“Castlevania” is about as basic as you get. Based on the popular video game franchise of the same name, the vampire lord Dracula, mourning the murder of his human wife by the church in the opening minutes of the first season, sets out to eradicate all of humanity. It is up to his half-breed son Alucard, the last vampire hunter Trevor Belmont and the magician Sypha Belnades to stop him. It seems like a straightforward premise and in the first season, that is what it turned out to be: a good, straightforward action series. Not much in the way of commentary, surprisingly plentiful badass and jovial dialogue, and spectacularly animated fight scenes.
Season two of the Netflix original anime, while doubling down on this blend of comic and serious moments and giving us even better fight scenes, somehow also manages to take the show’s simple premise and expand upon it with deep, nuanced and multi-dimensional characters. Through what seem like comedic moments, we learn about the motivations of and see a kinship develop between the protagonists. The wit and banter among these characters blends comedy and sincerity seamlessly to great effect. The moments with the antagonists, though far more serious, still make welcome use of the show’s excellent sense of humor.
It is here that we see both the biggest improvement and biggest gamble that the show takes in this new season. In the first season Dracula isn’t heard from aside from setting up his motivations at the beginning. Instead, his demonic hordes and corrupt, one-dimensional and disposable Church officials serve as the first season’s antagonists. The second season, however puts us right in the heart of Dracula’s court, where we learn that two human necromancers with a penchant for genocide have come into his service, alongside a scheming vampress named Carmilla.
While all three of these supporting characters are enjoyable and given varying degrees of depth, it is this attempt to widen the villain roster where the show gambles with mixed results. The humans, Hector and Isaac, show great depth and promise, each embodying a grave warning that not all monsters have fangs. Some just hate people, and think they are doing the world a favor by wiping out as many humans as they can. Then there is Carmilla. On the one hand, she is a personification of opposition to the traditional femme fatale or fangs with breasts roles that female vampires are often forced into. She is cold and calculating, but rarely, if ever, uses her body as a means of achieving her aims. Instead she uses cunning and psychological manipulation. However, her constant insulting of people on the basis of them being male can become tiresome after a point. Ironically, the show’s great ability to create compelling villains is why these characters are not as good as they could be. When you put this much power in one room, with what is in effect a massive movie, it’s the same as having too many cooks in the kitchen. Where there are three sweet protagonists, the villains have anywhere from three to four or even five characters all vying for the limelight, and stepping on toes in the process.
However, even with all these blood soaked villains in the room, it is Dracula himself who stands out most. Despite having been set up as a vengeful killer, not all is as it seems. I cannot go much deeper without spoiling the series, but suffice it to say, the battle between our heroes and the “Lord of Night” is truly something to be behold, both in terms of action and emotion. I nearly cried.
Overall, the second season of “Castlevania” is an entertaining, funny, action-packed and emotionally charged ride. I would recommend it, and hope that as the roster narrows going into season three, the issues of limelight sharing become mute. The season gets four and a half stars out of five.