The Mystery of Castlevania’s Creation

The vampire hunting franchise has been out for over 30 years, and includes over 20 entries for a multitude of consoles. The series has achieved praise from fans and media by earning its place on lists such as “Top 100 Games” and “Top 20 SNES Games.”

Perhaps the most puzzling thing about this franchise is there’s no face behind the series’ creation. A name has managed to come up, however, no one has been able to interview him, and it’s suspected he disappeared from the scene in the early 90s.

There’s reasons as to why this happened, but it’s hard to say for sure if there will ever be a definitive answer as to who is responsible for the Castlevania series, and how the team managed to create this iconic franchise.

The First Castlevania is Released

To start, we go back to 1986 when the franchise makes its debut. The game was originally titled “Akumajō Dracula,” which translates to “Devil’s Castle Dracula,” for its release in Japan. Developed and published by Konami, the game was released for the Family Computer Disk System on September 26, 1986.

A few months later, the game would make its debut in North America. The game would be retitled to “Castlevania,” as Konami of America senior vice president, Emil Heidkamp, was uncomfortable with the Japanese title, as he believed it translated to “Dracula Satanic Castle.”

“Castlevania” was available on the Nintendo Entertainment System on May 1, 1987 in North America, and in Europe on December 19, 1988.

Fake Credits

For those who finished the game and reached the end credits, a surprise was waiting for them.

The game’s credits used fake names. The names were parodies of individuals associated with classic Universal monster movies and Hammer films. Names such as Vram Stoker and Boris Karloffice appeared, parodies of Bram Stoker, the author of “Dracula,” and actor Boris Karloff.

The game’s director was credited as Trans Fisher, a parody of the name Terence Fisher, director of “Dracula” (1958). The identity of Trans Fisher is believed to be Hitoshi Akamatsu.

Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 12.25.50 PM
A screenshot of the game’s credits.

An explanation for the fake name comes from Masahiro Ueno, director of “Super Castlevania IV,” during an interview in Retro Gamer issue #119.

“I used [the pseudonym] ‘Jun Furano’ as Konami did not allow us to use real names in game credits back then,” Ueno said in the article.

Ueno believes the reason behind this was to avoid headhunting from Konami’s rivals.

Ueno continues with the explanation on how he came up with his pseudonym.

“I made up the name after a Japanese TV drama called ‘Kita No Kunikara.’ It took place in Furano, Hokkaido, and Jun was one of the main characters.”

Ueno also confirmed the team behind the first Castlevania was responsible for the development of “Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest” and “Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.”

Masahiro Ueno.

The main team listed on Wikipedia for “Castlevania” is director Hitoshi Akamatsu, producer Akihiko Nagata, and programmer Nobuhiro Matsuoka. Since the Wikipedia page did not source this information, the next step was to Google the names individually and see where that led. The result, however, was disappointing. The names lead nowhere except to more wikis that are edited by users. No interviews or confirmation from these individuals were found.

Author John Szczepaniak tried to conduct an interview with Akamatsu for his book, “The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers,” but was unable to receive permission.

James Banana

The case doesn’t remain a total mystery. One team member has gone on record with her full name, Kinuyo Yamashita.

Credited as James Banana, a parody of the name James Bernard, composer of “Dracula” (1958), Yamashita was the composer for the game.

Kinuyo Yamashita.

Yamashita worked with Satoe Terashima on the game’s score, and was her first job with Konami. Yamashita only scored the first entry in the series.

In an interview with The Legacy Music Hour, Yamashita gave more insight as to why Konami used fake names for their staff.

“The Japanese style is very different from the USA,” said Yamashita. “They are a lot more reserved and don’t want to give away their secrets. So I guess they felt like they had to protect their talent. And so they used fake names.”

Yamashita also said she doesn’t know why she was given the name James Banana, meaning Konami may have made up the names themselves and not the staff members.

The Mystery Lives On

Conducting searches to see what fans know or think on sites such as Reddit and NeoGaf didn’t provide any additional answers. It’s puzzling why after all these years the person(s) behind the idea hasn’t come forward to discuss where the idea came from, and how it transposed to a video game.

As for the future of the franchise, Konami doesn’t seem focused on developing more entries. The last Castlevania game released was “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2” in 2014. For now, Konami seems more focused on Pachinko machines.

Castlevania is making its way to Netflix in the form of an animated series. The show will be released in July.

The spirit of Castlevania lives on.

Koji Igarashi, known for his work in “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night,” started a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 for his next game, “Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night,” a spiritual successor to the Castlevania franchise. The game is expected to release in 2018.

To sum everything up in the words of Dracula himself, “What is a man? A miserable pile of secrets!”