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Castlevania: Season Two

Castlevania is a Netflix animated series based on a classic video game series from the eighties. It is written by Warren Ellis, executive produced by Adi Shankar, and animated with a heavily-influenced-by-anime style reminiscent of the franchise’s own Japanese take on classic horror iconography. The plot is basic enough: Dracula attacks the European countryside of Wallachia and vampire hunter Trevor Belmont is tasked with killing him. A sorceress and Dracula’s own son soon join him. It’s packed with talent, so even though this is a niche genre and a niche property it’s sure to please anyone that has a remote interest.

The first season of Castlevania felt mostly like an extended pilot. Watching it felt like a promised seal of quality for a future story if enough people saw it. If you wanted to try watching the series, you should definitely start there. The entire season was only four twenty-something minute episodes and a lot of it had to do with introductions. It was an exercise in technique and tone. Clear characterizations were conceptualized and overarching themes were presented and somewhat explored. By the end of the fourth episode, however, it ended with little resolution. We had only just seen our three principle heroes unite in their goal to end the undead horrors of Dracula. We wanted more.

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Trevor and Sypha are at the core of heroism in Castlevania. They’re possibly the only good humans left.

So this season they were able to double their amount of content with eight episodes. With the extra run time, Ellis and company were able to feature engrossing fight scenes and extensive character development. Dracula is no longer alone in his crusade against mankind. We see his inner workings and his damned army’s elite generals. This fleshed out supporting cast provides the core drama of the new season and is by far the most impressive writing of the season. Ellis had never played the games, so he abandoned fan service and instead utilized the unique melting pot mythology of the series to create his own story. This means he abandons core characters from the games and incorporates relatively obscure characters because they ultimately service the plot. Hector and Isaac, in particular, have altered and fleshed out backstories that enable amazing dialogue and questions about their nature and humanity. A somewhat minor boss in the games named Carmilla is given a key dramatic role that makes her move the plot in ways you can’t predict. Every scene with her captures your mind. Even Dracula can’t do that.

The other half of the season, however, is the core story of Trevor, Sypha, and Alucard on a journey to kill Dracula. It’s a shame this story is sidelined for the first half of the season. Time dedicated to these characters is built for making them likable to us and each other. They walk around, they joke, they ask each other questions for the sake of hearing about them. They aren’t put through any moral tests like Dracula and his crew face; instead they kinda just argue. They argue just enough so when they like each other at the end it feels earned. It’s weak.

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Two characters from a little played, critically panned game are given powerful roles within the season.

Yet, it’s good enough when it hits the end. Maybe I was just hungry for a real resolution to this story, but I think they approached the final confrontation with proper grace. Music is a beloved aspect of the video game franchise and the series had yet to incorporate anything in the first season. Fear not, when the familiar music kicks in it’s an emotional payoff that might even make strangers to the series excited.

I don’t think it’s all crucifixes and holy water (I mean to say: good). There’s a lot of problems in this season that the previous one did not have. The writing feels a little runny during any time with humor, and for the three heroes that’s a lot of it. This show really benefits from momentum. The heroes stay in one spot and don’t do anything for entire episodes. The villains run around, they scheme behind each other’s back, they feel intense emotions where the heroes only whisper theirs. Conflict is natural in the B-plot and not the A-plot. It’s a bizarre structure.

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Carmilla is the breakout star of the season. Did not see this character coming.

The show is only a completely different kind of amazing when it comes to the fight choreography. This is a reason why anime is a perfect style for animation, and why video games are a perfect source of material. Each character moves differently and has their own visual flair to the screen. Trevor has weight to his attacks, and his whip provides an auditory and visual snap that dances around the screen and your ear. Alucard is like a phantom. His movements ape his own in the video game Symphony of the Night, which gives him a fluidity and mystique to every motion. His sword twirls around the air, he transforms into a wolf in a matter of frames, he dances gracefully. Sypha is more literal in her visual flair. Her spells create different intensities that change the pace of the battle. She can slow the fight down or amplify it to a fever pitch. Ice and fire are her primary elements and that visual contrast matches with her pacing. Dracula himself is menacing, and almost a combination of all three.

Themes explored in the previous season are almost abandoned here. Religion was a primary theme in the first season, but here it’s almost an afterthought. There’s little conversations about the corruption of the church or anything like that. Organized religion is never analyzed here. The only real commonality is the theme of corruption within Dracula’s forces. Isaac channels a little bit of that criticism, but it never felt as biting as it did in season one.

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Alucard is given some of the most emotional depth. He’ll be back.

The season is still totally worth watching if you’re a fan of anything I’ve said. These are minor complaints in what is otherwise a very exciting series.

★★

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