In case you’re paying attention to the Categories and Tags section of the post, you’ll notice that I’ve labeled this one as both an anime and a cartoon. I’ve done this because I’m not sure which one it is. Though I’m leaning heavily on cartoon, I can’t ignore the Japanese origins of the Castlevania series. So… I’m just gonna put it down as both. Okay? Okay. On with the review.
When I saw the first trailer for the first season of Netflix’s Castlevania, my stomach immediately sunk. Video game adaptations have always, without fail, fallen flat on their faces for me. Whether they’re live action or animated, they swing between boring or straight up terrible.
Then I saw the show. And I fell completely in love.
From it’s dark, visceral and beautifully animated fight scenes, spectacular characters and dialogue, and hilarious moments of comedy that add levity rather than detract from the tone, everything about the first season appealed to me (with the exception of a pretty bad ending, but that was only a problem since it didn’t have anything more, which it does now). It was the first video game adaptation that actually made me happy instead of making me yearn for the games.
So, with the second season finally upon us, the question must be asked: is season two as good as season one?
Everything great about the first season is also great in the second. Hell, a lot of the aspects are done even better. The action is absolutely gorgeous, both in animation and cinematography, the dialogue is artful, and all the characters are spectacularly written. It is an incredibly solid piece of dark adult animation that still manages to be fun, despite it’s grim tone.
Oh yeah, and of course: spoiler alert. You’ve been warned.
Let’s start with the characters. Trevor Belmont is easily one of my favorite protagonists in any story I’ve ever partaken in. He is fun, relatable, and his chemistry with his companions is explosively good. Watching him bicker back and forth with Alucard is incredibly endearing, and the two share some of the funniest moments in the entire show. His budding relationship with Cipher is both natural and adorable, and watching her push Trevor to become a better person (she also does the same with Alucard, though not nearly as often or as cute) makes their relationship feel that much more real.
Alucard and Sipher are equally fun and interesting. Alucard’s natural born disdain for Trevor’s family makes their friendship even more interesting, and watching him try to work with the other two despite his antisocial personality and blood relation to Dracula is both relatable and endearing. Sipher is both adorable and bad ass, and she manages to push both of her companions towards becoming the people they want to be. Plus, watching her grow beyond her knowledge and experience as a Speaker with the help of her friends is a great treat.
All three of these characters have spectacular chemistry with one another. It makes their adventures feel like your watching a dysfunctional group of friends hanging out and trying to save the world. It’s a great treat, and I can’t wait to rewatch the season to get all of it again.
And then there’s the villains, whom we spend more time with this season than the heroes. While there are many new additions, such as the vulgar viking vampire Godfree (whose voice actor is very up and down in terms of his performance) or the manipulative vampire bitch Camilla (who may be more important in season three, but that doesn’t exist yet, so…), I want to focus on three characters.
The first are the two human Forge Masters: Isaac and Hector. Both of these characters are interesting right off the bat for one reason: they are humans. Humans working with Dracula to slaughter the entire human race. Both of whom Dracula trusts implicitly.
Let’s start with Hector. Growing up, Hector was more attached to his pets than he was any human. He had a pair of magic coins (or something, fuck if I know, it’s magic) that allowed him to bring dead things back to life, so he grew up in isolation with nothing but zombie animals to keep him company. He is a child in the body of a man, and he only understands anything if he puts it in the mindset of an animal. Because of this, he is easily manipulated, by both Dracula and Camilla. He is likely to be more important if there is a next season, but again: we don’t have that yet.
But then there’s Isaac, who is my personal favorite between the two. Much like Hector, Isaac is a Forge Master, meaning he is in charge of creating Dracula’s army. He has similar powers to Hector, although his turn his subjects into Demons rather than Zombies. Isaac is fiercely loyal, being pretty much the only character who doesn’t betray Dracula in the end. If he considers anyone a possible threat to Dracula or his cause, he won’t hesitate to strike them down, such as when he murdered Godfree for considering betraying Dracula. He is disciplined, cold, and extremely skilled in combat. I found him to be the most interesting between the two.
And again: he might be important next season. If there is one. Which I hope there is.
But then there’s our main villain. The most interesting, three dimensional, and well performed villain not just in the show, but in all of Castlevania. The vampire that has set the new standard for animated villains, at least for me.
Dracula is, without question, the best character in the entire show. Not only is the performance by Graham McTavish absolutely phenomenal, but his design, his character, his motives, and his actions are all so well written that it makes every other character look bad by comparison. And in a show with this many well written characters, that is an accomplishment.
Let’s start with the best part: his sympathetic personality. Contrary to his goal of ‘slaughter all humans’, Dracula is not a bad person. He shows genuine appreciation and trust to Isaac and Hector for their efforts, and even feels extremely guilty for having manipulated Hector into helping him in the first place. When Isaac offers to sacrifice himself so Dracula can escape, the vampire instead elects to save Isaac as one final thanks for his friendship. Which is another important thing: he doesn’t consider the two to be his servants, or slaves, or anything of the like. They are his friends. He trusts them, respects them, and even shows genuine love for them. With the way he treats them, it’s no wonder they want to help him.
And that’s before his confrontation with Alucard at the end of the show. Not only is their fight one of the best looking battles I have ever seen, but it ends in a way I could never have seen coming. See, at the end of the battle (major spoilers ahead by the way) Dracula tosses Alucard into his childhood room as the two duke it out in the castle. When he enters, he gives pause, looking around the room of his only son.
Now, let me tell you what I expected to happen. As soon as they entered the room, I thought Dracula would hesitate a moment, then Alucard would take the chance and attack him, and Dracula would snap, losing all his remaining humanity and attempting to slay Alucard. Trevor and Sipher would then arrive, and the two would finish off Dracula once and for all.
Boy fucking howdy was I wrong.
Dracula doesn’t just hesitate once he gets into the room. He stops completely. Looking around, he has a complete breakdown. He starts crying, and he drops the single most heartbreaking line I have ever heard in any show.
“I’m killing my baby boy… The greatest gift you’ve ever given me, and I’m killing him…”
This. Fucking. Line. This was the line that completely sold me on Dracula’s character. He doesn’t immediately hate his son because he decided to step in his way of human genocide. The man loved him as much as he loved his wife, and both loves were incredibly genuine. So genuine in fact that, once Dracula realizes what he’s been doing, he stops fighting altogether and lets Alucard stake him to death. Then, in his final moments in life, he reaches out to embrace his son once more before dying.
I was not expecting that at all. Dracula in the games has always just been ‘I’M EVIL BECAUSE I’M A GAME VILLAIN FROM THE 80’S AND NO OTHER REASON!!’. Here though? He’s a genuine, sympathetic, relatable and heart felt character. He is, without a doubt, one of the best villains in the history of fantastical fiction. He has earned a place among my top ten favorite villains ever written.
So the characters are great, especially the villain, and the action is beautiful as ever. The tone is just right, and it always knows when to add moments of comedy (oh yeah, and that comedy is spectacular by the way) without ruining the dark tone the show has. But one critical question remains: is the ending better than season one’s?
YES OH MY FUCKING GOD YES!!
This ending isn’t just a step up from the first. It is one of the best endings to any season of a show I have ever seen. It’s a perfect blend of uplifting and heartbreaking, and it sets up the possibility for more without removing the satisfaction of the ending. It makes the story feel whole and complete while leaving it open for another few seasons. It is simply wonderful.
And I’ll admit: it made me cry. Like, a lot. The ending shot is fucking painful in all the best ways. It’s so good that I refuse to spoil it. You need to see it.
Which is also my thoughts for this whole season. It is fantastic, from top to bottom. It is a perfect follow up to the first season. Not only does it improve on what was already great, but it fixes the issues I had with the first one. This is, without a doubt in my mind, one of my favorite animated shows. Not just on Netflix; but ever made.