The world of animation is home to a rather wide variety of genres, and most of them are designed to cater to a very specific audience. Those with a flair for the theatrical tend to love an action-packed anime, filled with an ample amount of drama and enough fast-paced violence to make a vampire blush. Escapists will frequently stray towards fantasy epics, which transport them away from the realities of life and towards a more magical land of adventure. Late-night crowds love adult comedies, which typically go to great lengths to make their raunchiest jokes an auditory and visual experience. Pleasing an audience is no easy task, so it’s impressive when a show can hit the mark on any one of these concepts. It’s even more impressive when it succeeds in hitting on all three.
The Legend of Vox Machina is Amazon Prime’s latest animated offering, based on a long-running Dungeons & Dragons campaign played by some of the industry’s most talented vocal performers. The group, who initially presented their journey in the form of a web series called Critical Role, all return to voice their respective characters in a new adaptation that entertainingly balances the earnestness of good storytelling with the jolly aura of nerds just messing around. Though the humor may sometimes be a bit on the nose, its honest bluntness makes it hard not to laugh. For example, when one of our protagonists is confronted by a monstrous demon beast, he appropriately exclaims something along the lines of ‘What in the actual [insert expletive] is that!?’ This, being probably exactly what the viewer was also thinking, makes for a good reminder that the majority of the show’s jokes stem from someone sitting at a table and reacting to plot twists with as much humanity as any viewer.
As hinted above, however, it’s not just the R-rated comedic material that makes Vox Machina so charming to watch. Jokes hit harder when an audience is engrossed in the plot, and more so when the characters involved are actually made to be interesting. Throughout the series’ first six episodes, those ready to observe will be introduced to a seemingly expansive world of magic and monsters (or rather, dungeons and dragons). None of the concepts presented are especially new or groundbreaking, but a handful of genuinely fun-to-watch sequences and the sporadically very cool character design will surely be quick to convince viewers of their right to exist. The exaggerated nature of animation, paired with the occasionally brutal nature of fantasy, serves to make the action scenes sometimes shockingly violent. It’s most definitely not a show for children, and some moments may even be too grotesque for grown adults, but fans of a satisfyingly choreographed fatality should be pleased by what the series has to offer.
The likability of the story’s titular band of misfits also helps to keep a potential fandom wanting more, whether it be to see further evidence of the easy chemistry between actors or simply because they’ll want to know what happens to their sort-of-heroes next. By the tradition of role-playing games, all protagonists are a bit of a stereotype. Yet, the dualistic authenticity with which each is portrayed in Vox Machina helps to inject a certain amount of lifeblood into the plot. Travis Willingham‘s Grog Strongjaw is your typical meathead barbarian, but the actor delves into the role with enough heart to make him one of the team’s softest members. Laura Bailey‘s half-elf ranger Vex Vessar is as independent as they come, and Sam Reigel‘s Scanlan Shorthalt is a musical gnome with a penchant for sex and self-obsession, yet somehow both keep finding themselves in danger for someone they care about. Some of the more prominent character developments can’t be discussed without giving away some really intriguing spoilers, but suffice to say the rest of the cast has a lot of fun as well. Especially when the story deviates from the expected.
Ironically, a final bright spot worth mentioning is just how gleefully dark the series can get. With old-fashioned villains who are bad for the sake of being bad and cherish the idea of causing others pain, it sometimes feels like nothing is off the table. Despite a generally jovial tone, any show with evil books, giant wolves, and mustache-twirling bad guys is sure to make it to some scary places. What’s surprising is just how willing Vox Machina is to embrace the chaos.
While every minute spent watching The Legend of Vox Machina was thoroughly enjoyable, it does seem like the series is meant to flourish with a very specific niche. Those who love the original web series will flock to this new take, and they’ll more than likely fall for it quicker than most. However, anyone unfamiliar with the source material should prepare themselves for a ride that pulls out quite a few stops. If you’re expecting a straightforward show that commits to any one style, you might want to look elsewhere. If you’re willing to let yourself be open to anything, then you just might find yourself a new favorite adventure on Amazon Prime.