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Castlevania Season 3 Pushes its Limits – Review (Spoilers)

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

While a certain blue hedgehog enjoys his big box office profit, it’s time to look at another video game adaptation. “Castlevania” Season 3 has dropped on Netflix, and after binging it, I have all sorts of thoughts, questions, and feelings left over.

“Castlevania” continues its overall amazing character work, but Season 3 tries to push the show’s limits through its plot direction, episode count, cast size, and animation – with varied results. In my opinion, if you enjoyed Season 2, you may enjoy Season 3, as well. Just be prepared for the many risks it takes, for much like with last season, some work better than others.

This is not a review on the individual episodes but rather the season as a whole. However, I will discuss various moments from the episodes, so let this be your SPOILER WARNING.

The Story

Trevor Belmont and Sypha Belnades arrive in Lindenfeld, where a past incident involving a night creature and a priory worshiping the now-deceased Dracula warrants their investigation.

That’s the main premise, anyway. Now for all the others. *inhale*

  • Count Saint Germain, a magician and alchemist, crosses paths with Trevor and Sypha, as his own personal quest intersects with theirs.
  • Carmilla plots with three female vampire councilors to feast on humanity, but one councilor, Lenore, must get the imprisoned forgemaster Hector to cooperate.
  • The other forgemaster Isaac crusades against humanity on his own, encountering various people who test his misanthropic feelings.
  • And last but not least, Alucard, alone in Castlevania and longing for friends, meets two young vampire hunters and decides to train them.

*exhale* Yeah, Season 3 is ten episodes long for a reason.

The events in Lindenfeld are engaging due to their effect on the story and world, while the others are compellingly character-driven. Trevor and Sypha have a mystery to solve, and that’s not the only mysterious subject around. Pulling even more from the game series’ lore, particularly Castlevania: Curse of Darkness, Season 3 gives us Saint Germain and his search for the Infinite Corridor, depicted here as a doorway to different worlds. I imagine this being handy for the bootleg multiverse this show is apparently part of, a key to so many possibilities.

But on that note, while the plots are all interesting individually, it’s different for how they connect. Or rather, how they don’t. Kind of. I’ll explain.

Season 1 was an experiment, setting up a land ravaged by Dracula’s hatred and introducing the main heroes dealing with it before they go confront the vampire lord himself. Season 2 introduced a split narrative, chronicling the heroes’ mission and the various goings-on in Dracula’s court before eventually connecting them. Season 3 has even more stories to follow, but as you might notice from the list above, not all the subplots converge with the main plot by the end.

Everything came to a head in Season 2’s perfect faux-finale Episode 7, “For Love.” The vampire infighting, the forgemasters’ loyalties, and of course the heroes’ quest to defeat Dracula – they all came together at Castlevania. But in Season 3, the only subplot woven together with Trevor and Sypha’s investigation in Lindenfeld is Saint Germain’s story.

The remaining three subplots are their own stories set elsewhere that ultimately don’t meet with the others, which is somewhat of a letdown because they initially do point towards them. Isaac views Hector as a traitor for allying with Carmilla against Dracula, and Alucard wishes to be with Trevor and Sypha again. This wouldn’t necessarily be a waste of attention and development if these subplots are satisfyingly resolved or even unresolved, but the results are rather mixed and may leave you wanting more, for better or worse. This is also partially due to…

The Structure and Pacing

Season 3 follows a similar structure and pace that Season 2 had. It’s a decidedly slow burn, saving the majority of the action for the end and using the first several episodes to build atmosphere and character, which is what this show does best. Despite that, said burn feels much slower this time.

This season is the longest yet in terms of episode length and count. Again, ten episodes. Some even last about 30 minutes. We’ve come quite a ways from the on-average 25-minute episodes of Seasons 1 and 2 (respectively four episodes and eight episodes), but it might be a good idea to take a step back.

It takes until the THIRD episode for Trevor and Sypha to get their investigation quest and the FOURTH for them to even start. It takes the ENTIRE SEASON for Lenore to resolve things with Hector. And since some subplots either seemingly lead nowhere (Isaac) or stop to wait for Season 4 (Carmilla), the required patience to put up with it for ten episodes isn’t as bearable as it was with the four episodes of Season 1. It’s like wading through the story section of this review just to get to this section. A lot of the writing can be trimmed.

I’m curious as to why Season 3 goes the slow burn route to begin with. Just because it worked out last time? There’s no need to repeatedly prolong the plot, is there? The show already established its own unique world, rules, and characters. I don’t think it would hurt to get to the good stuff sooner at this point.

Speaking of getting to the good stuff…

The Characters

Personalities and philosophies collide with enthralling impacts once again, whether it’s through bloody brutality or simple conversation. Given how much larger the roster grows in this season alone, some characters are more developed and/or entertaining than others (e.g. two of the female vampire councilors are lovers, but that’s pretty much it for them). For the most part, regardless of how their stories end, the characters continue to be the absolute best thing about this show.

Sypha is still undoubtedly my favorite character in the show. Her perky, fun-loving adventurer attitude and amazing array of magic abilities make her the perfect foil to Trevor’s seen-too-much demeanor and physical approach to things. She’s a joy to watch in all her scenes, even without much character development (until the finale, but we’ll get to that).

More complex characters like Alucard and Isaac also continue to be among the most captivating of the cast. The season’s opening scene with Alucard talking to dolls of his old companions makes his longing for friends all that more powerful and tragic. Episode 2’s opening sequence with Isaac is morbidly thrilling, from meeting a kind old man to being reminded why he hates humans in the first place.

As for the new characters, the first standout for me is definitely Lenore. She’s alluring in both a beautiful and cute way while also happening to be a vampire with fighting prowess, magic power, and ruling authority. And while she’s unsurprisingly manipulative, she is a surprisingly genuine diplomat. In the end, she turns Hector into her pet, but she ensures in front of her fellow councilors that he receives a decent enough housing to stay in. She knows what to give in order to make relations work, and she sees to it that they are indeed given. Also, little moments she has with the other councilors are pretty funny and adorable.

Saint Germain is the other new standout character. He’s hard to get a read on at first, but he’s really a likable and sympathetic man. Though we don’t get that many details into his search for the Infinite Corridor, the quest itself is still an intriguing one. Plus, of all this season’s plots, his is the one that gets to end on a successful note, and I’m happy for him. That and Bill Nighy gets to play a good guy for once.

There’s also the priory that Trevor and Sypha confront as part of their investigation. Led by the prior Sala, they speak plainly and act like they aren’t crazy cultists. To some degree, it’s the truth, and what they preach is greatly enticing. (We’ll get back to this in the next section.)

But do you recall what I said earlier? That the characters are great “for the most part, regardless of how their stories end?” Well, here’s an exception: the nameless Judge of Lindenfeld. He’s tough in his own way and is very clear about it yet still appears to be a well-meaning man throughout the season. That is, until the finale, when Trevor and Sypha discover how much of a monster he is and suddenly their bittersweet victory becomes just bitter. This revelation is foreshadowed multiple times, but it still feels like it came out of nowhere just to taint the character and prompt Trevor to essentially say that’s life.

A few other characters aren’t done that much justice. Despite the promise of Carmilla exploiting the vampire power gap, she really doesn’t do anything except brag about how “genius” her plan is. Hector does nothing but continue to be a naive slave, as well as an utter fool for trying to pick a fight with a vampire when he’s literally naked. Newcomers Taka and Sumi make the same mistake against Alucard because they’re too impatient, ending up dead and disappointing even though they started out pretty much perfect. (And after distracting him with a threesome. Of all the things in this fantasy land, that is ironically the strangest.)

Still, there’s someone missing – TWO someones. This section’s long enough as it is, so let’s talk about them in the next section:

The Twist

It turns out that the priory worshiping Dracula isn’t as crazy as they appear. Everything they say is true. Dracula is in Hell with his wife Lisa, and the priory wants to bring him back.

Now, I don’t take issue with Hell being an actual plane of existence. Fantastical ideas like this are fascinating to me. That, and Dracula’s inevitable revival is a staple of the game series. What I do take issue with is how the twist is handled.

It isn’t too unpredictable in retrospect, but the other plots consequently come off as a big distraction. For all the insightful character interactions this season gives us, we get nothing with Dracula and Lisa. We don’t know if Dracula truly wanted to return to the living world or stay with the woman he loves for eternity. He just reaches his hand out between worlds without much expression. Only other thing we have to go on is the word of a night creature, which isn’t much, either. Also, Lisa was a good person, wasn’t she? Why is she in “Hell” with Dracula in the first place?

Actually, the twist isn’t the only questionable thing in the last couple episodes…

The Animation

Since the very start, “Castlevania” has been absolutely gorgeous. The overall style, the attention to detail, the mixture of 2D and 3D – it’s been great to just look at and watch, especially when the more video-game-esque elements come into play.

This season starts out giving more of these amazing sights. Natural landscapes and structures precede more fantastical imagery in later episodes, such as these mind-controlling crowns of thorns made of magical green energy. One of the most notable moments is Saint Germain’s psychedelic dream in Episode 6. The Infinite Corridor is a swirling vortex of blue and pink, opening and closing portals to different times and places, including an African land with a giant mechanical chicken walker, a royal and vibrant Egyptian-like palace, and the mysterious realm of stairs and halls where Saint Germain’s friend awaits. It’s delightfully diverse and appropriately dreamlike.

But as I said before, things get questionable in the last couple episodes. Strangely enough, when the action finally picks up in Episodes 9 and 10, sometimes the animation quality dips. This is really the only time it does that, but it’s the worst time to do that. There are a few points when the CG is too conspicuous, and when the characters move at too few frames to produce any smooth movements.

For all its anime-inspired beauty, the show has yet to truly capitalize on an important anime trick: a fluid frame rate that speeds up or slows down depending on the scene. When it’s time for the characters to fight, I expect more frames of animation, if not the animation itself, to account for the faster movements. But when everyone still moves at the same frame speed that they do in standard dialogue scenes, or even at a lower number of frames, the action becomes less engaging. (Then again, this isn’t technically anime but anime-esque, so…)

Final Thoughts

Did this review seem long and overstuffed with ups and downs in some places? That’s how I feel about “Castlevania” Season 3. The first two seasons weren’t wholly perfect, either, but they accomplished everything they needed to and were consistent in quality throughout. This season stretches out so far and packs so much that it doesn’t get to shine in some areas as much as others by the end.

The show altogether has been a series of risks being taken one after another, but it’s most apparent this season and the many directions it goes. In spite of it all, there’s no denying that when it’s good, it’s really good, like the character work that makes the cornerstone of the show. Season 4 would be a welcome gift, and I hope to see more awesome art, action, and animation from “Castlevania” in the future.

Oh, I almost forgot, Grant Danasty is still nowhere to be seen. I think he wants to be with his “Castlevania 3” buddies more than Alucard by now.

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