Season two of Netflix's Castlevania series landed last week. After watching all eight half-hour episodes, I stood up from my couch and applauded the monsters populating Dracula's castle. Despite the show's characters telling me all about the vicious, blood-thirsty nature of demons and vampires, Dracula's generals mostly seemed happy to stand around and talk about their differences instead of getting into physical fights over them.
I snark, but the latest season of Castlevania is better than the first, for the most part (Mike liked it better than I did). If nothing else, season two refrains from jabbing you in the ribs while remarking, "Hey! The Church is the real demonic force in Wallachia! Get it? Get it?". That single exercise in subtlety elevates it above season one.
There are additional reasons to watch the new season, of course. To name a few, there's the wicked magic and wit of Sypha Belnades, the sympathetic moral struggle of the half-vampire Alucard, and tons of references to the games the animated series is based on—something noticeably lacking in season one's enemy roster of generic Dial-a-Demons.
But season two overshoots its ambition to fix everything wrong with season one by giving us eight episodes instead of four. True, season one feels a little squished and lacking in exposition because of its short length, but season two feels about two episodes too long—especially for a series that's not extraordinarily story-heavy to begin with. As a consequence (and combined with the limited animation budget most Netflix cartoon series must work with), we get extended scenes of Dracula's Generals bickering, swearing, and slowly rehashing war plans while complaining about their Master's deep depression.
The reason for Dracula's malaise is gradually dragged into the light across the first six episodes. When his human wife, Lisa Tepes, was burned at the stake for practising unfamiliar medicine, Dracula initially swore vengeance upon the human race. But that thirst for revenge cooled, and Dracula started wishing for silence—the utter end of all things. That tepid ambition doesn't suit his Generals. One particularly fiery leader, the manipulative Carmilla (who isn't just a head this time, lucky for her), begins plotting a civil vampire war.
Dracula's desire to end all things is also at odds with the desires of the gentle-souled Hector, a human "Forge-Master" who uses his unique brand of dark arts to create demons for his Master's army. Season two's inclusion of Hector, his compatriot Isaac, and their soul-forging abilities delights me as an actual fan of 2005's Castlevania: Curse of Darkness for the PlayStation 2. In the animated series, Hector is lonely, troubled, and primarily interested in creating animals and demons who will love him (however decayed they might be); his naivety is a welcome counter to the rest of the scheming that goes on in Dracula's halls. At the same time, you watch his journey with bunched-up muscles because you just know someone's going to shatter that innocence.
Season two of Castlevania takes the slow, leisurely route to its climax, but rest assured it gets there. After Dracula's higher-ups are done yelling at each other, after Dracula has several long therapy sessions with Hector and Isaac, and after Trevor Belmont, Sypha, and Alucard finally dig up a way to beat the vampire king amongst the Belmonts' dusty library (shout-out to the collection of Belmont hunting trophies in the library, including a thankfully-inert white dragon), episode seven explodes in a bloody orgy of whip lashes, monster parts, and actual Bloody Tears. Though Trevor and Sypha tear up Dracula's abode and the monsters within—Trevor with his whip, Sypha with her iconic spells from Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse—Alucard takes point on dealing with his father. While it's a bit disappointing Trevor doesn't tear into Dracula as much as his birthright entitles him to, "Dracula versus Alucard" is the better choice, impact-wise. The battle between father and son is much like the brutal, unrestrained fighting of feral tigers, but with a much bigger emotional payoff at the end.
There's a sizeable tease for season 3 at the end of the story, and the series was indeed commissioned for another season. While it's safe to say Netflix's Castlevania is the best animated series based on a video game, that bar is so low, a flu germ couldn't hope to Limbo under it. Still, season two shows true appreciation for its source material versus season one's hand-waving, and that alone makes it a less irritating watch than the premiere season. I just hope the show can eventually slay its biggest foe: The low budget that forces the cast to stand still and snarl at one another like guests at the underworld's angriest cocktail party.