It’s no secret that video game adaptations have been sub-par. They range from downright garbage to mediocre at best and haven’t shown much in the way of improvement over the years. That is to say, until Netflix’s Castlevania came around. Season 1 was a brief introduction to the world, with four half four episodes making up the first season. Now, season 2 is here and twice as long with a plethora of new characters to meet and intrigue to get lost into.
Castlevania is based on the hit video game series of the same name. The show is largely inspired by Castlevania III with an art style that draws heavily from Symphony of the Night, it follows the exploits of Trevor Belmont (The Hobbit’s Richard Armitage) in the late 15th Century Wallachia as he battles the forces of Vlad Tepes himself, AKA Dracula. Joining him on his noble quest are Sypha (Alejandra Reynoso), a magician known as a Speaker and Alucard (James Callis, Battlestar Galactica), Dracula’ dhampir (half-human, half vampire) son. While Alculard has proven to be an interesting character, Sypha is less interesting, feeling more like an exposition device than a person at times. She challenges Belmont and ultimately brings out the better in him, but she also serves to mediate the bitter comments between Trevor and Alucard, who naturally dislike each other from the get-go, with Belmont distrusting the spawn of Dracula and Alculard hating that he’s working with a Belmont, a clan of monster hunters responsible for killing thousands of his kin through the centuries. Sypha thankfully has plenty of great moments of her own, but she is also overshadowed by her male peers.
In the first season, Vlad married a mortal woman who was burned for witchcraft despite being a healer. In retaliation, Dracula has declared war on humanity with an extermination of the species as the end game. Now, he and his generals plan their bloody war. But like any good drama, there is trouble in paradise. Despite being the wisest and most powerful vampire, there is dissent in Dracula’s court. This is the highlight of the season, seeing his various generals plot and scheme with or against Dracula. Many see him as weak, tired or confused and believe he is unfit to lead or that he’s secretly suicidal. Dracula is indeed suffering this season. He’s depressed and broken over the loss of his human wife and this doesn’t sit well with his generals. Graham McTavish (Outlander, The Hobbit) is given so much to do with the character this time around. He’s calm and collected but commands authority and fear. His line delivery has a cold edge to it that can slice through the human soul when angry, or become oddly relatable when he’s reflecting on his life. Despite being the antagonist of the series and the cause for so much doom, Vlad still feels like a layered character and is sorrow and sadness feels genuine.
Rounding off the cast are some newcomers, namely Dracula’s generals. He was a war council made of Higher Vampires but the show mainly focuses on Carmilla and Godbrand (Jaime Murray and Peter Stormare respectively) who openly question the direction Dracula is taking. Carmilla, in particular, is a treat to watch, as she manipulates the court to her wild ambitions. When she walks into a room, you know you shouldn’t trust her but she excels at getting her way. Likewise, we get introduced to the human Forgemasters Hector and Isaac (Theo James and Adetokumboh M’Cormack), who have their own reasons for betraying their kind. They are responsible for bringing the demonic forces to the land of the living and create horrible creatures, such as half-rotten corpse puppies. Both characters are unique and have their own objectives and struggles, but Isaac is the more interesting of the two.
The art style is anime inspired but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it anime. I would say that the show looks really good and captures the medieval and gothic nature of the subject matter perfectly. Creature design is on point and Vlad’s Castle feels like a tangible place. The same can be said of the deep recesses of the Belmont Estate. The violence is most horrific though. Just because this is an animated series does not mean it’s for kids. It is incredibly bloody with some unsettling gory images. But the violence is used to showcase how at risk everyone is and how heartless someone like Vlad Tepes is. In a brief flashback, we see one of his earlier massacres and it is the thing of nightmares. Likewise, Godbrand’s killing spree featured copious amounts of blood and severed heads. The creature design is also noteworthy, with demonic creatures of the night looking like twisted gargoyles and dogs. If you saw their red eyes in the night, you’d run for your life before it ends you.
There are two main plotlines in season 2, one with Dracula’s court and one with Belmont and company searching for secrets on the castle. Of these two arcs, the politics of the court are easily the stronger story. Alucard is interesting due to how his mission directly challenges his father, but the dynamic trios researching isn’t as engaging as nefarious politics of the immortal damned and the human, non-human dynamic. If season one was Trevor’s season, then season 2 definitely feels like Dracula’s and Alucard’s. Oh, and the climactic battle is wickedly entertaining, with armies clashing and overpowered beings having an epic battle through the castle.
Despite some minor missteps with some of the characters and still feeling too short, Castlevania is a bloody good time. From the characters, mythology, acting and the art, this vampiric series is not only the best video game adaptation (easy enough to do), but a great action/fantasy series in its own right. But what about you, have you seen the show? What are your thoughts on this adventure series, any predictions for season 3? Or will you be starting for the first time? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check out our reviews of the new Halloween film and The Haunting of Hill House!