Hey dungeon crawlers it’s me, Slick Dungeon. I spent this weekend finally binging my way through the animated hit on Amazon Prime The Legend of Vox Machina. If you don’t know, this show is based off of the hit live play world of Critical Role. Critical Role is basically a Dungeons & Dragons live play game where a bunch of notable voice actors get together to supremely nerd out and roll some dice. That show proved so insanely popular the cast members decided to make a kickstarter to fund an animation project about their characters. It was one of the fastest funded projects at the time. Brandon Sanderson has, of course, obliterated that record in the last week but it was fun while it lasted.
Anyway, this is a review of the show, not a history of how the show came to be. Before I go any further, I should mention there will be spoilers in this review. If you haven’t watched this show go watch it and come back here. Of course, if you are a fan of Critical Role, it’s a little hard to spoil this show because you probably watched it happen already.
Still with me? Good. So, what do you need to know about this show? First, since I often publish posts related to tabletop role playing with kids, I need to make it clear that, while this show is animated, it is not suitable for younger kids. Critical Role never claimed to be for kids and this show is about as adult as you can get in animation. I don’t think this is a problem with the show in any way, I just want to make sure my readers are aware of it.
Unlike most other cartoons, Vox Machina does not take the time to go through and introduce each character one at a time. Rather, the world is set up in moments, showing us a heroic adventuring party ready to fight evil who get instantly demolished by a huge dragon. Then we cut to Vox Machina getting into a good ol’ tavern brawl and generally acting like a bunch of buffoons.
It’s fun and hilarious and sets the perfect tone for the whole show. We don’t need to be introduced to the team because they need no introduction. Some of the characters even question why they hang out together at all in the first place. As a long time D&D player, that’s a very D&D question.
If you love fantasy but haven’t really watched Critical Role or played Dungeons & Dragons you will still very likely enjoy this show. There are all of the fantasy elements you could want. There’s vicious antagonists, heroic deeds, and a gnome polymorphed into a triceratops. I’m not sure how much better it gets than that. However, if you don’t enjoy fantasy or Dungeons & Dragons this really may not be for you. You do get more out of it if you play D&D or at least watch Critical Role but it’s not going to be for everyone.
The cast is top notch voice acting perfection. The show features the main cast of Critical Role, Matt Mercer, Marisha Rey, Ashley Johnson, Laura Bailey, Taliesin Jafee, Liam O’brien, Sam Riegel and Travis Willingham. If you’ve watched a cartoon or played a video game in the last ten years you have heard at least one of their voices before. But on top of that there are some notable guest voices. The three that come to mind are David Tennet who you may remember (you definitely remember) as the Tenth Doctor in Doctor Who, Khary Payton who plays Ezekiel on The Walking Dead and is the voice of Cyborg in a number of animated DC projects, and Dominic Monaghan who you either know from the show Lost or definitely know as Merry from The Lord of the Rings movies.
Like with any show, animated or not, there are some stronger and some weaker episodes and story arcs. In this first season, Percy, played by Taliesin Jafee gets a pretty epic story here. Grogg, played by Travis Willingham and Scanlan played by Sam Riegel both get great moments in battle as well as some hilarious comedy on the side. Keyleth played by Marisha Rey gets to re-do a key moment from the live stream of Critical Role and it works much better in the animated show. She also has a couple of moments that look like they will feed into the next season but there are times she is underused. The elf twins Vax and Vex played by Liam O’brien and Laura Bailey respectively get a few good moments but are overall in the background. In my mind the character who shines the least here is Pike played by Ashley Johnson. She’s not a bad character by any means and what she does in the show matters greatly to the overall plot but it gets fairly metaphysical and is simply not the most compelling storyline, especially compared to what else is happening in the show. Yet, I would say this show would hit five stars for me if there was less screen time with Pike’s character. It just wasn’t quite compelling enough.
There are incredible moments in this show and the animation is fantastic. It’s the right blend of detailed backgrounds and clean lines on the characters. It lends itself to believability while not taking itself too seriously either. And there are moments of horror which are fairly terrifying, even in animated form.
While this show is not going to appeal to everyone, there is more than enough here to keep most viewers coming back for more. I’d sort of like to see a full length animated movie with the same characters because it is a little odd watching this in 30 minute chunks. I also wished they could have used the intro from Critical Role in this show but it doesn’t really make sense here so I can’t really blame them for that.
If you need a good adult oriented fantasy cartoon to binge this is an excellent choice as long as you don’t mind a bit of crude humor and absurdity to go along with it.