Anime, Cartoons, Castlevania, Review

Castlevania Season 4: Sticking the Landing

I’m not sure if this is a cartoon or American anime anymore so I’m just gonna say it’s both. Cool? Cool. On with the review.

When Netflix released the first ever trailer for their adaptation of Castlevania, I remember feeling dread. Granted, I was on break at McDonald’s at the time; dread was a common emotion. But this was also a time of my life where I was even more cynical than I am now. And far less good at fairly criticizing something. So, upon watching the trailer on my old phone in the break room, I braced myself for yet another video game adaptation disaster.

Ooh! Pretty poster!

Imagine my surprise when that first season actually turned out to be one of my favorite animated shows of recent years. And my further surprise when season two managed to completely surpass my expectations yet again and turn out to be amazing! This soon became a show that I’d keep an eye on for the entirety of its run.

That said, season three was hardly perfect. So my undying devotion to the show turned into a strong attachment. After that, my expectations for the rest of the show were brought back down to earth.

And now it’s over. Season four has brought the story to the end. So, how was it? Did it manage to stick the landing? Or did it fall into the domain of other video game adaptations and shit itself right at the last second?

Nah dude, this season is great. I wouldn’t call it the best season. But it’s up there!

Six weeks after the end of season three, our story continues. Trevor and Sypha are almost perpetually attacked by night creatures and cultists trying to resurrect Dracula; in order to put an end to it, they make their way to the city that started it all. Alucard, drunk, depressed, and alone, gets a distress message begging him for protection from night creatures. Carmilla and her sisters continue their plans to pen in the humans while Hector takes steps to insure the success of his plan. Isaac, now at the head of an army, contemplates his future while preparing to strike at the vampire sisters and claim his revenge on Hector. All of these plots are tied together by a single thread: the encroaching resurrection of Dracula.

Each of the four plotlines can be broken down into two paths. Everything with Trevor, Sypha, and Alucard is the A plot. Everything with Isaac, Hector, and the four vampire sisters is the B plot. The problem occurs in that these two plots are almost entirely disconnected. Aside from a few throwaway lines and shots in the B plot, there is practically nothing linking it to the A plot. Both are perfectly enjoyable, but they don’t work together like they should.

Some of the new characters introduced in these plots aren’t all that great, either. The new villains are one-dimensional and boring (with the exception of one, who is one-dimensional and fun) and the new side characters annoying (again, with one exception). Honestly, I can’t even remember any of their names. Especially since they had very little impact on the story itself.

Lesbian vampire romance. Something I wish had gotten more than two scenes of screentime.

Thankfully, all of the established characters are as good as ever. Trevor and Sypha are great; Trevor finally starts to mature and take control of his life and Sypha learns how to curse! Alucard is far better in this season than he was in the last; his plotline is one of the best, much stronger than it was in season three (the fact that you can cut that plot out and you’d lose all but two lines of dialogue and two shots is kind of a problem). Isaac finally completes his character arc in gruesome and satisfying fashion and has some of the best dialogue in the season.

They’re not all perfect, though. Hector is just as frustrating as ever; despite having been completely beaten down and betrayed, he seems totally chill, like he already forgave Leanor for it; in fact, he even flirts with her! Shouldn’t he be pissed off at her for making a pet out of him and admitting to it with a smile on her face?

He seems awfully chill with having essentially been made into a factory worker and a
sex slave at the same time

Also, Carmilla’s motivations aren’t all that interesting. She’s still as intimidating as ever, but the reasoning behind her goals is kinda childish. Which could be an interesting angle to take! But it doesn’t do her character very well.

I was also kind of iffy on Saint Germaine’s arc this season. At least at first. His moral shift felt a little odd at first, but it worked better as the season went on. Ultimately, I feel that it was well done. Even if it got off to a rocky start.

The story also tends to pad itself out with unnecessary fight scenes. Especially in the last two episodes. A good number of these scenes are battles against enemy characters with cool designs and powers that have never spoken so much as a word. It feels like they’re trying to pad out the run time rather than add to the narrative.

Which I’d be upset about if the action wasn’t god damn amazing. Castlevania has always had killer animation. But god damn dude, this season easily takes the cake! Every single fight scene is a display of absolutely gorgeous sakuga and creative choreography! They’re all an absolute delight on the eyes!

It certainly helps that the accompanying music is just as amazing. It never reaches the same peaks as it did in earlier seasons, with the use of classic Castlevania game tracks like Bloody Tears. But it’s still a god damn jam to listen to!

Sypha getting ready to burn some fools

On the subject of the games, this season packs in a ton of fun references to those games! From items and weapons, like Alucard’s shield or Trevor’s new cross-blade (they made in in-universe reason why the cross is the most OP side arm in the games) to Alucard’s various abilities and enemies, game fans will find a ton of great nods! Fuck, dude, they even managed to finally work in the most difficult boss in Castlevania history: Death himself!

I love him, by the way. He curses every other sentence and I think that’s just really funny. Plus, it’s a good change of pace from the holier-than-thou dialogue characters like him are usually stuck with.

That said, some of these items are too poorly explained and too plot important. For example, the dagger Trevor uses to defeat the final bad guy. He just sort of finds it, then finds a magic rock to power it, then uses it to save the day. All without ever explaining what it is, how it works, and why it’s there. This does suck some of the satisfaction out of the final battle, as it feels like it was handed to Trevor by the writers rather than properly earned.

On the subject of finality: the ending. Don’t worry, I’ll avoid major spoilers.

OH NO HE’S HOT!!

Overall, I found this ending to be very good. It’s a simple happily-ever-after sort of ending where everyone loves each other and settles down for a calm and peaceful life. You know, your typical fairy tale ending. Some people may find this disappointing, but personally, I think it works very well. After all the bullshit these characters went through, it’s very satisfying to see them smile and look forward to their futures. Plus, we even get a little bit more video game fanservice with them hinting at the eventual birth of a certain character who may or may not have starred in the very first game.

That said, I thought the final scene was kinda strange. It comes out of nowhere and the reasons for it having happened aren’t explained at all. It isn’t a terrible scene and it doesn’t ruin the ending by any means, but doesn’t really do a whole lot for me.

While this season definitely has plenty of problems, I do think that the overall package was very good. It’s a simple and satisfying conclusion to a very good story. It pays off everything that’s been built up for the last four seasons, fully rewarding its viewers for sticking around. The ending won’t blow your mind, but it doesn’t need to. It stuck the landing with elegance and grace.

Now it’s over. We’re not getting anymore Castlevania. While I’m sad to see it go, I’m glad that we at least got to see it end. And even more glad that it ended well.

Castlevania isn’t just the first good video game adaptation. It’s the first amazing video game adaptation. It is proof that TV shows based on games can, in fact, work.

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