There’s a lot to love about Netflix’s Castlevania adaptation, compared to some of the other ilk that it has produced over the last few episodes. It’s snappy, written by people who love the source material, and or the un-initiated, the writing is snappy and succinct enough to keep viewers hooked and enthralled on its premise and themes. But despite a mystifying third season that sets up many mysteries and new character relationships, the fourth is pitched as the final batch of episodes featuring our heroic trio. Rumours have it that future shows will continue to exist in the Castlevania universe, albeit with different characters and (likely) different points in time. For what we have, it does succeed in tying up loose ends and giving its cast functional endings that conclude their arcs of development. Yet slake your thirst, it barely manages; read on to see what we felt was missing in an otherwise fantastic anime adaptation of one of gaming’s most storied franchises.
*Spoilers to follow – those uninitiated in the first three seasons are certainly advised not to continue. Fans who have yet to watch season 4 are similarly warned that we discuss spoilers openly in this review, with the intention of going deep into what we loved and didn’t like about this season.*
For the uninitiated: Castlevania takes place in pseudo-Europe, in the midst of an unholy war between its citizens and demonic Night Creatures. At the helm of this devilish army – or previously, at least – was none other than head-honcho-vampire Dracula, who, as of season 2, had been killed and vanquished by our intrepid heroes. Season 3 established the burgeoning new world orders as prior villains began to carve and divide the remaining lands, now ripe for the picking, setting up what appears to be a multi-season plot thread of scheming, betrayal, and collaborations — only for season 4 to be announced as the final season!
This leaves many loose ends, several of which were set up in season 3, to tie up. But we’ll get more on that later – to catch ourselves up:
Picking up where we had left off, we find Trevor and Sophia as errant travellers, 6 weeks into what is now a string of seemingly-unrelated (but truthfully interconnected) events involving Draculophilic cults attempting to bring the man back to life. Their relationship – playful and coy lovers in testing and uncertain times – remains a highlight, with the show avoiding the common pitfall of petty squabbles or fabricated romantic foibles for petty melodrama. Concomitantly, Alucard remains morose and holed up in his father’s castle, the betrayal of his trust by Japanese monster hunting twins foremost in his mind. He ends up roped into the tribulations of a nearby village, when a dead horseman ends up at his doorstep with a signed note tied to his hand, requesting the assistance of “the Alucard” of the castle to waylay a series of monster attacks that have been nightly. Lastly, St. Germain – the enigmatic time traveller and alchemist who was a welcome addition to the party last season – has been hard at work in deciphering the Infinite Corridor, meeting new acquaintances that point him in supposedly the right direction to extract his beloved from her endless trap.
The heroes inevitably – and predictably – end up together once again, as their divergent paths begin to reveal the work of more sinister elements that hide in the background. There’s artificiality in the nature of the scenarios – you know that the writers are finding any contrivance they can to get the Dracula killers back together – but for what it is, it’s paced to get you amped for that final boss fight.
For one, the show covers a well-established franchise but does a good job in using its pre-established lore to entice old fans and to rope in new ones. The characters are smarmy, mirthful, but engage in larger-than-life heroics and have a knack for doing the right thing. Equally, the villains are both sympathetic and maniacal, driven for revenge against those who have wronged them and yet seeing no connection with how their actions harm those in similar ways.
Bloody Tears (of Fascination and Enjoyment)
Let’s get the visual obviousness out of the way – the show is a feast for the eyes. Misgivings that this is the final season aside, the fights, backgrounds, character animation, and special effects are out on full display. Where season 3 felt like it pulled its punches (to be fair, it takes place in a time after war), there is no shortage of gratuitous violence that season 1 and 2 prized itself on.
For one, Sypha’s magical combat is the most fancy and detailed it has ever been. Complex hand choreography, mixing and matching her (now) three elements, and exhibiting a mixture of crowd control and direct offensive maneuvers has her becoming the standout party member amongst the three protagonists. Its helps that Sypha, personality-wise, has always been the most valiant and likeable of the crew. Alejandra Reynoso reprises the role and her accent lends an authenticity and genuine likeability to Sypha as a nomadic sorcerer. Likewise, Alucard gets to wield more of his otherworldly powers that he possessed by the end of Symphony of the Night, with his teleporting sword and famous shield making prominent displays in various combat situations. While much has been said about how “usable” his actual spells and fancy swordplay are, his distinctive red silhouette, which mark his silhouette as he teleports and traipses across the battlefield, is a joy to behold.
Trevor gets the short shaft compared the others this season, but he receives the full hero treatment, ending the show with his trademark smart and bravado while facing off the grand villain all by his lonesome. He never reaches the same level of martial prowess that he displayed in the first two seasons (there are less whip tricks, and his impressive array of spins and kicks that he used to manipulate Vampire Killer are suspiciously absent), but in its place are some more classic Castlevania sub-weapons that flesh out his bodily armoury. Trevor is at his best when he gets to masterfully use his weapon of choice, but for what the show runners decided that they would bring for him, they do it competently.
The three characters continue to have great banter. Alucard and Trevor’s friendship has clearly evolved to become more of comrades, and the depth to which Alucard misses his dopey human vampier hunting friend is adorable. The show never exploits the burgeoning romance between Trevor and Sypha, either, which I am thankful for: they remain deeply in love with one another, with the ending confirming that the two will continue the Belmont monster hunting lineage with an heir. I can imagine that we will eventually get a sequel series featuring Sypha’s modern descedent, Yoko Belnades, as she faces the battle of 1999… can’t I?
Cutting Room Dregs
What is the most disappointing to me, then, is not the cast, but the plot threads – both lingering strands we were promised before, and new strings peppered throughout this season. Things cut off before they get interesting, and plot points that establish events and characters that have echoing consequences for all of our major actors disappear or are hastily resolved in the background.
Take Varney, for example: the smarmy London vampire is introduced early on in the show as a new villain for the crew to tackle, with hints that he is something more constantly being peppered in our faces. Yet when his ultimate plan is unveiled – he is Death, though not the God of Death so much as a feeder of one – you are left scratching your head as to what he was doing pissing around in Targoviste. His goal of finding a transportation mirror is bizarre; why he could not have flown himself directly to Dracula’s castle, upon knowing where it was, unclear. Similarly, his lackey Ratko – a guerilla agent who has engaged in subterfuge and travesties of war on behalf of Dracula over the years – is never clarified, though the latter himself gets several minutes of dedicated screen time near the end of the show to explain who he is and what he thinks about being a vampire. It’s misplaced and speaks to content that has been removed.
In this way, I guess it’s no different than video game development, with the swaths of missing story plain to see, and awkward remnants, already crafted before the decision to axe those segments were made, somehow hastily jammed into the corners that will fit. It works — again, from beginning to end, this is a fun season to watch — but the struggle is in seeing those misfit edges and wondering what could have – and should have – been.
Yet, it falls flat – especially after 3 seasons of phenomenal writing, with the third setting up conflicts across several stages of war and politics, everything neatly ties together with delicate and fragile framework. Plot segments that are sold as critical seem undercooked, dropped and resolved with nary a second thought. It’s great that the ending is able to land on solid ground, and the main cast – who you are ultimately rooting for – escape with the best prizes, but the editing that has been done to get there seems overkill. Take the vampire sisters Morana and #forgottenName – the brawn and brain of Styria – who find themselves hustling for Carmilla up north. Ambushed by human farmers, both who espouse their exhaustion with slaughtering thinking, feeling, and *rebelling* cattle. In an (intentional?) nod to Berserk, Morana ends up donning what she calls her Day Armor – a hulking contraption of amber and metal that permits her to fight like a ravage wolf, decimating her would-be assailants in a long and lavish fight scene. Yet, by the end of the fight, their thread is tied off; both sisters agree that the fight is meaningless, and that the choice to stays small and to survive makes more sense. This is reinforced when Carmilla is ultimately slain by a vengeful Isaac, secondary to her own growing and egomaniacal ambitions. But – that’s it! No further development; no hint of future adventures down the line; we see a powerful vampi-ress with one of the most impressive armamants in the show, and she is relegated to using it against meek and untrained cattle herds. Tell me that isn’t a sign that something more was planned down the line before the proclamation that this is the end…!
Other punches that feel off are the inclusions of villains Ratko and Varney, a Russian and English vampire who have hunkered down in Targoviste – the site of the burning of Dracula’s wife, Lisa – for… no clear reason. Varney is reportedly masterminding the plot that will bring Dracula back to life, but his reasons for needing to stay in Targoviste – arguably now a veritable hell-hole with nothing in it save a mysterious transporting mirror – are never made clear. His partner, Ratko, languishes in a similar state of limpid being: as an ex-special forces vampire agent (more Jason Bourne than James Bond), his motivation is purely to achieve what he thinks he is at the zenith of doing, but other than the oddly long 10 minutes you get before he dies, his reason for being in the show is never established.
Death serves as a nice final villain, given that the most powerful being in the Castlevania universe has already passed on, but his power level lacks a tangible sense of comparison. Where Dracula was a scientist-gone-mad, master of both spells and technolgoical wizardry, Death is repeatedly described as not the “concept” or “god” that embodies Death, but a feeder. Yet, for a parasitic organism, his powers are great, and the final battle pitched between him and Trevor speak more to a celestial being rather than a phantom leech. It’s another nitpick of a season that wanted to deliver more.
It’s perhaps the strength of its ending that has made Castlevania season 4 as popular among its fan base as it has thus far, but cut down in its prime, seekers for more of its gory tale can rejoice: rumour has it that more anime adaptations of Castlevania are on their way, covering other Belmonts and characters through the ages. (There are even more bizarre rumours that the upcoming Devil May Cry adaptation will somehow be tied in with the Castlevania anime, as well, though how Netflix intends to get Capcom and Konami to be OK with this is unclear). With at least three semi-immortal characters remaining in the wings, the prospect of an animated universe is exciting to contemplate and consider.
## A Full, Bloody Moon
Castlevania season 4 is a fun romp through Transylvania, with crunchy animated fight scenes and wrap-ups to your favourite characters. While some arcs are clumsily ended where previous episodes may have suggested more meat to the bone, for fans of this series, this is a nice and juicy bite to end what has been a phenomenal ride.
For newcomers who are hopping on, it’s hard to recommend this season without the foreknowledge of what has come before. If you’re not terribly pressed for time, at least give seasons 1-2 to watch: in combination, it’s a fairly short duology that will have you will prepared for these last few episodes. While you won’t be as familiar with the ne’er-do-wells that make up the predominant middle half of the show, the trio of Trevor, Sypha, and Alucard should have you well set up to love the finale for what it is.
A romp that provides Trevor, Sypha, and Alucard conclusions to their quest against evil, at least, for now. While the show has set up significant stakes and lingering hints to the future, what it does end with provides a fulfilling resolution to its themes of love, sacrifice, and hope.