Friday, March 4, 2022

Green Phoenix - The Legend of Vox Machina (Season 1) Review

 The Legend of Vox Machina title card 2021.jpg

I am a man of many passions and hobbies, owing in large part to my eccentric personality and propensity to acquire sudden urges to try weird or new things. Of all of my passions, my two strongest would probably be my love for film/television and my absolute adoration for table-top roleplaying games, especially Dungeons & Dragons.

I haven't mentioned this a lot in these articles, but I spend a great deal of my free time on Dungeons and Dragons, specifically in building my own world and characters that I hope to populate into my own campaign someday (I've already got some friends interested in playing in a few years when I finish my current campaign). I adore the capacity for storytelling and getting into the minds and mentalities of a character, allowing myself to be immersed in a unique perspective or history that is not my own but may have referenced themes at their center that I can look back on with reflection.

In fact, this love for immersing myself in strange and different viewpoints as actually resulted in me acquiring the reputation as the "weirdo" of my D&D groups, as I almost always play either a strange subversion of your standard fantasy trope or a high-concept character that requires complex additional rules to effectively roleplay.

So with all of this in mind, it should come as no surprise to any of you that I am a huge of Critical Role, the live D&D streaming show starring professional voice actors Matt Mercer, Ashley Johnson, Travis Willingham, Laura Bailey, Sam Riegel, Taliesin Jaffe, and Liam O'Brian. Airing on Twitch every Thursday, the stream follows the players as they battle enemies and engage in fantastic roleplaying with each other, with Mercer acting as the Dungeon Master (the person responsible for managing the game). The show is a blast and has built a massive fan following; so much so that the Critical Role Productions company actually started a Kickstarter to create a full-length animated special detailing an adventure from their very first campaign.

To say that this Kickstarter campaign was a success would be an understatement. Within the first day, the campaign had raised 4.3 million dollars of an necessary $750,000 for a single 22 minute episode. By the end of the 45 day campaign, Critical Role had raised over 11 million dollars, making it one of the highest earning campaigns in the site's history. This popularity also caught the attention of Amazon Prime, who agreed to assist the production of a whole season of animated contented around the characters from Campaign 1 of Critical Role.

Thus The Legend of Vox Machina was born. In production since 2019 and highly anticipated by its fans and the larger D&D community, does the Legend live up to the hype, or was this all an over ambitious Kickstarter campaign?

  • Produced by Critical Role Productions & Amazon Studios
  • Available on Amazon Prime
  • Number of Episodes: 12


Based on the widely popular online streaming show Critical Role's first campaign, The Legend of Vox Machina tells the misadventures of a band of adventurers known as Vox Machina, as they struggle to make a living in the world of Exandria. Comprised of the half-elven twins Vax'ildan and Vex'ahlia, the gnomish cleric Pike Trickfoot and her best friend the goliath barbarian Grog, the half-elven druid Keyleth of the Air Ashari, horny gnomish bard Scanlan Shorthalt, and the edgy human gunslinger Percival de Rolo, Vox Machina is not what you would call traditionally heroic.

However, when an enemy from Percival's past returns and threatens all of Exandria, Vox Machina will have to defy all the odds and defeat the evil Briarwoods before their schemes plunge the world into darkness and chaos. Though a darkness within their own party may very make this already difficult task all the more troubling, as vengeance is a poison as deadly as dark magic.



To say I was excited about The Legend of Vox Machina would be like saying that the sky is blue or grass is green; an absolute of nature. As my moniker of The Brony Critic within the My Little Pony community will attest, I adore fan-created or fan-promoted projects and the sheer community support behind The Legend of Vox Machina was going to guarentee my interest at the very least. And thank God for that.

This entire series is one of the greatest passion projects I have ever had the pleasure to witness. Stunning animation, deep and compelling character driven interactions due to the close bond each actor has for their creations, wonderfully composed music, and a beautiful adaptation of two of Vox Machina's most important story arcs from the first campaign of the show; the groundwork for the Conclave arc (as seen in the first two episodes) and the Briarwood arc (taking up the remaining ten). 
While we don't see the true resolution of the Conclave arc (likely a Season 2 and beyond event) the first two episodes do a marvelous job of introducing us to each character and their general relationship to each other, as well as giving us a great rundown for the politics and rules behind Exandria, ensuring that nothing done is without cause or beyond the scope presented. This helps ensure that Exandria, Matthew Mercer's world, is one of the most grounded and well-established worlds in modern fantasy. As for the Briarwood arc, The Legend of Vox Machina had a hell of a task on its hand to make sure it adapted what is widely considered the first great storyline in Critical Role's history. And in this task it succeeded marvelously due to a great attention to detail and character depth.

A key element of Dungeons & Dragons is its capacity for players to immerse themselves into the minds and personalities of their characters and The Legend of Vox Machinaworks because of the successful transition of the player's improvised creations and dialogue to a fully scripted cohesive narrative. Everyone's performances are just unparalleled in their depth and nuance, a very difficult task for most voice actors to properly get right.
Special notice however must be given to Taliesin Jaffe as Percival de Rolo and Grey Griffin as Delilah Briarwood, the villainous necromancer at the heart of the Briarwood arc. They manage to perfectly capture a level of darkness and villainy (though Percy's villainy is exceptionally situational and reliant on context) while still maintaining a respectful level of humanity and empathy from the audience. For all the terrible things that Delilah and her husband do, their motivations are incredibly relatable and a true testament of the strength of these two characters. And while Brimscythe may have a much smaller and less memorable place as the first antagonist of the series, his impact is liable to be much more important for coming seasons, if the finale is anything to go by. Percival is the emotional center of the Briarwood arc and helps to build an outline for character narrative that I hope the show will further pursue in its subsequent seasons, allowing every character to have their own emotionally charged arcs.
Because every character presented is amazing with a star-studded cast. While the guest voice actors are stunningly cast and always present their characters with distinction, it is the main cast that really draws our attention. Grog is a blast with all of his loveable idiot moments, Keyleth is sweetest and team's moral center alongside Pike (who deals with her own season-long sidestory outlining a crisis of faith that perfectly explains Ashley Johnson's absence from much of the arc due to her work on Blindside), and the twins' dynamic is heartwarming and charged with a real sense of familial love. And then of course, there is Scanlan but I will speak on him a little later.

Beyond the amazing performances, the comedy and action is also incredible. With wonderfully staged and choreographed sequences and a solid foundation of in-universe limitations, fights are gritty and grounded in tension and highly emotional. Characters can and do die, often in gritty and disgusting ways, but never does it feel cheap or emotionally manipulative. Rather it helps the world feel real, as our own world doesn't have plot armor and even the occasional acts of "resurrection" in-universe look like they are bounded by complex rules, just like Dungeons & Dragons. And the comedy is equally gritty and mature, without being childish. While the show does utilize crass humor on occasion, it also balances it with stellar writing and hilarious musical cues, especially from the group's resident bard Scanlan, played iconically by Sam Riegel. I could listen to "Beads of Love" forever just getting the biggest kick out of it.
Scanlan is also behind my favorite scene of the season (though I do have a deep appreciation for Orthax's monologue in the final episode). The entire Scanbo fight scene in Duke Vedmire's house is simply a hoot from start to finish. A perfect combination of comedy and action, tension and timing. It really highlights a character that is predominantly comedy relief and transform them into a consummate badass without ever losing his innate goofy dumbass shtick. It is a perfect encapsulation of everything is show does correctly.

I was extremely excited to see this show when it was announced and it has not disappointed in the least. Amazing characters and a fantastically deep world, with passion behind every element of its creation; composed by some of the best creators in their field and fans of the original livestream. The Legend of Vox Machina is a near flawlessly executed passion project that proves beyond any doubt that D&D has mass market appeal and that a fan-funded project can make millions of dollars in return for anyone brave enough to venture into that field.

The only reason I am making it not a complete 10/10 is simply because I am waiting for Season 2 and beyond to see the culmination of some of the story elements introduced. Because the story isn't complete, but the excitement is almost unbearable.

  • 10/10
  • 9/10
  • 10/10
  • 9/10

 FINAL SCORE - 9.5/10

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