The legacy of the Belmont family is one rife with tragedy, death, destruction and utter chaos – no wonder Trevor is constantly getting his hands tied. Getting teased by a frail sorceress and being flipped off by the son of a deranged vampire can also do wonders to your sanity.
There’s a question that most people here would be familiar with. What do you think of when you hear the term: video game adaptation? For most fans out there in the blogosphere, it brings about implications that the product is going to be filthier than a Hippopotamus’ rancid arsehole. It fits; every single time a studio tries to cash in on a trendy video game, it fails completely. Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Assassins Creed, Prince of Persia, Warcraft, the list goes on… Not even well-established directors could do any justice towards them for whatever reason (though knowing the film scene, its most likely due to studio interferences). It’s become common knowledge at this moment that video games just translate poorly to the big screen and are better served as forms of interactive entertainment for players to release their daily dose of dopamine. And of course, take out their urges to go on city wide rampages in a fictionalized setting.
Its now 2018 and the curse may have been broken. Well, sort of (Warcraft wasn’t particularly awful you know, regardless of what the critics were blabbering about).
I’ll admit, Castlevania season 1 ended on a rough note. It was incomplete, lots of story threads were left hanging, and to make matters worse, its ending was a literal cliffhanger. Dracula came off as this temperamental, depressed man who decides to send his lackies over to mass murder a bunch of men, women and children, all while he drinks himself to sleep. I mean you can’t blame him, right? On a mental level, he’s practically an old man at this point. He probably spent years of grueling work trying to forge together an army, feed his brethren and continue his reign over vampiric society. He’s already stressed out as it is and having some religious bastards burn his wife at the stake only worsens his condition. Trevor is introduced as this total dickhead who scoffs at the sight of crying refugees and thinks it’s perfectly fine to rip people’s eyeballs out of their sockets. So yeah, it’s safe to say I hated the first season. Thank god Warren Ellis and co were able to conceive a second outing for the series, otherwise it too would have fallen victim to the unfortunate reality of being a video game adaptation. Which would mean that Castlevania is one of the few titles I’ve seen that improves beyond its first installment. And that is in part due to the tight writing, fleshed out characterization, massive improvements in its 2D animation, and of course having the privilege of being eight episodes long as opposed to the first season’s four episode run. Thanks a bunch, Netflix!
So, season two’s story continues from where the first season left off. Trevor Belmont and his companion, Sypha, have managed to acquire the assistance of Alucard (Dracula’s son) in their quest to kill Dracula. Meanwhile, Dracula himself has amassed an army of vampires and the undead to wreak havoc among the human race, a form of vengeance against them for their execution of his dear wife. However, even amongst his ranks, tensions appear to have stirred up. And thus, the series basically retreads the plot of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventures: Stardust Crusaders, where a group of heroes venture forth to slay some demonic undead overlord to prevent him from causing any more mayhem.
What is most impressive about season two is how it develops and fleshes out its characters. Trevor Belmont goes from being this random ruffian with a whip, to a sophisticated and determined individual with a long history of vampire hunters in his kin. Alucard isn’t simply some emotionless foil to Dracula in this, but rather a tragic figure with a sense of humor and who has to bear the responsibility of having a mass murderer for a father. Dracula goes from being just some hateful, revenge-filled vampire to a humanized individual that constantly grieves over the loss of his wife. There are even hints throughout the story that suggest that he might be ready to depart the world, his war against the humans being nothing but an excuse for a suicide mission. It’s gotten to the point where he’s beginning to admit that all this slaughter may have been for nothing. I mean, most of the people he’s killed have nothing to do with his wife’s death anyways.
The new season also introduces a slew of new characters, all of whom are intriguing in their own right. Carmilla, thankfully, isn’t portrayed as a complete dominatrix in this rendition, though she still manages to retain her erotic, smug demeanor despite her modesty. Her platonic yet advantageous relationship with one of the forgemasters – a misanthropic fellow known as Hector, who shares nothing but contempt and malice towards his own species – makes it perfectly clear that her existence in the show is so she could act as a second antagonist to Dracula. Isaac is set up as Dracula’s closest friend, almost his second in command in fact. This tortured soul, his body battered with bruises from having served as a slave, bonds closely with Dracula after realizing that love among the human species is nothing but a false concept in this heartless world. His undying loyalty to Dracula is effortlessly shown and the show digs deep into their relationship, showing how it began and developed. Speaking of Isaac and even Hector for that matter, their characters are a welcome reflection on the destructive and cruel nature of humanity. Both are victims at the hands of their past superiors and have endured enough pain and suffering at their disposal to want to act as traitors toward their own kind. It often helps viewers further understand Dracula’s view of humanity in general and why he aspires to crush them. But, by far the best character to be introduced has to be Godbrand. This arrogant, war hungry, Viking-inspired berserker steals the show with every appearance. His ferocious and overly stubborn attitude makes him a delight to watch on-screen and his lines have a sense of bolstering fierceness to them that it makes him come across as both badass, terrifying, and amusing at the same time.
An addition the show that is worth looking into is the inclusion of politics. Dracula’s subordinates oftentimes voice their own personal opinions on his choices, some even deciding to go against his plans. Carmilla for one, believes that the Belmonts should be their primary target due to their expertise in slaying droves of vampires before them, rather than having Godbrand lead an army to decimate random villages to cull the human population. There’s even a segment where the vampires argue as to what settlements should be targeted beforehand, with some choosing to side with Dracula’s thoughts and others straying away from them. Demonstrating their own views on the matter delineates how not every vampire is simply a mindless drone under his control, rather they keep their autonomy intact. They have their own beliefs, their own philosophies and their own thoughts. And that’s what makes them humanized. Little touches like this differ the creatures of the night from their incarnations in other shows/books/video games. The show even brings up answers related to how these creatures live – one of these being how they’re able to stay in the sun for so long – and having this knowledge only strengthens the lore established by the games. Did I mention that it improves the lore? The Castlevania games were initially just shallow beat-em-up side scrollers – incorporating this much only expands the overarching story even further. It is a prequel to Symphony of the Night after all.
Also, for you diehard Castlevania nerds out there, they played the Bloody Tears track in this. They finally inserted and remastered the most iconic tune in the franchise and it couldn’t have been used at a better moment! Even I, a person who hasn’t played a single Castlevania game in his lifetime and whose only exposure to the franchise is through this series, had the most epic nerdgasm you could think of when it came on. Oh, and don’t get me started on the voice acting. This series has talent from the freaking Hobbit trilogy for crying out loud! For an anime, that’s kinda crazy! Richard Armitage, the man who played the Dwarven King by the name of Thorin Oakenshield, voices Trevor Belmont here. Ironically enough, Graham McTavish, best known for portraying Thorin’s comrade Dwalin, takes on the role of Dracula here. Seeing these two go up against one another is a blessing to the eyes, and the ears of course. Especially when you consider that Armitage and McTavish both played companions in the Hobbit films, whereas in Castlevania they’re both constantly at each other’s throats. Another honourable mention goes to Peter Stormare (you’d know him as Satan from Constantine), who does a good enough job at lending his thick accented and arrogant sounding voice to Godbrand. Sure, his accent may take some time getting accustomed to, but you can’t deny that he completely chews the scenery everytime he’s on screen.
It’s a shame that a season this impressive, especially considering the quality of the first, also has to contend to its own problems. For one, the relationship between Trevor and Sypha, which borders on being romantic on a lot of occasions, feels rushed. In season one, Sypha almost considers Trevor to be this utter buffoon who wouldn’t last a second against Dracula’s minions. Yet in this season, he quickly starts earning her respect for some reason. Their relationship really felt it should have been given some more time to be built upon. In addition to this, the show lacks a lot of focus on the human side of the conflict. Human beings mostly end up being treated as if they’re helpless livestock here, with a lot more scenes showing them getting mindlessly slaughtered as if they’re in an open slaughterhouse, rather than showcasing their fruitful attempts to ward off the vampiric invasion on their settlements. Its even less than in the first season; at least there, viewers glimpsed the religious side of the conflict. Had there been more attention on the humans, this show might have ended up being the closest vampire fiction has gotten to their version of Game of Thrones. Also, while the animation has been improved compared to before, there are still moments where the movements feel a little stiff and lack fluidity. There are also a couple of instances where characters remain still in the background or while speaking, their lips moving, but their eyes constantly suppressing a blink. But look on the bright side, at the very least there’s a heavy reliance on 2D animators here. None of that crappy 3D bullshit you get in modern anime.
So yes, even if you ended up despising the everlasting shit out of the first season, you should at least give the second one a chance. Everything that was introduced in the first has been expanded upon and developed in the second. And as far as video game adaptations go, it’s a diamond in the rough to say the least. A shiny jewel embedded in a bed of the nastiest dumpster pile you could imagine.