This review is based on the first six episodes of “The Legend of Vox Machina” that Amazon Prime Video made available to press ahead of the series’ Jan. 28 premiere
From the moment its Kickstarter closed with $11.3 million.The Legend of Vox Machina faced two fundamental challenges in its first season. Its first two episodes had to tell an original story that would satisfy existing fans while introducing the cast of characters to an entirely new audience. In addition, the remaining episodes had to adapt and condense more than 50 hours of storytelling-originally told through live-streamed “Dungeons & Dragons” games-without sacrificing the incredible quality of the storytelling.
“The Legend of Vox Machina” falls a bit short in the first respect. The first two episodes, at about 22 minutes each, have so much to do that they simply don’t have enough time to make it all work. Their breakneck pace makes some plot points seem contrived and contrived. Toward the end of the second episode, however, “The Legend of Vox Machina” becomes a must-see show, as it slows down enough to encompass all the high fantasy shenanigans, brutal combat, gruesome horror, and personal tales of its source material.
Narratively, this series follows a group of seven misfit adventurers – known professionally as Vox Machina – as they journey through the fantasy world of Exandria in search of fame, fortune and revenge. The first two episodes introduce the crew and see them investigating a mysterious creature that has been ravaging villages in the Emon countryside with the promise of a large bounty. This is where the aforementioned pacing issues come into play. When introducing the characters, there is a bit of emotional whiplash as we go from a chest-thumping bar fight to emotional moments of self-doubt about the characters in no more than two minutes.
But toward the end of the second episode, the series enters its main story arc, which centers on the members of Vox Machina helping their partner Percival DeRollo (Taliesin Jaffe) in his quest for revenge against Lord Silas and Lady Delilah Briarwood (Matthew Mercer and Grey Griffin), two of the sexiest and most irredeemably evil villains to ever pass through my television.
As the series progresses, all the characters begin to stand out. The most prominent are the half-giant Grog Strongjaw (Travis Willingham) and the diminutive gnome Pike Trickfoot (Ashley Johnson). Grog is an imposing figure with a massive battle axe and an inversely matched intellect, while Pike is a diminutive cleric who summons holy power to fight. Despite their physical differences, they share a touching friendship that is wonderful to watch unfold with small actions, such as Grog putting Pike on his shoulders as they walk or Pike comforting Grog when he is confused by the concept of house arrest.
Aside from the brief initial pacing problems, “The Legend of Vox Machina” is a marvel. The animation is gorgeous and decadent. The characters come to life with style, panache and genuine emotion on screen, with all sorts of little details that show love for the characters and their relationships. Whether it’s showing Vax’s daggers magically teleporting into his hands after he throws them or Grog hoisting Pike onto his shoulders as they escape some trouble, there are all sorts of nice touches that show a genuine love for the source material the animators worked from. That said, there are a few questionable looking monsters that don’t quite fit in with the rest of the animation. Not enough to ruin a scene, but enough to be distracting.
Speaking of monsters, the fight scenes are tremendous. The movement of the characters and the camera angles flow well together. Bits of blood from people and monsters fly as they are torn apart by other people or monsters. In addition, there are nice nods to the dice-based gameplay of D&D when characters screw up or something goes wrong in a battle. For example, when Vex trips over Pike or Percy’s gun doesn’t fire.
The dubbing is also tremendous, drawing not only on the nerdy voice actors who created Critical Role and Vox Machina in the first place, but also wonderful additions such as David Tennant, Khary Payton and Indira Varma. Of particular note, however, are Grey Griffin and Matt Mercer, who bring the Briarwoods to life as a pair of lovelorn badasses. Sunil Malhotra also deserves a mention for his role as the fabulously flirtatious and flirtatious shopkeeper Shaun Gilmore.
Fans of the series will notice a few changes to Briarwood’s original arc from the first Critical Role campaign. Most of these changes seem to be born of necessity and work in the context of the series. After all, there are loose episodes of “Critical Role” from the Briarwood arc that last longer than the entire animated series. There are a couple of new characters, the order of some events is different, but nothing too shocking. The big change is that the series removes a character from the original series, Tiberius Stormwind, skipping several original arcs in doing so. This should come as no surprise. This decision was announced when the Kickstarter campaign for “The Legend of Vox Machina” was launched. But it also makes sense due to the fact that the character has almost no prominence in the original arc, as the Tiberius and “Critical Role” actor parted ways over six years ago.
In short, I have only seen the first half of the series. However, in those six episodes, “The Legend of Vox Machina” has been a terrific series. As a whole, the series is an audio-visual delight with tons of love for the characters and source material. There are a few flaws, the biggest of which is that the first few episodes try to do too much too fast, and suffer for it. That said, most of the problems disappear completely in the last four. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of what “The Legend of Vox Machina” has to offer.
If I had to rate it now: 9/10
“The Legend of Vox Machina” first three episodes are now available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.