Loosely based on 1989’s Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. The second series of Netflix’s Castlevania rounds off the retelling of that game’s events, as well as introducing some elements and characters from the 2005 PS2 game: Castlevania: Curse of Shadow.
It’s a strong conclusion to the story, one that doesn’t just do the source material justice, but also opens up the possibility for a chronological retelling of the game’s lore through a series. Which has always been a better option when it comes to video game adaptations. <Spoilers ahead>
I never really spoke about the first series last year. Made possible, in no small part, thanks to Adi Shankar. Originally intended to be a live action movie, with heavy inspiration drawn from the Underworld series, it mercifully avoided inevitable mediocrity by going into development hell for ten years.
It was when Shankar and Netflix got involved that the project transitioned into animation and the series format rather than film. One that worked really well, creating a large interest from fans and non-fans alike thanks to its striking visual style and more mature tone.
The art direction is one of the strongest aspects of the series. Taking stylistic inspiration from the original artwork of Ayami Kojima; the original character designer for the franchise, known for his detailed, painterly style. In keeping with this, despite being an American production, the choice was made to create the series with a distinct anime style.
It helped the show carve its own, unique little niche. Had it turned out to be Underworld with a whip, I can’t imagine it would have anywhere near as interesting as this series turned out to be. Nor the more graphic tone it carries. Which was something of a contentious point for me when it came to the first series.
In this second series, the gruesome, visceral nature of the violence feels toned down from the first, which could feel a little excessive at times. Especially when it was innocent people getting disembowelled by the minions of Dracula. With that in mind though, those first three episodes painted humanity in a very negative light, almost making Dracula feel like the anti-hero of the story at times.
The second steps back from the horror elements of the story and leans more into the action and adventure aspects. The result is one that works out both for the better and the worse. While brief, the few episodes of season 1 felt like they were focusing on the character stories. Namely of Dracula and Trevor Belmont. Both characters kind of fade into the background in this conclusion to the arc.
On the “hero side”, Alucard takes on the role of protagonist of the story, much more so than Trevor. Hardly a presence in the three episodes that came before, now Alucard’s relationship with his father makes him the more classical hero of the story. It’s not just in the narrative, it’s also seen in how scenes are presented also.
Trevor almost takes the role of high competent comic relief character. Almost like the Han Solo, to Alucard’s Luke Skywalker. Thinking about it, the Star Wars comparison runs deeper than a passing mention could cover…
Even so much as the final confrontation of the series being a battle between Alucard and Dracula, with Trevor hardly factoring into the fight.
It makes sense that the more classical story being told here would be one between father and son, and this show is nothing if not slavishly reverent to the tropes and beats of the genre. The shame is in how little Dracula factor’s into the events of the second series despite being the primary villain.
One of the complaints about season 2 you might see floating around the internet is that much of the eight episode run focused on Dracula’s court, his bickering minions vying for power amongst themselves.
Camilla and Godbrand; Vampire generals in his army, Hector and Isaac; human forge masters responsible for creating the creatures of the night that assault the humans. A lot of time is dedicated to the morals and reasons behind why these characters follow Dracula, who now wants to exterminate the human race.
Dracula himself is apathetic in the extreme throughout the story. His explosive rage at humanity killing his wife in the first series was a sight to behold, terrifying and powerful. Here, his grief seems to have taken him over and he just seems tired, dismissing the bickering of his subordinates.
After the fact, I came to realise that Hector and Isaac were both the protagonist and villain of the PS2 game; Curse of Shadow. Their presence of which seems to be there to ensure a future for the series beyond this one. But their inclusion in the story comes at the expense of Dracula’s character and thus the impact of his eventual death.
The final confrontation between Alucard’s gang and his father is still an impressive scene, amazingly animated and uniquely choreographed given the combatants unique fighting styles. Trevor’s ingenuity with a whip seems endlessly creative and Sypha’s magic to also utilised in a number of really visually striking ways.
Both Alucard and Dracula have powers that make the animeness of this show really shine through, looking like something from Dragon Ball. It culminates with them crashing into Alucard’s childhood room and Dracula suddenly losing all will to fight. Alucard points out that all his father has wanted since his mother’s death is someone to kill him.
And so Dracula allows himself to be staked by his son. Sadly, because there had been almost no character focus on either Dracula or Alucard, their relationship or history it falls a little flat. Their only connection is how much they both cared for the mother and wife they lost, but otherwise, there is nothing else established between the two.
I think it’s a nice idea to turn Dracula into some tragic figure, turned into a monster by the humans he was trying to forge a connection with. But it feels like everything that was set up by the first series was glazed over in this second series in order to ensure the continuation of the story through the introduction of characters like Camilla and Hector.
It’s not to say the character work in this series was bad. While most of the secondary characters did feel a little stock, the main trio’s banter and voice acting is great. There is this subtle strained banter between them. Trevor and Alucard butting heads while Sypha acts as mediator.
Richard Armitage’s performance as a sarcastic and downtrodden Trevor Belmont is a unique take to say the least, but not one I hated. Many of his lines seem almost to himself, as he mumbles insults and makes weak passes at Sypha. It’s not a choice everyone will love, but it made Trevor feel much more like a real person as a result.
Sure he is the charismatic, swashbuckling hero in his actions, but there is a vulnerability to him in dialogue that adds some depth to what could have been a pretty generic character. How intentional this all was on Armitage or the voice director’s part is up for debate.
The third season has already been green lit. With the way things have ended, it feels like a larger focus on Hector’s story inspired by the PS2 game is probably the direction they’re heading, with Trevor and Sypha taking a more supporting role.
I enjoyed the series, and it’s nice to see more and more video game adaptations getting it right. The action scenes are really well animated and there are striking visuals throughout. I would be interested to see a re imagining of the Castlevania lore in chronological order, which is what seems to be happening with how this series ended. It’s worth a watch not just for fans of the series, but anyone who misses classic gothic horror, or vampires just telling people to “Fuck off”.