May 20, 2021 — Four seasons in, Netflix’s adaption of the Castlevania video-game series has opted to end on a high rather than risk overstaying its welcome. With a spin-off already announced, the series’ popularity is not in question — but can it stick the landing? Spoilers ahead…
The animation style of Castlevania is, to be frank, a little too ugly. Like a hybrid of Western 2D animation and anime influence, the series’ animation style often ruins what could be an effective shot, an over-reliance on camera movement and flashy cuts making the series feel haphazardly cartoonish. The art itself conveys plenty of the gothic horror that sits at the heart of the series (a lot of angular, over-long structures, constructs, and creatures) but lacks a fluidity in motion that keeps it from feeling seamless and effective.
Whips, fireballs, and floating swords
That said, the battles are still brilliant by and large. Gore is kept up in high volumes to satisfy splatter fans, while the Night Creatures have enough unsettling nastiness about them to maintain the creep factor a series like this should revel in. Its pacing may be all over the place between episodes, but whenever a battle does break out you can guarantee a healthy helping of action that keeps everything compelling.
It goes without saying, but Castlevania killed Dracula far too early. Whilst a satisfying battle to kill the series’ chief villain did yield fruit way back in the second season, the fact remains that without Dracula himself at the helm the rest of the series has been trying to navigate around the fanged void at the heart of its story. More often than not, this leaves us in some backwater town where things are not all they seem and the denizens of the night are either a) trying to resurrect the Big Baddie or b) enact his dream of destroying all humans. But without the tragic, iconic status of its main player, this all too often feels like a repetitive B-plot to what is happening elsewhere in the series.
“Castlevania’s fourth and final season of the show is incredibly satisfying from a narrative perspective.”
That is not to say the show doesn’t craft great characters — the core team of protagonists Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, and Alucard Tepes remain engaging as they give the series a sense of world-weary humor in the face of horror — but the villains feel more and more diminished as we go through. The choice to pivot the series to show the perspective of the characters on the dark side feels inspired so far as the narrative goes — Isaac and Hector are brilliantly realized in this final season, but the vampiric elements always feel a little too hackneyed. Even a last-minute reveal of über-villain Death (played by the ever-brilliant Malcolm Mcdowell) feels like a rushed attempt to crown a new nasty at the top of the totem even with several episodes’ worth of foreshadowing.
For all of its issues, Castlevania’s fourth and final season of the show is incredibly satisfying from a narrative perspective. While it does get too-happy in wrapping everything up in a neat, happy little bow, no narrative threads that have been set up during the series’ run are left untied by the end. Some conclusions feel bafflingly concise (Carmilla spends most of the season influencing the wider world but ultimately not getting enough of a narrative to do anything but act as an adversary – but then, that is often the lot of sub-bosses in these games), but by and large the series spends just long enough with its core characters to establish not just their motivations, but paths for the future.
The reunion of forge-masters Hector and Isaac has been building for some time, but the end result speaks volumes to the series’ ability to let its characters grow and adapt. Elsewhere, Alucard’s descent into darkness is cut short as he is called back in to fight on the side of good. It’s a somewhat boring conclusion considering where we left him last season (and indeed, found him this time with more additions to his stake forest), but at least we don’t spend too much time invested in a redemption arc everyone can see coming from miles off. Without explicitly spelling out where the series leaves its characters, there is a sense of open-ended finality to their stories that gels with the video game hero narrative and leaves just enough wiggle room to pick back up in the future (whether through the spin-off or a sequel series).
Out of 10
- The final arc feels very in keeping with the video games, bringing everything back for one last major battle and letting us end on a ray of sunshine.
- The reunion of the Alucard-Belmont-Sypher trio makes for some great fighting dynamics, even if their teamwork is under-utilized in the end.
- There is still plenty of horror and humor to be mined from the final series.
- The voice acting is fantastic – as one would expect from a series that has drafted the likes of Malcolm McDowell and Bill Nighy.
- The series treads water for far too long before setting up the big battle.
- We don’t get nearly enough time to fully digest the threat of the final ‘Big Bad’.
- The Trevor/Sypha B-plot feels like a cold rehash of what we had last season, albeit with nowhere near as engaging/twisted a character as The Judge.
- Humanity has been every bit as big an antagonist throughout the series as the monsters, but in the end, we don’t get too much exploration of this theme – despite it being the catalyst for the whole series.
A Hollywood-style happy ending feels a little too neat for a series that has explored the complexities of the battle between good and evil, but nonetheless, Castlevania makes sure it doesn’t leave a bad taste in viewers’ mouths (by and large). The final plot sting/twist (following the resolution of its core cast storylines) is perhaps a little *too* sunny after four seasons of mass murder and deception but also works with showing how the world has changed over the course of the story.