Review

by James Beckett,

Castlevania Season 2

Episodes 5-12 streaming

Synopsis:
Castlevania Season 2
With Alucard having finally awoken from his slumber beneath the city of Gresit, Trevor Belmont and Sypha Belnades have completed the team that will fight Dracula's horde to try and stop a genocide of the human race. They'll have their work cut out for them too – Dracula has assembled the deadliest vampires around, along with some human “forgemasters” who use their dark magic to supply a seemingly endless army of the undead. Trevor, Sypha, and Alucard will first have to descend into the ancient Belmont clan library to see if there's any way to find Dracula's ever-moving castle, and that's when they aren't worrying about fighting off all manner of beasts and bloodsuckers. Even if they do succeed, it'll take every ounce of power and cunning they have to take down the vampiric tyrant, as the human race inches closer to annihilation with each passing of the blood red moon.
Review:

I enjoyed the first season of Netflix's Castlevania, but its very limited runtime made it feel less like a full season of television and more like a movie that had been broken up into more digestible chunks. Writer Warren Ellis' characteristically rough-hewn dialogue made for solid banter and the plot delivered an entertaining yet familiar story, but I couldn't help but feel that those first four episodes were just scratching the surface of this adaptation's potential. Thankfully, Castlevania really gets to cut loose in this second eight-episode season, expanding the cast and the story while providing even more of the extravagantly gory action that made such a splash in 2017.

The biggest improvement on the writing side of things is that the heroes get much more time to build a rapport with one another now that everyone has met. Alucard and Trevor share a delightfully snippy love-hate relationship, and Sypha makes sure to point out how absurdly childish it is whenever she can. Sypha and Trevor share a cute chemistry with one another, which I couldn't help but find charming, even when they ended up feeling a little underdeveloped by the season's end. If there's any dynamic that I would have loved to have seen more of, it would be Alucard's tempestuous relationship with his father, Dracula – late in season 2, we get some truly heartbreaking interactions between the pair, but I couldn't help but feel that both of their character arcs were strangely backloaded. For a series that's ostensibly all about Dracula, the two surviving members of the Tepes bloodline get surprisingly little to do until the season's climactic moments.

None of the deficiencies in character development are due to faults in the vocal performances, anyhow. Richard Armitage continues to amiably mumble his way through the role of the disgruntled hero, and James Callis does a similarly admirable job of giving Alucard an air of soft-spoken internal torment. Alejandra Reynoso's turn as Sypha is consistently charming, and she gets most of the season's best quips. Still, my pick for the series' MVP would likely be Graham McTavish as Dracula. He imbues the tortured vampire lord with a gravitas and grief-tinged stoicism, and though he only gets to show Dracula's most monstrous side a few times throughout the series, he makes each of those moments count.

The supporting cast also does well. Adetokumboh M'Cormack makes perhaps the biggest impression as Dracula's misanthropic human forgemaster Isaac, who may be the series' most complex and nuanced character. Carmilla is a vampire mistress who also makes a strong impression – she lends an amusing and welcome sardonic edge to Dracula's boys' club. Castlevania's character writing is generally excellent across the board, provided you have a tolerance for Ellis' rather blunt approach to writing dialogue. (If a character is feeling something, they'll usually just come right out and say it, and they'll toss in a healthy dose of f-bombs for good measure.)

My primary concerns with the storytelling in Castlevania's second season are extensions of what I felt held back the first season, which is to say the show suffers from some wonky pacing. The series' origins as a trio of films continue to poke through the show's structure, as many episodes don't have much of a narrative arc on their own – they're simply continuations of scenes that began in a previous episode or the beginnings of exchanges that will be continued in a following chapter. I'm usually not one to quibble with the expectations borne out of production for streaming services, but Castlevania is one of the first times where I've felt that binge-watch model has hurt a story more than it has helped.

It feels like around half of the series runtime across both seasons is devoted to action sequences, with the remaining plot being spread somewhat haphazardly throughout. This means that there are many stretches in the middle of season 2 where I would forget how much progress the heroes had made in their quest to discover the secrets to Dracula's castle, or where I would think an episode was only through its first act right when the credits were about to roll. The series' conclusion gets the worst of the pacing problems; episodes six and seven are basically an hour's worth of Team Belmont killing their way to Dracula, with almost all of the plot-resolution, sequel-baiting, and final character beats getting unceremoniously crammed into the last episode, which ends up feeling about three times longer than it should. If I had just watched the series in one sitting, this might not have been so much of a distraction for me, but viewers should go into Castlevania knowing that it views better when binged.

In any case, I can't complain much about Castlevania's action to narrative ratio, because the series contains some of the most thrilling sequences of bone-crunching, vampire-exploding spectacle this side of a Kouta Hirano manga. Producer Adi Shankar and Studio Powerhouse have really gone out of their way to capture the feeling of kicking ass in a Castlevania video game – more than anything else, Castlevania earns its stripes as one of the all-time greatest video game adaptations simply by virtue of letting Trevor, Sypha, and Alucard deliver a plethora of creative ways to make monsters dead.

The animation itself is somewhat reserved at times, with the stiff movements reminding me of early 2000s adult animation like Todd McFarlane's Spawn series that aired on HBO, but what the show lacks in technical polish it more than makes up for with panache. Castlevania is just so damned aesthetically cool that I'm more than willing to forgive the show's narrative foibles for how much it dedicates itself to giving us an animated series that fans could only have dreamed of when playing the games decades ago. The season's penultimate episode is an especially indulgent feast for the eyes, and a classic piece of Castlevania music finally makes an appearance to sweeten the moment.

Castlevania's second season is far from perfect, but it takes the foundations of its first season and does what any adaptation of a venerated video game franchise should, which is satisfy old fans while giving the uninitiated something entertaining to chew on. The script isn't Ellis' best work, but the crew's enthusiasm for creating this story always shines through, making for truly engaging entertainment. Netflix's Castlevania is absolutely worth watching, whether you've loved the games for years, or you simply have a thirst for brutal action that comes with a heaping helping of cheesy gore on the side.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : B+
Story : B-
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : B

+ Amazing action and art design, fun and lovable characters, strikes a great balance between reverence to the source material and doing its own thing
Wonky pacing structure, Dracula and Alucard feel underdeveloped, crass dialogue may not sit well with everyone

Director: Ryoichi Uchikoshi

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Castlevania (U.S. ONA)

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