Julien Neaves, Editor
Greetings Red Mango Readers. So I have a confession to make. I’ve been meaning to review Netlfix’s Castlevania series since it first debuted way back in July 2017 as I have found it beautifully animated, fantastically scripted and voice acted, gloriously gory and violent, and a brilliant evolution of the source material. The series is an adaptation of the long-running horror-adventure franchise and specifically adapts the 1989 entry Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (a game I have a great fondness for) on the Nintendo Entertainment System (look it up young ‘uns) with some elements of the 2015 entry Castlevania: Curse of Darkness on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.
Well the fourth and sadly final season was released last week but it felt insufficient to review it alone. So to make up for my unforgivable lack of previous reviews I have decided to rank all four seasons. With a gothic castle-sized SPOILER ALERT let’s whip out whips, draw our magic swords, and fire up this ranking!
#4 Season 1
It was easy placing the first season at the bottom of this ranking. Yes the anime-inspired animation was gorgeous. We knew we were in for a graphic experience from the first episode which shows a woman being burned alive (Drac’s poor wife Lisa) and monsters ripping random people apart. And the dialogue about politics and religion showed there was going to be depth behind the adventures. Richard Armitage (The Hobbit trilogy), James Callis (Battlestar Galactica reboot), and Alejandra Reynoso were all pitch perfect as roguish monster hunter Trevor Belmont, condescending dhampir (half human/half vampire) son of Dracula, Adrian “Alucard” Tepes, and eternally optimistic Speaker magician Sypha Belnades. Graham McTavish and Max Headroom himself Matt Frewer also put in stellar work as vengeful Dracula and the despicable Bishop. And Trevor and Sypha holding off the night creatures in Gresit and the Trevor/Alucard fight made for some fantastic action.
But when Alucard says “Let’s begin” in Episode 4 the season has come to an end. It was so good but just too dang short. It felt almost like a proof of concept. Like the folks with the money said, “These video game adaptations usually don’t do well. Here’s the cash for four episodes. If it does okay we can give you money to make some more.” If the goal was to whet fans’ appetites then mission accomplished because after that amuse-bouche (look at me talking all fancy) we were madly craving the appetiser round.
#3 Season 3
After the brilliant second season (we’ll get to that soon) I was ridiculously excited for the next season. And the third season, was, well…okay. There were things that worked for me and things that didn’t. I loved seeing the blossoming relationship between Trevor and Sypha and their chemistry was hotter than one of the Speaker magician’s fire blasts and cooler than her icy feet. Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter franchise, Star Trek: Discovery) was a welcome addition as the solemn Judge and the Lindenfeld mystery was truly intriguing. And that final reveal with him was disturbing and jaw-dropping.
The mysterious Saint Germain was just kind of there for me but he proves important for the plot of this and the final season. The final battle with the demons was also awesome, and I especially liked the creature that pulled arrows from its body. The creature design in this series is just outstanding throughout, mixing both recognisable fiends from the game and some nightmare fuel-inducing original hellspawn. I also enjoyed Forgemaster Isaac (Adetokumboh M’Cormack from Lost and Heroes) and his journey with his burgeoning night creature army. I especially liked his philosophical chats with the Jamaican captain “Captain”. And his battle with the mind-controlling wizard was just mind-blasting.
That’s where the best stuff ends for me. The Council of Sisters stuff was just okay. The Lenore/Hector relationship was interesting but not riveting. And what the heck was that Alucard storyline? It was like they didn’t know what to do with him. The Taka/Sumi stuff felt like filler, and not even entertaining filler. Every time an episode would cut to them I was waiting for it to cut back to something else. Maybe if Alucard was hunting night creatures with them then at least something would have been happening. But no. Just lots of talking with the two dullest characters of the entire show. And the whole sex attempted murder climax (no pun intended) just left me dissatisfied.
And speaking of the horizontal polka, this was the only season to feature nudity and sex. Maybe after ticking off the profanity and graphic violence boxes they wanted the trifecta. I dunno. But I do know that Season 3 was the most uneven, and only beats Season 1 because the latter was ridiculously short.
#2 Season 2
Now this is more like it. Season 2 took everything about the first season and expanded and improved upon it. We get to see the Trevor/Sypha/Alucard trio in all their comedic and fighting glory. We visit the Easter egg-filled Belmont Hold and see a portrait of the first Belmont monster hunter Leon Belmont (he’s from the games by the way). We learn about Dracula’s Castle and it’s transporting ability as well as the magic mirrors. We do a deep dive into the suicidal Dracula and meet his colourful War Council, including the hilariously-uncultured Godbrand and the scheming Carmilla (voiced by genre mainstay Jaime Murray from Defiance, Gotham). We also meet the Forgemasters, calculating and philosophical Isaac, and naïve Hector. I loved the whole concept of the Forgemasters as it was a great way to explain all these varied and terrible creatures under the vampires’ command.
And the action in this season? It was too good. The battle in the Belmont Hold was such fun. And then the trio’s attack on the castle? Shut the front, back, and side doors! Oh my goodness! That was one of the most epic things I have seen in my entire life. Trevor kicking backside with the Morning Star. Sypha being inventive and lethal with ice and fire. And Alucard magic sword flying, super-fast moving, and transforming into a FREAKING WOLF! And vampires getting slaughtered left, right and centre. After this the final battle with Drac was actually a bit of a breather. So yeah, I adored the second season and I had no idea how they could top it.
#1 Season 4
And then Season 4 came along and they topped it. This is how you end an epic series people! The opening montage with Trevor and Sypha battling a variety of nasties, including skeletons which are a Castlevania staple, was such wonderful fan service. The stuff in Târgoviște (an actual place in Romania) took a little time to get heated up and half-mad head guard Zamfir was just kind of serviceable. The final battle delivered though.
And my boy Alucard was at his stylish best. The Danesti storyline was well done and I liked seeing him flirting with his snuggle bunny/hammer aficionado Greta and acting as protector to the villagers. This is the first time we see him battling night creatures and IT WAS AWESOME! Man even the Council of Sisters stuff was superb. Did you see Striga slaughter those farmers in her Day Armour? That was some anime-inspired blood-soaked gory greatness right there. And I liked that the season showed Hector was more than a patsy and a slave but actually had plans of his own. We also had the highly anticipated siege of the Styria Castle by Isaac and his night creature horde. Seeing night creatures battling night creatures and Carmilla taking them down like a bad mother…shut your mouth! I’m just talking about Carmilla. This was so epic it could have worked as a season finale. But the best was yet to come.
Trevor, Sypha and a sword and shield-wielding Alucard battling a horde of night creatures and vampire lords in the castle. You are reading my spoiler-filled article so I presume you saw it. I wouldn’t even try to put it into words. I will just say there were multiple nerdgasms here. Multiple! And then they drop the whole twist with the foolhardy vampire actually being Death (another game staple) and then Trevor double-whip and cross-blade battling him? Man this felt like a final level come to life and I was digging it hard. My only gripe was what the heck were Sypha and Alucard doing during the battle?
And after so much death and darkness the series ended on a surprisingly hopeful note. Not only did Trevor survive but so did both Dracula and Lisa. Was not expecting that at all. But after the best season and the best video game adaptation ever they could have ended it by putting up a black screen with “GAME OVER” and I wouldn’t have complained. And with Sypha being preggers I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel series with their child. Or what about a prequel series with Leon Belmont and the origins of Dracula? What I am saying is I need more Castlevania in my life at some point. Because if this is the end end then that would truly suck.
So that’s my ranking. Are you a fan of the Castlevania series? Sound off in the comments. For more Netflix adult anime-inspired content you can check out our recommendations below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. I can also be found posting about TV and movie memes, news and trailers on Facebook at Movieville. And to stay on top of all Redmangoreviews articles you can like and follow us on Facebook here.