“The Legend of Vox Machina” Season One

posted March 23, 2022 in Arts & Entertainment by Jonathan Ross.

In 2015, the first episode of “Critical Role” was streamed on Twitch via the Geek and Sundry channel. “Critical Role” is a series where every week, a group of well-known voice actors comes together to play Dungeons and Dragons.

After years of acquainting audiences with memorable characters and enthralling stories, why not attempt to adapt their D&D game into a larger-than-life animated series?

Most of “Dungeons and Dragons” is depicted through the “theater of the mind” or tiny figurines on grid paper and plastic arenas/settings, so being able to show the events happening is what many fans dreamed of.

In March of 2019, a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter was created to—quite literally—make that fantasy a reality.

With a goal of $750,000, it was all but certain that it might take some finesse to achieve, but all it needed was a whopping 45 minutes for the goal to be surpassed.

Come the campaign’s deadline, it raised over $11 million in funding. Since then, the crew partnered with the animation studio Titmouse and Amazon, who graced it with an even larger budget and an extra season with the series being an Amazon Prime exclusive.

With that overwhelming response, “The Legend of Vox Machina” was born.

“The Legend of Vox Machina” is set in the very first “Critical Role” campaign. For those unaware, a “campaign” refers to a story told by the Dungeon Master, the person who runs the game in “Dungeons and Dragons”. They’re responsible for telling the story, staging fights, and generally playing referee.

In the case of “Critical Role”, that title would go to Matt Mercer who makes every campaign from scratch as opposed to running a pre-made module.

The cast, or party, in campaign one consisted of the half-elf twins Vex’ahlia and Vax’ildan, played by Laura Bailey and Liam O’Brien respectively; Grog Strongjaw, a goliath played by Travis Willingham; Keyleth of the Air Ashari, the party’s half-elf druid played by Marisha Ray; Percival “Percy” Fredrickstein von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III, a human gunslinger played by Taliesin Jaffe; Pike Trickfoot, a gnome played by Ashley Johnson; and Scanlan Shorthalt, another gnome played by Sam Riegel.

While that seems like a lot to take in for  new viewers to the show, or even the game it’s based on, “The Legend of Vox Machina” can depict them in a way where one can tell right away what their talents are: Vax is sneaky, Grog is built like a house and hits like a bus, Scanlan is good at talking his way into and out of situations, etc.

So, now that the show is finally here and just wrapped its first season up, does it live up to the hype? The fans have spoken, and the answer is a resounding “yes”, and the critics seem to echo that sentiment with the show even reaching 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes upon release.

Due to the length of the campaigns in “Critical Role”, compressing hundreds of hours into twelve episodes is a daunting task, hence why it only focuses on a certain story arc that occurs at the very beginning.

The first season focuses on Percy’s ever-long feud with the devious Briarwoods and their sinister plot that puts the entire world at stake.

This is also at a point where Vox Machina hasn’t been formed for very long, as apparent by the constant bickering and tripping over each other in combat.

The animation is wonderful and brings the world of Exandria to life in ways fans of the source material have never seen before.

Fights are kinetic and brutal, which is helped tremendously by the fluid animation. Every slash, stab and spell feel like they have weight.

It’s also not afraid to flex its mature rating, either. There’s plenty of viscera, coarse language, and character trauma to go around. This series is not afraid to deliver punches on topics like guilt, grief, torture, revenge, suicide, and more.

The soundtrack is a sweeping score of rich fantasy aesthetics that range from wonderous to suspenseful, and fans with keen ears will even hear the original theme from the first two campaign streams, “Your Turn to Roll”, worked into the score now and then.

Regarding Exandria’s voices, the cast is a star-studded cavalcade of names inside and outside the genre of fantasy. Some noteworthy names include the likes of Darin de Paul, Gina Torres, Stephanie Beatriz, Dominic Monaghan and even David Tennant.

The show also takes some notable liberties, and that’s meant in the best way possible. For a while, Ashley Johnson’s presence was inconsistent, to be generous.

This was primarily due to her work as an actress on the show “Blindspot”. Because of this, Pike wasn’t always around.

What “The Legend of Vox Machina '' gave Matt, Ashley, and the rest of the crew was the chance to expand the story in ways the audience had never seen before.

Suddenly, Pike showing up one moment and being gone the next was given a new purpose in what is a brilliantly-executed subplot about her losing touch with her faith in the Everlight—the deity Pike’s powers are more or less gifted by—and the journey of self-discovery she goes through to get her abilities back.

Overall, “The Legend of Vox Machina” season one proves to be just as gut-wrenching, funny, and brimming with a heart as its source material.

Amazon already has a second season greenlit and the proverbial cogs moving, what audiences can enjoy right now is an exceptional high-fantasy animated series that is sure to knock the socks off of anyone who watches it; familiar with D&D and “Critical Role” or not.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Jonathan Ross is a fourth-year telecommunications major. He can be reached at jmr7304@psu.edu