It’s slower-paced, methodical and tinged with a lingering sadness that lashings of monster blood can’t cover up. But in one particular scene of frenetic, fan service-y fury, it marries its action and character work to achieve something spectacular.
The bar for “good video game adaptation” is, depressingly, still excruciatingly low, to the point that Castlevania’s first season mostly not sucking (outside of, you know, the vampiric kind) was already enough to cement the series as one of the best attempts to bring a video game out of its base medium and into another.
But the seventh episode of season two, “For Love”, includes a sequence that fans have been waiting for ever since a second season was confirmed. It’s a stunning mix of Castlevania fan service and a release of character building that is simmered over the course of the entire season.
“For Love” opens after Trevor, Sypha and Alucard have spent most of the season out of the spotlight and secreted away in the old libraries of Trevor’s monster-hunting family line, the Belmonts.
There, our heroes have been seeking the skills and tools they’ll need to confront Dracula while attempting to tolerate being in one another’s company, a feat that’s been especially difficult for Trevor and Alucard.
Trevor immediately bristles at Alucard’s high-and-mighty attitude (as well as the fact that, well, his dad is Dracula) and struggles with lingering sadness due to his excommunicated family’s fall into disrepute, symbolised in the burned-out Belmont family estate.
Alucard, meanwhile, is confronted with the reality that the Belmont family spent generations of its existence hunting down and exterminating his kind — something he must now do himself, if he defeats his grief-stricken and maddened father.
It is only after Sypha uses her spells to root Dracula’s magically-teleporting castle down in one place (placing it literally right above the old Belmont estate, in fact), the team takes everything they’ve learned and marches up to Dracula’s doorstep — and right into an intra-vampire civil war, as Dracula’s generals bicker among themselves for power.
Still, the only thing that unites the evil hordes is the fact that three interlopers, including Dracula’s kid, have just waltzed into the entrance of Dracula’s castle. The stage is set, each side readies their weapons and finally, finally, a familiar baseline begins swelling in the background.
As Trevor, Alucard and Sypha begin their assault the opening notes of one of the most iconic pieces of music from the Castlevania franchise blares into the soundscape: “Bloody Tears”.
This is great, for two reasons. For one, it’s the first time the Castlevania show has actually used music from the games.
Given the importance of music to the series — it serves as a metatextual link across the multiple generations of protagonists in the franchise, and as some of the most memorable gaming soundtracks around — it’s great to see the show finally embrace part of what makes Castlevania so beloved in the first place.
Second, “Bloody Tears” is a fucking jam, yo.
Accompanied by a sweeping orchestral rendition of the beloved theme, the ensuing battle is similarly laden with fan service. Outside of a skirmish early in the season, our heroes don’t actually do that much fighting in the season up until this moment.
And the battle is basically nonstop game references: Alucard pounces around in his wolf form, using his sword like the sword familiar from Symphony of the Night. Trevor gets to use the Morning Star whip, the ultimate upgrade of the Vampire Killer in several of the games, exploding vampires with a touch. And Sypha gets to use her frozen crystal spell from Dracula’s Curse to incredible effect:
It’s good. It’s very good. It’s just a sheer joy to watch unfold, punctuated by the killer, baroque pedal tone of Bloody Tears.
It’s a moment when, after a lot of methodical character work with both sides of Castlevania’s story, the show just lets it rip like it did so often in its first season. It’s a moment of catharsis after episode upon episode of patient build up. But it only works because of all that build up of narrative tension in both factions.
The joy of the castle battle doesn’t simply lie in its long-awaited use of the game’s music, or the visceral hyper violence of the action, but because it is a symbolic reflection of a contrast the entire season has spent building: The opposing ways Dracula and Alucard have processed the grief of losing the wife and mother of their family unit, Lisa Tepes.
Dracula spends pretty much the entire season on his own, wallowing in despair, and caring little for the fact that his generals have devolved into discord and infighting. Alucard, meanwhile, has nurtured an alliance, forged friendships, and helped bring together three mighty heroes capable of taking on the threat of the Lord of Night himself.
Their unity comes through in the way they carve their bloody path through Dracula’s forces, the disarray of Dracula’s court comes through in the fact they’re literally left in pieces on his doorstep.
As Bloody Tears fades and Alucard, Trevor and Sypha move on to confront Dracula together, it’s clear that their success against him will result from their bond to each other as much as it does fancy whips and badarse magic.