In the interest of brevity, and also to make sure that anyone who hasn’t watched the latest season of Castlevania rushes out to do so – here is my brief, spoiler-free take:
Season 3 of Castlevania manages to do what many fans thought impossible at this point: surpass season 2. After an exceptional second season, the expectations for the series is sky-high, and season 3 clears it with plenty of room. While the final battle doesn’t quite match the epic 2-stage confrontation in Dracula’s castle (Lobby followed by Alucard v Dracula) the lore and character considerations make it a rich addition to an already intriguing and macabre universe. The voice acting continues to be superb, and the animation – particularly during action and combat sequences – will have many aspiring animators jotting down notes furiously.
A fantastic romp. A hauntingly beautiful journey.
It’s really good, you guys.
Okay, with that said, stop here and go watch it. Then come back.
Okay let’s talk.
STOP! THE REST OF THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
From the moment the Castlevania adaptation was materializing into something that was actually going to happen, there was a certain air of trepidation. While the series hadn’t particularly shone in recent years – indeed, many argue that it peaked in 1997 with Symphony of the Night – it persisted in the form of a familiar genre to many, and so there was a certain degree of defensiveness. To the delight of many, season 1 was a tremendous success, despite its short runtime (4 episodes). It was so popular, in fact, it secured a 2nd season, twice as long, almost immediately after airing on Netflix.
If there was any doubt that Castlevania would succeed, season 2 picked that up and suplexed it six feet underground. With superb animation, stellar voice acting, and action sequences that have arguably set the bar for future endeavors, season 2 of Castlevania brought the series to heights previously thought unattainable for a video game adaptation.
Despite having twice as many episodes, there were still some story elements that felt a bit rushed in the previous season. Dracula’s war against humanity was being complicated by his meddlesome son and some newfound friends, and there was also plenty of treachery and strategy being executed behind the scenes that made some of the plot feel thin. In the words of a famous hobbit, there were moments that felt like “Butter scraped over too much bread.”
Season 3, at 10 episodes, is able to brilliantly remedy this by offering up some proper character development and exploration – a key plotline is followed with Trevor, Sypha, and a new ally by the name of Saint Germain, with additional plots being drawn out around forgemasters Isaac and Hector, the ruling quartet of Styria, among whom the scheming Carmilla reigns as Queen, and Alucard’s attempts at curing his loneliness and looking after the abandoned relic that was his Father’s castle.
Bringing Characters to Life
Standing out early, and prominently, is the continuing delivery of fantastic voice acting on the part of the cast. James Callis takes center stage first, seemingly having started up his own farming simulator outside the castle as he gathers ingredients for a fancy dinner in his massive estate.
All by himself.
Shortly after beginning his meal, he begins a fake conversation with creepy, voodoo-esque dolls in the visage of his former teammates, Trevor and Sypha. After the hilarious, though odd, exchange, Alucard seemingly breaks the 4th wall and says what we’re all thinking: “Oh my god. I am losing my mind.”
Trevor and Sypha, out on their own demon-hunting adventures, have a special level of banter and charged romance. Trevor’s resigned attitude to whatever fresh hell comes their way continues to bring an unavoidable charm, while Sypha’s boldness increased further still (if that was possible).
The one and only Bill Nighy brings the familiar Saint Germain to life, with a healthy dose of British wit and sarcasm that I didn’t know I needed until the moment he began clowning on Trevor’s clothes and his apparent lack of familiarity with soap and water.
Of all the wonderful voice acting throughout this season, however, one performance really stood out for me: that of Adetokumboh M’Cormack, who voices Forgemaster Isaac.
After faithfully serving Dracula through season 2, Isaac was cast through a magical mirror into a far-off desert during the storming of the castle. Feeling a great debt owed to Dracula, and harboring a hatred for mankind that nearly parallels that of the recently dispatched King of the Night, Isaac’s journey is tremendously compelling, and vies for the undivided attention of the viewer at all times. Mr. M’Cormack’s intonation, peppered with simmering rage, and occasional hints of hope – or at least tolerance – for humanity, help piece together a complex and unique figure that is certainly not Lawful Good, but not wholly evil either.
The story of Castlevania this season is essentially the aftermath of the cataclysmic battle at Braila. With Dracula gone, the massive power vacuum left in his wake has caused unrest in the world of demons and the undead. Roving packs of Night Creatures, remnants from Dracula’s massive summoning during his campaign to end mankind, continue to terrorize and eat unsuspecting travelers and vendors.
As a refresher, our trio of heroes scattered following the final battle, with Alucard needed to remain at home to defend the priceless knowledge stored within both the Belmont hold and his father’s castle. Were the wrong forces to get their hands on the True Science, it would be disastrous.
So, he remained behind. In the somber final moments of season 2, Alucard wanders the lonely halls of the castle – the spirit of his dead mother seemingly appearing and disappearing – a ghost of regret from his past that occupies his mind daily.
The loneliness is getting to him, as is demonstrated clearly in the opening scene – but he is soon saved from this penetrating solitude by a pair of amateur vampire hunters. Hailing from Japan, where they were kept and tormented by the vampire general Cho (whom Sypha destroyed during the battle in season 2), the twins had heard tale of “The Alucard” – known as the “Anti-Dracula”, and seek out his training to be able to slay the vampires that may enslave their people once more.
Alucard feels as though his mother would be happy for him to share his knowledge, and he takes them under his wing. The three forge an unlikely friendship that lasts through the majority of the season.
Sypha and Trevor, affirming their feelings for one another, set off to adventure, kill monsters, and otherwise enjoy each other’s company. An early conversation between the couple reveals that Sypha has considered what might come next for them…settling down, doing the usual “couple” stuff…but she’s also having so much fun being an adventurer.
As the pair arrive at Lindenfeld, a quaint township overseen by The Judge (voiced brilliantly by Jason Isaacs), they get to work investigating a very unique Night Monster attack that happened at the church. The monks have begun to act strangely following the psychedelic incident, etching odd alchemical symbols into buildings, and sporting the symbol for “Hell” on armbands.
How very charming.
Of course, this all ends about as well as you would expect, with the discovery of a powerful Night Creature under the church, and a massive sacrifice being prepared – one to open a gateway to Hell in order to retrieve Dracula and start the madness of season 2 all over again.
In the midst of all this, newcomer Count Saint Germain is doing his best to get back to a mysterious figure he lost in an otherworldly portal known as “The Infinite Corridor”. This corridor opens portals to other worlds and universes…in other words it’s a blank check for future seasons or tie-ins. Yeah, I’m looking at you Powerhouse animation studio…you’re not fooling me.
Last season we were introduced to 2 Forgemasters – Hector and Isaac. These men could take dead bodies, and channel the spirits of demons into them to create fresh soldiers for Dracula’s army.
Hector was the more conflicted of the pair, interested in supporting Dracula’s vision, but not having a firm grasp on the entirety of the plan. When Carmilla revealed that his plan was less about controlling the remaining population and more about killing everyone, Hector made the choice to back Carmilla’s scheme to overthrow Dracula. With Sypha’s magical pull of the castle away from the main conflict, however, Carmilla’s forces were left high and dry, and she was forced to march 800 miles back with the remaining squadron of her army, licking her wounds.
Carmilla, righteously pissed off, decided to vent her anger on Hector, beating the ever-living crap out of him and opting to drag him along as her prisoner.
Hector’s arc is that of a captive. While there isn’t outright torture of our sad-puppy Forgemaster, he is effectively kicked around for *checks notes* the entire season. It feels like his arc is more to introduce us to the nuances of Lenore’s character as opposed to learning more of Hector…which is unfortunate, given his (presumed) eventual promotion to one of the main protagonists, as he was in Curse of Darkness for the Playstation 2. In time, I suppose.
Isaac’s story, on the other hand, is that of a conquering King. Joined by his army of beasts, he seeks out information on where to find Hector – seeking to make him pay for the betrayal he visited upon Dracula. When an early revelation shows Hector is already suffering quite enough, thank you very much, Isaac shifts his strategy to be able to confront Carmilla for the same crime.
And then we have our quartet of lovely ladies – the rulers of Styria, Carmilla’s entrancing entourage.
The beefy and powerful Striga, the calculating Marona and soft-spoken Lenore welcome Carmilla back with open arms. After presumably taking a very long bath, Carmilla presents her sisters with a daring new plan – capture the massive, uncontrolled territory she just marched through to create “Greater Styria” – a corridor kingdom where they could effectively “raise” their food and feed for eternity.
Of course, given the recent events, their military might is strained, which is why Hector plays such a vital role in their plans. Lenore takes on the task of solving this problem, and by the time the arc has ended, you likely are more afraid of Lenore than anyone else.
Rightly so. I mean, look at her.
This is not the face of a woman who is up to any good.
Season 3 does its best to see these various plots through to completion, or at least, as complete as they can be for now. By episode 5 or 6 I knew that the Carmilla conflict was not going to be resolved this season. There is much more foundational work being done, and as a result, each set of characters is only actively pursuing a single goal, which they all essentially accomplish by the end of the season.
Well, except for Hector. Hector gets screwed – literally and figuratively – before the show is over.
JUST A REMINDER THERE ARE SPOILERS
What really stood out to me, particularly in the closing episodes, was the shift in tone. As our adventure begins, our main duo (Sypha and Trevor) has a certain spark of life and optimism about them. Sure, the world is literally infested by beings from Hell, and any semblance of peace or security is fleeting, but they’re on the adventure together, and as Sypha mentions – it’s fun.
In the end, though, as the pair rides out of the burned remains of Lindenfeld, without a soul alive to bid them goodbye, Sypha and Trevor are both mournful…enraged due to a particularly gut-wrenching reveal in the final episode. (I’m still so mad about it – fuck!) Trevor comments “We’ve been living life your way for the past couple of months. Adventures and victories. Now we’re living life my way.” Implying that death and tragedy is a curse that follows all Belmonts.
The conclusion of Alucard’s arc is arguably more damaging – as a creature striving to cast off the shackles of his father’s hate, the betrayal he experiences at the hands of Taka and Sumi, and the macabre display he makes of them outside of his castle as he walks by their staked bodies, casts some serious doubts on whether he will be able to successfully embrace his mother’s vision of humanity. Indeed, he’s looking more and more like his father’s son as the season comes to a close.
Strangely, the arc that seems to end the most hopeful is the one that was the most bloodstained: Isaac’s. After confronting an insanely powerful magician, and getting plenty of fodder for the army of night monsters he will need to confront Carmilla, Isaac appears to be in the right place to springboard into Season 4 as a power-player.
The animation continues to impress, with fluid action sequences and more “Holy shit!” Moments than you can shake a stick at. It’s not just stellar in those bombastic moments, either. There’s a scene where Isaac is having a conversation with one of his Night Creatures – who tries to recount his past life before he was sent to Hell. Isaac’s countenance, the nuance in their body language, the crackling fire…the atmosphere is finely crafted, and the quality of animation remains consistent throughout.
Warren Ellis is a genius, with sharp dialogue and excellent narrative structure. You can really feel him letting loose on this project, no doubt delighted by the gore and destruction, and happy to breathe life into the cast of characters that find themselves in this gray hellscape.
Overall, I could gush about this season for another 2000 words or more, but I’ll spare you. My only gripe with this season was with Taka and Sumi. Their performance felt quite a bit stiffer compared to the rest of the cast, and their motivations seemed uncharacteristically shallow – especially considering the depth and detail the other characters enjoyed throughout the season. I would have happily had that airtime dedicated to Isaac or advancing Carmilla’s agenda.
A masterful season. A powerful example of what we could only hope for when it comes to future video game adaptations.
If this is what we have to look forward to with the rumored Hyper Light Drifter series, or Metroid, I cannot wait.
In the meantime, the wait for season 4 begins.