‘Castlevania’ Season 3 Review: Unlike Anything You’ve Seen on Netflix So Far

     March 5, 2020

Spoilers ahead for Netflix’s epic animated series, Castlevania.

The first week of March brings a new batch of Castlevania episodes to Netflix with Season 3’s arrival on Thursday, March 5th. And they’re easily the best yet. Season 1 debuted back in 2017 with the first part of Warren Ellis‘ adaptation of the Konami classic video game, but there were only four episodes on the offering plate. After the team–Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, and Alucard–got together in that first run, Season 2 delivered eight action-packed episodes in the fall of 2018, featuring complex storypoints all leading to the fall of Dracula himself.

Now, in Season 3, fans will not only get a continuation of the high-quality visual storytelling and mature narrative approach that Castlevania has provided so far, they’ll also get all-new characters, a vast expansion of the world, and some of the most WTF moments of the series so far, all in 10 brand-new episodes: The setup is this: In the aftermath of Dracula’s death, Trevor and Sypha are traveling, Alucard remains at the castle in misery, and Isaac is returning to Europe for his revenge. But Carmilla, reunited with her vampire sisters of the Styrian ruling court, sees a way to take advantage of Dracula’s demise and build a new future – and she needs imprisoned Hector to achieve it.

Before we get into the review, here’s a look at the lovely and talented cast who are either returning to Castlevania or making their debut this season:

I could probably talk for hours about the merits of Castlevania Season 3 and the highs and lows of the season’s four story arcs, and I almost did so during a recent interview with writer Ellis and producer Kevin Kolde, so keep an eye out for that chat on the premiere date. But since Season 3 delivers such an incredible array of things to enjoy–be it bloody violence against men and monsters alike, new characters and lore pulled from the Castlevania canon alongside original creations, or deep philosophical conversations between characters–I’ll be giving a high-level view of what works, and what didn’t, this season.

In the power vacuum left behind by Dracula’s death at the hands of Trevor, Sypha, and, mostly, Alucard, the world’s remaining vampire leaders are grappling for control of territory and the human livestock that lives within it. At the same time, creatures of the night are prowling across every inch of land, making travel quite perilous for most humans. But Trevor and Sypha are not most humans. They revel in the freedom of the road and the opportunity to train and test their abilities on either unsuspecting bandits who bite off more than they can chew or a pack of prowling night creatures who get in over their heads. (Keep an ear out for a reference to another famous Castlevania character here.) Early episodes remind audiences just how badass this dueling duo can be–and just how kinetic and dynamic Powerhouse Animation, Frederator Studios, and their production partners are–as they dispatch enemies with ease. But the pair’s relationship gets more complicated–sexually and otherwise–as they happen upon a small crossroads town plagued by a particularly troubling incident.

As you might expect, the town of Lindenfeld is where most of the action plays out for Trevor and Sypha this season. But it’s also a place to meet new characters, like Saint Germain (a fantastic addition who should be familiar to game players), the monks of the Priory and their leader Sala, and the town’s governor known simply as Judge. if you’ve watched the previous seasons, you know that Castlevania doesn’t mince words when it comes to religious organizations, their leaders, or the clashing philosophies among all factions of The Church (with a capital C), within and without it. This is where Castlevania shines outside of its intense action sequences and fight scenes: It’s a rare adult animated series that actually takes a breath, sits down, and lets its characters have long, difficult, and deeply philosophical conversations about the world they live in and their place within it.

This aspect is most deftly handled in Isaac’s story. His arc finds the Forgemaster carving a bloody swath through Europe as he attempts to find his way back to the traitorous Hector, his mind bent on revenge. Along the way, Isaac walks a road of conflicts: He travels with an army of the undead, of monstrous souls lifted from hell by the sacrifice of the living, and yet balks when the human guards of towns and outposts attempt to hurry him through their community, or attack him outright. But Isaac also has perhaps the best individual interactions in this season. He meets a wise merchant who grants him not just an invaluable item but also the priceless gift of kindness; a bold and competent captain who offers not only safe passage but a philosophical harbor of sorts, a refuge from Isaac’s tendency to focus only on the evil in men rather than the good; and a sole survivor of a magician’s rampage who also seems to hold some powerful magic of her own. Isaac’s quest may not be over in Season 3, but his journey is perhaps the most enjoyable.

Elsewhere, the tale of Alucard continues to unfold as the son of Dracula and Lisa Tepes grapples with the loss of both of his parents, particularly the death of his father by his own hand. There’s a great opening scene in Season 3 which reveals the natural beauty of the land surrounding Dracula’s increasingly ramshackle castle (which now sits, precariously, over the Belmont vault); it’s a land of light, color, and life, as nature’s creatures return to their normal behavior in the rather quiet surroundings. We see Alucard gather ingredients for a simple meal–herbs, plants, and fish–which he then prepares in an elegant silence; this might be the most “anime” scene of the series so far. It’s a wonderful introduction that starts to peel back the dueling natures within Alucard: The desire to live as a human and appreciate the beauty and joy that a mortal life holds, while also his inheritance from the vampire lord and the potential madness that comes with it. To say too much of Alucard’s story here would be to give away the whole point of his arc, so it suffices to say that the dhampir’s isolation this season is both a refreshing change of pace from the hustle and bustle of the other arcs while also a glaring vulnerability for the beloved character.

Completing the foursome of story arcs this season is a foursome of another sort. Carmilla, introduced last season, is not the only vampire leader in the world, and she’s not the only female vampire with ambitions toward empress either. We get a fantastic introduction to her Styrian “sisters”: Lenore, Morana, and Striga. This group might just be the standouts of the season. Their individual characteristics come through strong, aided by their unique character designs and interactions with each other. They’re just fantastic, even if they don’t get to do much more than plan for the eventual military action in seasons to come. The outlier here is Lenore, a seemingly young and kind-hearted vampire who tends to the imprisoned Forgemaster Hector, showing kindness and compassion where Carmilla showed only cruelty. The relationships in this arc are fascinating to watch as they unfold, and they provide a nice, heady contrast to the more visceral violence that plays out elsewhere.

Castlevania Season 3 features some of the most brutal, intense, and WTF fight scenes we’ve seen so far. Our heroes–and I put emphasis on that word, because this trio really is the only truly heroic force to be found in the story–get weapon and skill upgrades befitting a Level Up in the game itself, while their hearts and minds will be forever changed by the events of this season. There’s also a more obvious introduction of sex in these episodes, something that was only really teased but never shown in previous seasons; in Season 3, sex acts as a stand-in for power, a tool for manipulation, and as a physical manifestation of growing attraction between characters. There’s no better showcase of this than in the season’s penultimate episode, which features the show’s best editing so far. Viewers are not ready for this one.

The team behind Castlevania Season 3 absolutely knocked it out of the park with this batch of episodes. They deliver the action, the intrigue, and the food for thought that elevates the source material into what’s easily one of the best video game adaptations ever made. I, for one, hope that Castlevania remains immortal for many more seasons to come.

★★★★★ Excellent