This Castlevania review contains spoilers.
Castlevania Season 2
In 2017, writer Warren Ellis, director Sam Deats, and producer Adi Shankar accomplished the impossible. Like a lone Belmont entering Dracula’s castle armed with nothing but a whip, this team set out on a mission many thought would end in failure: to create a worthy video game adaptation that celebrated the source material while also taking it seriously. But when Castlevania season 1 dropped on Netflix last year, it defied the odds and became the first truly great video game adaptation.
With Castlevania season 2, the show continues its excellent adaptation of the classic platformer series, as Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage), Sypha Belnades (Alejandra Reynoso), and Alucard (James Callis) prepare to storm Dracula’s castle while the Count (Graham McTavish) readies his forces to obliterate the world of man. The season also introduces three new major players to this drama of monsters and magic: the loyal human-hating Forgemasters (kind of like necromancers) Hector (Theo James) and Isaac (Adetokumboh M’Cormack) as well as the villainous Carmilla (Jaime Murray).
Like with the trio of heroes in season 1, the show takes its time to flesh out these new characters, exploring their motivations as well as the trauma that led them all to the service of Dracula, who also gets a lot more screen time this time around. Hector, Isaac, and Carmilla are all welcome additions to the cast, giving this universe hints of a larger world beyond Wallachia. While they’re all supporting characters in this dance between Dracula and the trio of hunters out to kill him, we get to see plenty of their own conflicts play out as well as the start of new ones by season’s end.
I was especially intrigued by Hector and Isaac, two damaged humans who have allied themselves with Dracula after years of abuse at the hands of other humans. The show does not shy away from their trauma. The first time we actually get to spend any time with Isaac, he’s self-flagellating, inflicting pain on himself to keep his body focused. Isaac revives dead, half-eaten pets to make up for the childhood he never had after burning his unloving parents alive in their home. Even though they’re the leaders of Dracula’s army and mean to destroy their own race (in Hector’s case, he wants to harvest humans as food for his vampire overlords), it’s hard not to sympathize with them as we witness the events that turned them into sociopaths in the first place.
Carmilla, on the other hand, is a wild card who will keep you guessing until the very end. While Dracula is billed as the villain of the series, Carmilla quickly steals the show. Her story, while not as fleshed out as the others (I suspect they’re saving that for season 3), is captivating. Although she’s a powerful and merciless vampire, Carmilla is still a woman in a man’s world, so she has to deal with plenty of bullshit from the squad of vampire bros whom Dracula has designated his war council. Carmilla is too smart and ambitious to take any bullshit from the other vampire generals, though. They bicker incessantly about the war effort while Carmilla is actually getting shit done. Her ultimate plan might not be in their best interest, though…
The story does get a bit bogged down when it comes to Dracula, who spends most of the season sitting in a chair in his study not doing much at all. While this might be true to the Dracula of the games, who doesn’t appear until the final stage of most entries, this doesn’t make for incredibly entertaining television. In fact, Dracula might actually be the weak point of the season, as he sits there reflecting on his loneliness after the death of his beloved human wife, Lisa. The Count isn’t even all that interested in taking part in his evil plan to kill all the humans, a point he makes several times, which doesn’t exactly make him a complex character but a pointless one. Why write so many Dracula scenes about him doing nothing but sulking?
In general, the first four episodes are an incredibly slow burn, full of way too much exposition and philosophizing. Given the extended episode count of season 2, Ellis has the time and space to really go long on these characters and their world, but that’s sometimes to the detriment of the show. There are whole episodes dedicated to two or three conversations, and there are one or two episodes that make you wonder whether the showrunners forgot that there’s supposed to be action in a Castlevania story.
Still, it’s impossible to deny how much respect Ellis has for the source material. He loves these characters and their drama, and even when the pacing feels completely off, it’s in an attempt to elevate this story to a Shakespearean level that other video game adaptations have never enjoyed. Besides, the last four episodes more than make up for the first four.
The last hour and a half of the season, like the final third of a film trilogy, is action-packed, as all of the different sides converge on the battlefield. The action sequences are stunning, soaking the screen in gore while heads and limbs go flying in the background. I have to note that Castlevania season 2 has some of the most violent scenes I’ve ever watched in an animated series. Heads are crushed into the mud, necks are chewed on with relish, and I lost count of how many characters get skinned alive throughout the season. Castlevania season 2 will make you cringe in disgust more than a few times if you’re not used to its level of gore.
All that said, it’s clear that Castlevania doesn’t quite enjoy the same budget other, more popular animated series do on cable when it comes to animation. While I wouldn’t call the quality of the animation distracting or a dealbreaker, there are moments when the visuals dip below even the anime shows the series is attempting to emulate. This is most evident during fast-paced action sequences, which never quite look the way you hope they will and come off as stiff. This is a minor complaint, though. Castlevania looks mostly good, and even when it doesn’t, the visuals are serviceable.
The voice acting is great (with one major exception we’ll leave you to discover on your own), especially when it comes to Armitage, Reynoso, and Callis, who have a chemistry that really elevates their scenes together. These moments, which are often hilarious or heartwarming, add a more comedic flavor to the show. Alucard and Trevor’s angst and animosity towards each other are often played for laughs while Sypha balances them out with her more lighthearted personality. To put it another way, Sypha is a delightful departure from all the emo dudes trying to figure their shit out.
If there’s one thing I found odd about their story, it’s how little Trevor, Alucard, and Sypha actually get to do in season 2. The monster hunters aren’t actually the focus of these episodes and don’t really get to kill many monsters until about the last hour and a half. But when they finally get to go to war, it’s incredibly cathartic. Fans of the video game series will be delighted as that battle unfolds. All in all, Castlevania season 2 is a bloody good time.
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