I didn’t care much for season 1 of Amazon Prime and Critical Role’s The Legend of Vox Machina. I’m not sensitive about lowbrow humor, but it was a touch crass for me. I’m not an animation snob, but the show looked distinctly low-budget for a high-profile sponsored streaming show. But the killing blow for me was the characters. A show without interesting characters and relationships is dead on arrival with me. That being said, it did show some promise in the character of Percy and siblings Vex and Vax. Can it improve? Let’s dive into season 2’s 3-part premiere.
In “The Chroma Conclave,” Sovereign Uriel, the King of Tal Dorei, abdicates the throne, feeling responsible for the events of season 1. However, the ceremony is interrupted by a rampaging group of dragons. Almost everyone is killed, and our band of misfits faces acid-spewing dragons raiding the city. The ruling dragon announces the beginning of the rule of the Chroma Conclave. The crew retreats to Whitestone with the survivors, where Cassandra offers shelter and medical attention. Keeper Yennen advises the heroes to head to Vasselheim, a city of priests that can hopefully provide aid. Back in Iman, the dragons plot their next move.
“The Trials of Vasselheim” finds Vox Machina in the titular city thanks to Keyleth and Keeper Yennen’s magic. They petition one of the resident religious factions and are denied. However, one of their servants tells Vox Machina to seek the patron of the Slayer’s Take, a hunter’s guild that cleared out the monsters in the area. They run into more trouble, learning that Vex and Vax are wanted by the Take. Just as the group (excluding Grog) gets into dire straits, the patron demands to see them. After a visit to a pub, Grog enters a different temple and learns about combat from a mysterious old man. The patron is a sphinx who preys on each member’s fear. However, when Pike demands to be heard, the sphinx is impressed. They reunite with Grog after his ignominious defeat at the hands of the old man.
In “The Sunken Tomb,” the Take catches up with Vox Machina and offers to aid on their quest. Vex and Vax see right through this, refusing to trust them. Zara, a Take member and old acquaintance of Vex, does contribute by helping them access a tomb underneath a frozen lake. Within the tomb, the adventurers are set upon by fish people. Zara and her companion use the ensuing battle as cover to ditch Vox Machina and seek a sarcophagus containing a relic their patron values. Percy and Vex beat them to the punch, locating the correct sarcophagus while Zara searches another one. Something jumps out, instantly killing Vex and leaving Vax despondent.
Season 2 is certainly off to a shocking start. The dragons were visible in the distance at the end of season 1, but I didn’t expect them to kill the leader of this civilization. They somehow found a way to start Vox Machina in a worse place than they began season 2, which is honestly impressive.
The visual effects are much in line with season 1. Essentially, I like most of the designs and ideas on display, but the textures and hand-drawn/CG meshing are bad. I hate to be so blunt, but it’s distracting if you look at Thordak (the main dragon) or the sphinx. I still don’t like how they animate facial hair as a flat object. I don’t know if it’s budgetary concerns or an artistic decision, but it doesn’t work. You’d think a renewal would mean the series did pretty well, and they could throw some money at it. Visuals are far from the most important thing to me, but animation provides the opportunity to do something really special. For example, Arcane had a limited budget, and you can see the limitations at work in the characters’ hair and some fabrics. But there’s such artistry at work, and you can see how they came up with workarounds like layering the hair. I don’t expect every animated show to be as detailed and revolutionary as Arcane, but the CGI elements in Vox Machina look like they came out of the 1990s. Come on. The show’s original music is provided by Neal Acree, and it’s pretty good. It’s not life-altering or anything, but it gets the job done. The theme song really gets you hyped for the show.
The voice acting is one of the best things about the show. Lance Reddick joins this season as Thordak, the leader of the Chroma Conclave. Veteran voice actors like Gina Torres and Khary Payton breathe life into supporting characters while Ashley Johnson, Laura Bailey, Matthew Mercer, Taliesin Jaffe, Marisha Ray, and more portray the leads. Seriously, this show has a lot of main characters. This sometimes makes the story and screen time feel spread thin, which was one of my major gripes with season 1. Season 2 is managing its cast better thus far. The focus has shifted from Percy to Vex and her shared backstory with brother Vax. We learn about their elf father, who considered them lesser for being half-breeds. I have to ask, at this point, why did he reproduce with a human woman if he feels that way? He must have known what would ensue. Regardless, these flashbacks show just enough without lingering too long. They mesh well with the tension between the siblings in the present. In short, Vex feels like her brother worries too much and is overprotective of her. The flashbacks provide insight into why he feels the need to do so. Vex’s apparent death is the most shocking event in all three episodes, or indeed the show so far. It’s great that Vox Machina delved into their relationship and backstory before doing so; I would not have cared about season 1 Vex dying or even felt bad for Vax.
Thus far, season 2 of Vox Machina is a massive improvement in my book. Every major facet of production has been kicked into high gear except for the show’s animation, which remains blocky, chunky, and uninspired. Maybe continued success will lead to a budget increase as I maintain the designs are good. Fluidity and better special effects would do wonders.