“A fantastic show full of heart and action”
Over the course of three seasons, Netflix’s Castlevania has confidently cemented itself as the best video game adaptation of all time. With a solid cast of voice actors, lofty philosophical ideas, stellar animation and exhilaration action, the show’s fourth and final season has a lot to live up to. Castlevania nearly hits a home run with a satisfying conclusion that only has a couple of bumps along the way. The biggest issue with this season, however, is the controversy around the show’s creator.
The final season starts strong, offering an action-packed episode that introduces the running themes for this season of purpose and legacy. Trevor (Richard Armitage) and Sypha (Alejandra Reynoso) find themselves aimlessly wondering about the land of Wallachia, fighting night creatures not for some great cause but because it’s something to do, and, frankly, it’s the only thing they know how to do. There is some fun to be had with their sarcastic banter, but the tone is remarkably more dire and pessimistic compared to previous seasons. This sense of purpose, and the nihilistic cycle of living out the same moments everyday for the rest of their lives (or for all of eternity for the vampiric characters), is what every character faces throughout this season. Forgemaster Isaac (Adetokumboh M’Cormack) continues his journey of revenge with his army of night creatures but begins contemplating his role besides being a vengeful conqueror. Vampiric sisters Lenore (Jessica Brown Findlay), Morana (Yasmine Al Massri) and Striga (Ivana Milicevic) each question their place in a chaotic world amid concerns with the power-hungry Carmilla (Jaime Murray). Alucard (James Callis) wrestles with being a half-vampire, half-human, and other characters, new and old, embark on similar character arcs.
The massive roster of characters becomes a strength and a weakness for Castlevania’s final ten episodes. TV is of course a great format to dive deeper into an ensemble cast, but when that show only comprises of ten, half-hour episodes, that doesn’t leave a lot of time to juggle as many characters as Castlevania has. A particular character makes an exciting return from a previous season, but as a result an early episode is nearly fully dedicated to their backstory and letting the audience catch up on who that character is – killing the show’s usual great pacing. Two new additions to the cast, the egotistical vampire Varney (Malcolm McDowell) and his brutish right-hand vampire Ratko (Titus Welliver), are entertaining but clog up screen time when other characters sorely need it. Lovers Morana and Striga get some nice scenes together, and one of the best battle scenes in the series, but their arcs are cut short at the expense for others.
Fortunately, the story and the action picks up in the latter half of the season. The animation from studios Powerhouse and Frederator is exceptional and lights up the screen in the many, many bloody set pieces. The penultimate episode features the best fight choreography and action sequences in the entire series, but still manages to find great character moments amidst the carnage. An earlier episode similarly highlights how well the show balances exhilarating gory action with fleshed out characters, which centres around an epic battle capped off with a riveting conversation that ties up a few subplots. All of this high praise is definitely soured by the controversy surrounding Castlevania’s creator Warren Ellis, after numerous women came forward with multiple allegations of grooming. Netflix has since severed their relationship with Ellis, so the spinoff series in the works is hopefully in good hands, but it still makes it difficult to support and watch the show even when so many people have worked so hard to produce a brilliant series.
Castlevania’s final ten episodes builds on the show’s nihilistic themes but eventually wraps up on a somewhat optimistic note that focuses on the future. Whether they live or die, each character has their arc wrapped up in satisfying ways that link back to the themes explored: their fates determined by whether they can escape their cycles of violence and adapt to a different life for future generations. The very final scene is a delightful surprise that closes out the entire series in a genuinely heartfelt way that thematically ties everything together and honours the legacy of the story told. Video game adaptations always had a low bar to clear but Castlevania has changed the game (sorry) completely, gifting wider audiences and fans of the games a fantastic show full of heart and action for you to sink your teeth into.
Created by: Warren Ellis
Produced by: Ted Biaselli, Warren Ellis, Brad Graeber, Kevin Kolde, Fred Seibert, Adi Shankar, Larry Tanz, Jason Williams, Toshiyuki Hiruma
Cast: Richard Armitage, James Callis, Alejandra Reynoso, Theo James, Adetokumboh M’Cormack, Jaime Murray, Jessica Brown Findlay
Available on: Netflix
Header image courtesy of Netflix