Amazon Prime is probably one of my least favorite and least-watched streaming services, generally speaking. I’ve enjoyed The Boys so far, but they also release things like last year’s Wheel of Time and the upcoming Rings of Power. I try not to judge things too harshly before I’ve seen them, but the latter is a stinker if ever there was one. Today specifically, though, I want to talk about the streamer’s animated series, The Legend of Vox Machina. This show is based on the first Dungeons & Dragons campaign Critical Role played on their podcast. It has already been renewed for a second season following the first, which aired earlier this year. Let’s have a look.
Vox Machina is a dysfunctional, drunken band of adventurers who terrorize taverns and stir uproar everywhere they go. They get their chance to be something greater when a dragon sows fear across the land of Emon, and Sovereign Uriel appoints them to find and slay the dragon. Throughout the first two episodes, this unruly band of misfits discovers the dragon’s identity, finds him, and achieves a hard-won triumph. This only leads to more problems, though. Vox Machina attends a royal dinner party as honored guests, and some of Sovereign Uriel’s visitors stir up painful memories for Percy, the group’s resident gunslinger. Now they’re off on an even more daunting quest to overthrow the villains who killed Percy’s family and stole his birthright, all while evading capture for various crimes of their own. Can Vox Machina rid the land of this evil, avenge Percy’s family, and reinstall him as the heir to Whitestone?
First things first; I have mixed feelings about this show’s animation style. Some of the character designs remind me of Legend of Korra; the team’s gnome bard Scanlan looks very much like Bolin in the face. The animation is usually fluid, and I like the use of color. But things like beards, fur, and anything textured could definitely be better. CG elements like dragons look out of place, distracting, and ill-designed. Sometimes the movement isn’t as smooth as others. If I were to characterize this series’ animation in one word, it would be “inconsistent.” The facial expressions of the characters could be more dynamic at times. Generally, the action scenes are where the animation shines most. The music fares better, being scored by World of Warcraft composer Neal Acree. I don’t think these technical aspects are nearly as important as a show’s story and characters, but they still affect its ability to entertain and impress. So, how do the story and characters fare?
I like the concept of Percy’s quest for revenge a lot. I like stories about revenge. Being for adults, The Legend of Vox Machina has the opportunity to explore the darker aspects of this theme that most cartoons can’t or won’t. The show does this by going hard and fast with violence as much as exploring the darkness that brews within Percy’s soul, literally consuming him. It’s obvious that the demon inside him represents the trauma and anger that fuels someone who has been through trauma. The Briarwoods killed Percy’s family in front of him and hunted him for sport. The kind of mark this would leave on someone’s mind and emotions can’t be overstated, and Percy embodies this very well. Even with his closest friends, i.e., the rest of Vox Machina, Percy guards his emotions closely. He never joins in their merrymaking, and when he does crack, rage and hatred spill out, even at people who don’t deserve it. If I could change one major story element of Vox Machina, I would make Percy the central figure and his companions more like supporting characters. As is, there’s no lead in The Legend of Vox Machina, and the members of the troupe get more or less equal focus. I can see the appeal for doing it this way, and being based on a DnD campaign, there was likely no other way to do it. But I like Percy’s cold, serious demeanor, and his backstory gets the most attention, so he interests me the most out of the group.
Speaking of the Briarwoods, wife Delilah is voiced by Grey Griffin of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Clone Wars microseries fame. She’s a legend in the voice acting world, and her inclusion in the series was one of my main motivating factors to watch it. She makes for an excellent villainess, and this is no exception. I wish Delilah were as well written as she is acted, though. A flashback scene shows that her husband Sylas almost died, motivating her to the brink of desperation. She allied herself with a god called The Whispered One and transformed Sylas into a vampire (or essentially one, for all intents and purposes) to keep him from dying. This brings to mind a few moments from the most recent episode of Young Justice. Aside from being animated shows with action and comedy, they couldn’t be more dissimilar, but they share a fatal weakness. Explaining a character’s decisions isn’t enough; we need to understand how they feel. If they wanted us to empathize with this decision or feel any emotion, I would have liked a little more time with these characters. They’re more threatening than sympathetic, so they have that going for them. Sylas is voiced by Matthew Mercer, who is in the original podcasts and is also a big name in voice acting with numerous roles to his credit. I’m less familiar with his work than Griffin’s, sadly.
With all that being said, I like the camaraderie among Vox Machina, and several of the relationships are handled well. Dungeons & Dragons is about team building and cooperation, so I was glad to see this on display. I’m not satisfied with the resolution of the budding romantic tension between rogue Vax and druid Keyleth, but their story will continue into season 2, and I hope this storyline will be picked back up there. The friendship between gnome paladin Pike and goliath barbarian Grog is heartwarming and exactly what I was hoping for. I’m not crazy about Scanlan and his nympho antics; this isn’t the type of humor I enjoy in fantasy stories. It’s very modern and crass, undermining the show’s setting. Another big problem I have with Vox Machina is Percy’s sole surviving family, his sister Cassandra. The only conflict between them is manufactured by the Briarwoods through magic. That feels like a cheap way to get out of a difficult situation. They’re also not together long enough to build the bond the show would have us believe they share. Overall, I enjoyed elements of The Legend of Vox Machina and plan to give season 2 a go when it drops. But I think the show would be better without the vulgar comedy and modern-day references.
Did you see the show? What do you think? Let us know in the comments! And if you like Dungeons & Dragons, check out the Geeks + Gamers Tabletop YouTube channel!
The Legend of Vox Machina is an ambitious animated series chronicling the first campaign in Critical Role's Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Unfortunately, the animation can't keep up with the storyline and the humor isn't for me.