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Interview: Castlevania Season 2 Executive Producer Adi Shankar

by Zac Bertschy,

It's pretty fair to say that most people didn't really expect Netflix's animated adaptation of the long-running, long-beloved horror action game franchise Castlevania to turn out as well as it did. That's no slight to the talent behind it or the team that brought it together – it was simply that after decades of disappointing videogame adaptations of all shapes and sizes (Mortal Kombat Annihilation, anyone?) enthusiasm among fans for this sort of project is often pretty dampened right out of the gate.

So it felt like a small miracle when 2017's Castlevania – the first “season”, 4 episodes created by Frederator and Powerhouse Animation Studios, adapted from a long-respected script by comics legend Warren Ellis and produced by showrunner Adi Shankar – managed to make a whole lot of fans very happy. It performed well enough by Netflix's opaque standards to ensure the swift ordering of 8 more episodes, which are all right over the horizon, premiering on the service this October 26th.

Shankar himself has had a pretty splashy public career – he originally made waves as the “youngest producer to ever have a #1 movie at the box office” back in 2009 when the Liam Neeson thriller The Grey surged past expectations and won the box office. A whole lot of people know him from his “Bootleg Universe” series, a string of short, unauthorized and often very dark and gritty takes on pop culture figures like Venom and the Power Rangers. In interviews and public appearances, he's been a passionate advocate not only for Castlevania but animation as an art form – we had the chance to ask him a few questions about the premiere of the next season of his hit show.

ANN: Season 2 is out very soon, a matter of days. Do you feel like you're ready for it?

Honestly? No. I never feel ready for anything.

I think Season 2 is really good. In a lot of ways, it's better than Season 1. So creatively, I'm totally ready for it, and I think the rest of the team is really excited about it. Emotionally I'm always kind of a mess before anything goes out.

I was at the Netflix Loves Anime panel at Anime Expo, where you presented some clips from Castlevania alongside a handful of other talented people presenting huge projects – Castlevania gets the loudest reaction in the room. People were really whipped up. Does that feel like success to you?

If I were to talk to myself from 2 years ago, 5 years ago, 10 years ago? Yes, it would feel like an enormous success. I didn't move to LA to make movies – I moved here to make things like Castlevania, combining the things I love and this incredible style of animation. I've been trying to make literally this – this exact thing - since I was 20.

And it isn't just this – back when I was 20, the market was totally different, everything went direct-to-video. Then the DVD market declines, people are downloading anime, and everyone says “well, it's a small market anyway”. Now you have this pipeline – in that context, it not only worked, it's worked in a huge way. These streaming folks realize what a big audience there is out there for this stuff.

What is it about animation that speaks to you so much?

Animation is messy passion – it's art that spews out of the heart. In a lot of ways, animation is threatening to a lot of people in the world of corporate media. It's hard to sell people a lie if they're in to stuff that you can't really control. They can control an actor, they can put clothes on the actor and say “this is the brand you should be wearing, this is how you should look, this is what good-looking is” and they can sell people a look and a lifestyle and a belief system. To me, anime is a rejection of all of that, because it's just made-up worlds that are awesome. They have real truth to them. It feels like a rejection of the corporate approach to storytelling.

How did the screenwriting process go for season 2?

Well, it was pretty straightforward, the seasons continue in to one another. One of the things people really responded to in season one was the humanization of Dracula. So he's more a Magneto, more Thanos.

Personally, I thought the way you characterized Dracula and humanized him was a lot better-written than Thanos <laughs>

Thank you!

How much of Season 2 did you have ready before Season 1 released? Originally those first four episodes were based on that famous Warren Ellis movie script – did he have the rest of the story all written out?

We never wanted to do that thing as a team where we're making it up as we go along. The course for season 2 was set before season 1 came out – we mapped this whole thing out. It was pretty straightforward – we have one of the best writers in the world, Warren Ellis, handling these scripts. He's a great writer and he also comes from comic books.

What I dig about anyone who writes comic books is – the best comic book arcs, the most memorable ones are always the ones that are planned as complete stories before they're launched. Maybe it takes place over 2-3 years – an issue will come out once a month, and 20-30 issues will comprise the arc of the story. You're making these micro-level adjustments throughout that process, but you start that journey with a clear vision of where it goes.

Movie and TV writing doesn't normally work that way – it's a lot of figuring out what the fans like, or what the advertisers like, or what the studio liked, and double down on that, back away from other stuff – a lot of traditional movie & TV stuff, you figure it out one season at a time. The beauty of Castlevania is, there's really a ton of mythology there. Maybe it isn't all explained, maybe we didn't see all of it in the games, but at the core there's a ton of mythology. It was really about zeroing in on aspects of that mythology that fit this story.

We're meeting some new characters this time around, right?

Yeah. It was cool to add some new characters, so it isn't just the folks you met in season one. Hector – who stars in his own game, and he's not a Belmont – but he's in the show. It's strong stuff. Alucard also definitely has a bigger role this season.

Are you ready for more after Season 2?

Absolutely. I don't want it to ever end. The team is so dope. Warren is amazing, Sam Deats, our director really knocked it out of the park, especially on Season 2. These are fans who have seen these kinds of adaptations go awry, and wanted to get it right.

And it doesn't really have to end – it's such an expansive world. The Castlevania games have had their ups and downs, some games were received better than other games, but that doesn't matter – the less well-received entries still expanded the world, expanded the universe, and there are so many great characters across so much time. Soma Cruz – he's awesome.

So there's all this lore and we're still on Castlevania III. Not to mention the years that aren't in the games. We're our own universe – just like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's inspired by the comics but it's its own self-contained thing. Characters can pop in and maybe be a little different from what people expect, or they can be exactly the same. The timeline can differ, or it can stay the same – we're marrying emotionally engaging storytelling with the rich Castlevania world as we know it.

So is Season 3 right around the corner?

No timeline yet for season 3. We know what the story is, but beyond that, no announcements yet.

Our thanks to Adi Shankar for this opportunity. Castlevania Season 2 debuts on Netflix October 26th.

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