indian who grew up in Hong Kong with Singaporean parents. 2D hand drawn animation needs to make a resurgence globally and hopefully the success of Castlevania will spawn many more productions world wide. CGI is a great tool, and hand drawn/cell animation can exist along side it because it's an epic artform. Finally, I would add that those OVA's you previously referenced (Wicked City, Ninja Scroll, ect) have stood the test of time because hand drawn anime has infinite replay value. 

Do you have your sights set on an eventual adaptation of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or any of the other games? 

The story of Castlevania is the story of multiple generations of a family. I would like to continue exploring that family using the amazing source material that the games have gifted the world.   

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