castlevania season 4 images

The animated video game adaptation of Castlevania has seen remarkable success. As one of Netflix’s early original animated shows (it premiered in 2017), this series can be considered a milestone in the growing presence of narrative-driven, sophisticated adult animated projects that have emerged over the past few years. It’s hard not to look at Blood of Zeus, also animated by the Austin-based Powerhouse Animation Studios, or the recent video game-based Dota: Dragon’s Blood and see its influence. Created and written by Warren Ellis, this dark fantasy series has acquired a reputation as one of the few video game-inspired projects to stick its landing.

Based on the Konami video game franchise, Castlevania does not require an investment in the source material to enjoy its fantasy, which is rife with Ayami Kojima-inspired artwork and Gothic designs. That is, unless you recognize the orchestral use of “Bloody Tears” in a balletic fight sequence. And if you do, you’re absolutely the target audience here. And if not, you still might be.

What’s It About?

In the fictional medieval land of Wallachia, a corrupt church executes the kind human wife (Emily Swallow) of the vampire overlord Vlad Dracula Tepes (Graham McTavish). To avenge his wife’s murder, he unleashes his demonic night creatures on humanity. Castlevania then follows a rag-tag team out to stop Dracula’s destruction: the drunkard last-of-his-kind monster hunter Trevor Belmont (a grizzled Richard Armitage), the mage Sypha Belnades (an incandescent Alejandra Reynoso), and the estranged half-human, half-vampire son of Dracula, Alucard (James Callis).

Steeped in a macabre European-based setting, Castlevania is a fantastical world with vampires, holy water that burns demon flesh, magic mirrors that transport matter and people, Forgemasters (a variation of necromancers) who convert human corpses into fanged night creatures, and a vampire castle that can teleport with a combo of technology and magic.

Why You Should Watch It

Often bathed in blood-crimson hues, Castlevania is not for the faint of heart. Not unlike Game of Thrones, it engages in gore-gushing violence with images of demons gnawing on human flesh, a mauled infant in demon’s jaws, heads on pikes, and intestines strung on fence posts. (Be warned, sexual violence shows up in season 3.)

While the show opens with a graveyard of impaled skeletons, it allows us to bear witness to a budding love story that results in marriage: a cantankerous vampire falling head over heels for an intellectual human woman, who waltzes into his castle to ask him for the knowledge to heal people. To his bafflement and intrigue, she casually offers, “I can teach you to like people again, or stop putting them on sticks.” Other than establishing a sympathetic motive for its main villain, this opening sets the dark mood, its wry sense of humor, its occasional optimism in humanity, and its complex moral compass. From villainous to virtuous cast members, Castlevania has multifaceted portrayals with gray shades in a good versus evil tale.

Propelled by razor-sharp voicework, the world is populated by richly drawn characters who operate on different wavelengths on how they digest, express, and share knowledge and emotions. Armitage is pitch perfect as the profane misanthrope who reluctantly regains his honor, delivering dialogue like “God shits in my dinner once again.” He plays off Reynoso’s snarky mage, who serves as the eye-rolling scholar of the group. Callis imbues Alucard with a honey-smooth pompous grace, and the half-vampire is also easily the one you want to hug the most since saving the world means defeating his own father. Everyone in this trio utters priceless situational quips. For example, Trevor remarks “I realize you’re trying to menacingly abduct me, but I’m excommunicated” to knife-wielding thuggish priests. Not to mention the memetic comedic gold where Sypha exclaims “See? God hates me!” when night creatures ambush them.

Directed by Sam and Adam Deats, the polished earth-toned anime-esque style (sans the traditional Osamu Tezuka-pioneered big eyes in character designs) takes advantage of the dynamism of the 2D medium, with intense reaction close-ups and the swaying and swishing of the camera movement to stimulate the momentum of dazzling fights with exploding vampire guts, flying swords and daggers, and flesh slashing across castle corridors and crypts. The choreography properly delegates time and space for each character to showcase their prowess: Trevor lashing his consecrated whip in whirlpooling action, Sypha improvising with her ice, fire, and lightning powers, and Alucard harnessing his flying sword.

Ellis’s script treats Castlevania like a live-action television drama that takes its sweet time with slow-burn talks in libraries or war rooms before hurtling into action setpieces. But with the help of cast chemistry, the dialogue’s commitment to developing idiosyncrasies can result in witty banter, breakdowns, or charming moments like one tender scene where two female vampire lovers break down war strategies like restless spouses calculating their budgets and bills.

Castlevania also rejects the simple pathway to “smash this one big evil and we’re done” approach. It meditates on aftermaths where players face their own psychological distress long after major victories or losses. They might wonder if humanity is worth saving.

The best way to watch Castlevania is to devote a single sitting to each of its seasons. Each episode feels like a chunk of a film – the series lacks the traditional self-contained arcs of episodic television. This stems from its early development as a film trilogy before the project was picked up by Netflix and transformed into a series.

In its 10 episodes, the final season wraps the show on a note of closure. Castlevania follows a multitude of characters on separate paths and downward spirals, yet the finale leaves no character arc unaddressed. Even open-ended outcomes lend a sense of peace.

The Future of the Castlevania Universe

Netflix is eyeing a series set in the same universe with a new cast of characters. There are few details about the project so far. It can be speculated that Ellis would not be involved because of the sexual misconduct accusations against him that resulted in a previous announcement that Ellis would not return to potential new seasons of Castlevania, though season four (which retains Ellis’s work and credit) was planned as the finale.

Considering that the Castlevania video game franchise shifted generationally from Belmont to Belmont, it seems appropriate to expand the lore—“Castlevania is a story about a family and multiple generations of this family,” executive producer Adi Shankar said in 2017. In addition, Shankar said in an IGN interview that an adaptation of the Capcom video game Devil May Cry “will join Castlevania in what we’re now calling the bootleg multiverse.”

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All four seasons of Castlevania are currently streaming on Netflix.

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