Final Season of CASTLEVANIA on Netflix Is a Surprising Comfort Watch
The arrival of the gore-gushing and narrative-driven Castlevania was a remarkable and refreshing milestone for western adult animation, which often produces crudely drawn comedy. This isn’t a dig against the traditionally crude, low-budget or cartoonish look of adult animated comedies, like Rick and Morty or Futurama, as it is an admission that comedy and narrative fantasy shows should co-exist in the western adult animated industry.
However, the success of Castlevania is unfortunately haunted by the sexual misconduct accusations against creator and writer Warren Ellis, whose work and credits remain intact in its final season — though whether he would be consulted for future Castlevania-projects is up in the air. Coming into the medieval nightcreature-populated world, viewing Castlevania inevitably comes with this baggage.
As a whole production itself, Castlevania yields many merits, compliments that can be given to the directors, Sam and Adam Deats, and the Powerhouse Animation team. Since its premiere in 2017 as an early Netflix original animation, this dark fantasy show has acquired a reputation of a good — good, period — adaptation of a video game franchise, and one that newbie viewers can appreciate.
If the moral of the road-bumpy third season was “abandon all hope,” season four climbs out of the abyss. The season opens with six weeks of endless night creature and vampire slaying, exhausting the whip-wielding monster hunter Trevor Belmont (a grimy Richard Armitage) and the elemental mage Sypha Belnades (an incandescent Alejandra Reynoso). The pair end up venturing into yet another dark parable about human disintegration. Meanwhile, a village’s cry for help grants the brooding reclusive half-vampire, half-human Alucard (James Callis) the chance to reconnect with humanity.
Season four leans hard into the theater that season three was notorious for. Virtues and commitments are discussed. Lackeys question their superior’s orders and ambitions, in private or in front of them. You will notice the script talking its way to evolved motives that are missing a few eventful episodes to build. This is most visible in the vampire empress Carmilla’s (Jaime Murray) arc. While not out of character, her ambition has metastasized from a feasible plan, and the show wastes no time having her initially supportive court question her vision, leading to philosophizing over stability (the undercurrent of a “narrative punishing woman for ambition” cliché does haunt this arc but it’s complicated when factoring how Carmilla’s female-run council feel about it). In contrast, the novelistic breathing space for Isaac’s (Adetokumboh M’Cormack) story pays off in resonance, and special notice is given to M’Cormack when he navigates the murderous and enlightened necromancer into the series’ most poetic paradigm shifts.
The animesque animation of Castlevania, while vibrant and polished, has rightfully been criticized for gratuitous gore, often sliding into sadistic shock-value that undercuts emotional impact — this includes a sequence of sexual violence last season that did Alucard dirty. At least, the final season is wiser to the rule that combative violence best serves as the punctuation rather than the point.
Those who accept possibilities find themselves rewarded with insight and rediscovery that will better the world. Those who cling to follies may get swallowed by old thinking. All these themes accumulate into a hellraiser of a final boss showdown, topped with a speech unleashing with the force of cracking floodgates. In the words of someone, “It’s time to give the world back to people who know how to build things!”
Plenty of fussy gears move in Castlevania and its infamous chunk-by-chunk pacing is wonky. Yet, the vibrancy of the characters always anchors our investment in their journey. When its players have closure, they accept closure with the acknowledgment that life will remain open-ended.
It’s bizarre that its final 10 minutes drops an epilogue teaser, not a rude cut-to-black cliffhanger, a rather unambiguously hopeful outcome more suited as an end credits bonus. Regardless, the most potent endings — happy, sad, or bittersweet — conclude on ellipses.