And so it ends. After four seasons which have defied expectations of what a long-form episodic adaptation of a video game series can really be, Netflix’s macabre vision of Konami’s Castlevania comes to a close in a 10-part epic which does a better job than you might expect of tying up all those loose ends – especially when you consider that it pulls narrative not just from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, but Symphony of the Night, Curse of Darkness and several other entries in the long-running lineage.
While season 4 shares some of the same minor shortcomings that occasionally blighted seasons 1, 2 and 3, it also amplifies the good work seen in those same seasons, creating a storyline that makes excellent use of the core components of Konami’s property whilst simultaneously weaving a plot that is both dark and engaging in equal measures.
Before we continue, be aware there are spoilers in this review if you’ve yet to watch any of the previous series, as well as mild spoilers for season 4. You have been warned!
Season 4 picks up from the events of the previous season, with Trevor and Sypha wandering the countryside hunting monsters and generally trying to fathom where the next threat will come from. Alucard, meanwhile, has retreated to his father’s castle to brood – an understandable response when you consider how he was so cruelly betrayed at the close of season 3.
Elsewhere, vampire leader Carmilla marshals her armies in order to enact her plan to control the region for the greater good of vampires, while the enigmatic Saint Germain has holed himself up in the beleaguered village of Danesti (one of the many nods to the original video games you’ll find – ‘Danesti’ sounds awful close to ‘Danasty’, the second name of the only hero character from Castlevania III not to make an appearance in Netflix’s series) and his plans to find his lost lover will have dire consequences for all concerned. Speaking of nods to the original games, eagle-eyed fans will also notice other little references, with the horrific Gergoth boss from being one of the most notable.
Trevor and Sypha end up back in the ruined city of Targoviste – the backdrop of season 1’s action – where they encounter Varney, an English vampire who claims to have a long-standing relationship with the late Dracula. If you’re a fan of vampire literature then you’ll instantly realise that Varney is a direct reference to the 19th-century work of gothic fiction Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood, a book which is credited for laying down the foundations of modern vampire lore and was a direct influence on Bram Stoker when penning Dracula, the 1897 masterpiece to which Castlevania – and all modern vampire fiction – owes a massive debt. Vampire fans will also get a kick out of the fact that the English seaside town of Whitby – where Dracula lands in Stoker’s original novel – is also name-checked at one point.
Where were we? Oh yes. Varney intends to bring his old pal back from the dead, a common goal he shares with Devil Forgemaster Hector, who remains under Carmilla’s control and is expected to create a new army of night creatures out of dead bodies. He finds unlikely companionship in the form of Lenore, one of Carmilla’s cohorts who is having a crisis of confidence in the nefarious plan to turn all of humankind into nothing but cattle. Hector’s erstwhile ally Issac, on the other hand, is building his own army of monsters, and although he is more contemplative here than in previous seasons, his mind soon bends to conquest. As you can imagine, all of these story strands soon come together in dramatic (and skillfully orchestrated) fashion.
As is the case with previous seasons, much of season 4 is spent in deep and meaningful conversation, with the characters exchanging some fantastically written dialogue which adds layers to their personalities. Also like prior seasons, it doesn’t really erupt into life until the later episodes, with episode nine being practically wall-to-wall action. However, there are fewer ‘slow’ points this time around, as each plot strand races towards its conclusion. We’d hate to use the term ‘all killer, no filler’, but this definitely feels less flabby than other seasons.
The quality of the animation remains largely unchanged, although it should be noted that the aforementioned episode nine showcases some of the best animation of the entire series. Even so, there are a few too many moments where missing frames result in jerky, stuttering motion, and it’s easy to spot where the artists have cut corners on some of the designs, with some frames looking rougher than others. Thankfully, in slow-moving scenes when intense conversations are taking place, the quality of the design work shines through; while it’s not ‘proper anime’, Castlevania takes inspiration from Japanese animation and combines it with western sensibilities to create a pretty satisfactory end result.
Once again, the voice work is exemplary, with Castlevania’s glittering cast of relatively well-known actors putting in wonderful performances without exception. Richard Armitage is a stand-out performer as the world-weary Trevor Belmont, and British veteran Bill Nighy is so deliciously fantastic as Saint Germain you almost wish the character had his own stand-alone series. The big newcomer for this season is the legendary Malcolm McDowell as Varney; McDowell is perhaps most famous for his role in Stanely Kubrick’s seminal A Clockwork Orange but has enjoyed a career that has spanned movies, TV, animation and even video games (you all remember Wing Commander III, right?) He imbues Varney with just the right amount of arrogance and humour, and ends up stealing many of the scenes he’s part of.
Castlevania season 4 was always intended to bring this particular story arc to a close, and it’s interesting to see how it hints at the continuity of the video games (as far as the Belmont lineage is concerned, anyway) in its final episode. However, it’s an ending in other ways, too. It seems that executive producer Warren Ellis – who also penned the storyline and is responsible for the excellent dialogue – will no longer be involved with future Castlevania projects due to the fact that he stands accused of sexual harassment and abuse by several women. However, it is understood that a future Castlevania series is in development at Netflix, with a new cast and storyline.
We look forward to seeing what that series brings us next, but for now, it’s worth reflecting on what has been a thoroughly entertaining and memorable series. If only Konami cared as much about the Castlevania video game series, eh?