Horror Bites - Castle of Illusion


Time for a cartoon. The translation of folklore from Europe into features made in East Asia is always interesting, their takes on vampire mythology in particular. This animated horror adventure is full of zany ideas like werewolves with torso mouth parts, armoured cars with crucifix headlights and bounty hunters with astral projection mind powers. Not content with taking elements from Dracula and Carmilla, this is a full blown fantasy world mixing parts medieval Europe, parts Mad Max and parts Old West. The title half-human half-vampire loner races against time and rival bounty hunters to save a girl from the clutches of a bloodsucking noble, but does she want to be rescued?

In the distant future.... Well this little title card is enough to make you stop and pay attention. While some of the visuals resemble a ruined Renaissance period Europe and others look like turn of the century American frontier towns, this is all a post apocalyptic setting. It allows them to add just about anything from desert wastelands to sci-fi castles without them being out of place. The creative set pieces are all detailed and imaginative so while early on there are more standard vampire like zombies being fought with arrows and knives, later there are all kinds of bizarre monsters and technology.

The animation is pretty to look at and feels smooth, making for rapid action scenes and dynamic character moves. Flowing capes and flashing swords are recurring motifs. The facial animation is more rigid, but then some of the characters are drawn with such wide jaws they can barely articulate words in a traditional manner. The voice acting in the English dub is fairly well done, though at times they have the old problem of unnaturally long sentences to fill in the number of mouth movements. A few lines are also way to fast. Overall however the quality is high.

In terms of plot and pacing it moves too quickly in some places but this does allow for the variety of locations to keep going and it all has a certain momentum. The chase leads the hunters though deserts filled with flying fish creatures and into sinister caverns where evil villains lie in wait. They throw in most of the usual romantic vampire elements whether it's their target Meier Link's personal quest for love, or the long and tragic past of D himself as someone who has lived many lifetimes. The majority of the narrative is taken up with action beats but they stop every so often to debate the nature of their lives as hired killers and to exchange words with fearful villagers.

The big finale throws in a few off the wall ideas in terms of what a vampire castle can do whether it's demonic illusions or futuristic technology, so it comes to together for a satisfying third act that manages to keep up the surprises. It's the kind of thing both Gothic horror and animation fans can get behind, but should be entertaining to anyone whether they're familiar with this series or not. Parasite side kicks and robotic horses might raise a few eyebrows, but it's totally worth seeking out.