In place of a disgraced Warren Ellis (the first series’ creator and writer ousted due to testimonies of his sexual misconduct), creator Clive Bradley takes over the bulk of the writing credits, with three other writers (Zodwa Nyoni, Temi Oh, and Testament). Bradley emulates the previous show’s casual crassness and monologuing. For the better, this season’s structure aims for episodic organization and progression as opposed to Ellis’ chunk-by-chunk delivery. With eight episodes in the batch, “Castlevania: Nocturne” works because its downtime gives purposeful breathing space to crucial chapters, especially those that unravel Annette’s and Richter’s grapplings with their respective histories. Particularly with Annette’s backstory, an early Nyoni-penned episode embraces an interpersonal intimacy that pays dues to one of the show’s tragic relationships.
Whereas the first series is pulp period in medieval times, “Castlevania: Nocturne” splashes waist-deep (not quite submerged) into historical fantasy territory (Cécile Accilien is credited as a cultural advisor). These historical leanings do bleed in organic ways into a few of the cast, such as Annette (whose Ogun-based magic wreaks retribution against enslavers) and Olrox (whose experience with colonization shapes his otherness in the vampire court). The show offers morsels of commentary about the nuances of historical revolutions (acknowledging the exclusion of the marginalized in the pursuit of “high ideals”). Though admittedly, as a historical fantasy, “Castlevania: Nocturne” does miss out on opportunities to play more with these internal politics. That said, “Castlevania” succeeds first and foremost a macabre fantasy of adrenaline-surging proportions. Action is a kinetic ballad that directors Sam and Adam Deats and their team have executed before. Though it isn’t shocking, the physical and facial animation remains impressive, such as the way Maria’s benign face creases with fury or Richter’s mouth curls into perplexity.
Other than its place in the continuity and universe, “Castlevania: Nocturne” steers away from being overtly connected to its predecessor enough that the show could be gateway viewing. I was impressed that the season rolled on long enough without heavy winks to the past. That is, until the last minute. The show ran on its own marathon long enough that the last-minute entrance of a “Castlevania” veteran (somewhat by design of the worldbuilding) does ellipse its current generation.
/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10
“Castlevania: Nocturne” premieres September 28, 2023 on Netflix.