The Legend of Vox Machina, an animated fantasy-adventure series for adults, is something wholly unique in this current age of franchise ubiquity and the need for IP to be constantly churned out. Instead of coming from boardroom edicts, The Legend of Vox Machina has been created by a group of nerdy-ass voice actors known as Critical Role and is based on their years-long Dungeons & Dragons campaign run by Dungeon Master Matt Mercer and the adventuring party that was the center of this story known as Vox Machina, played by the other members of Critical Role.
Whenever I get the chance to review a show ahead of its release, it’s always a joy and a privilege. However, the shows I get to do this with are always ones I have a connection with. This means any chance of impartiality gets thrown out the window, and it was no different this time as I sat down to watch The Legend of Vox Machina. For context, I’ve been watching the Critical Role crew since almost the first live stream of their D&D and grew to love the characters the crew played almost instantly. Seeing them brought to life (well, animation) was a surprisingly emotional experience. So yeah, there’ll be no impartiality from me in this review.
I am, however, still going to try and give you a rundown on why I think this show succeeds in what it set out to do; namely, bring these characters so many people have grown to care about and put them on the screens of millions more to fall in love with. This is primarily achieved through the unsurprisingly great performances from the main cast, all reprising the roles they got to embody over some 5+ years. For a fan of what this group has done, hearing even a slight chuckle from one of Vox Machina can instantly remind you of the many hours spent watching a live stream. But for newcomers, I do think there’s plenty here to reel them in and help them connect with the cast.
All these actors are at the top of the game when it comes to voice acting, and they know exactly when to drop the facades their characters hold up and reveal the hurt they feel underneath. Picking a favorite performance is honestly unfair but if I was to pick a specific highlight it would have to be Taliesin Jaffe as Percival (middle names redacted for time) de Rolo. The anger and hurt he displays during certain episodes are genuinely painful to watch at times. You can really see just how deep the connection between actor and character is for the cast in these moments.
As for the story, the writing staff had a challenge ahead of them in answering the question of how exactly do you condense so many hours of story and character development that you can build up during a years-long D&D campaign into a half-hour, 12-episode a season show. The answer? With surprising grace. This is not a direct adaptation of what fans will know, it never could be. Instead, what The Legend of Vox Machina does is hone in on specific stories that, woven together, become the completed tapestry of The Legend of Vox Machina. It’s no spoiler to say that a large part of this first season is adapting the fan-favorite Briarwood arc. And all the darkness and horror that came with it is delivered with aplomb. One scene, in particular, involving a tree (if you know, you know) is translated to animation with the significance that is needed to really make that moment land.
Speaking of animation, this is an animated show, so I should probably talk about it. From the start, The Legend of Vox Machina makes itself clear this is an animated show directed at adults, never shying away from violence and… other images of an adult nature. But this is par for the course when it comes to Critical Role, a show never afraid to go into bloody detail in describing the battles Vox Machina fought thanks to Matt Mercer’s mad, brilliant imagination. And when it comes to the actual quality of the animation itself, it makes for a fun watch, always knowing when to go for a more realistic approach, but also being able to show off the fantasy elements inherent in this kind of story. And for longtime Critical Role fans, there are plenty of visual hints and treats scattered throughout to keep an eye out for.
As I said up top, this was never going to be a show I could remain impartial on. Critical Role got me through some of the toughest times of my life and seeing Vox Machina on my screen is going to be something I treasure for a long time to come. But even with that, I believe this is a show anyone who has ever been interested in fantasy, D&D, or wondered why exactly these nerdy-ass voice actors became the sensation they are, will truly enjoy.