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Critical Role: The Legend Of Vox Machina [Season One] (2022)

Animation and fantasy feel like they were made for each other. Yet outside of anime, full-blooded fantasy is surprisingly rare, and in adult animation, it’s even rarer. And when it does exist, as with Dinsenchantment and here with Critical Role: The Legend Of Vox Machina it still generally arrives via the vehicle of comedy.

Critical Role The Legend Of Vox Machina is based on the popular real-play RPG web show and podcast. The series is created by the cast and is an Amazon Studios production in association with Critical Role. The animation is produced by Titmouse Cartoons. The first season began streaming with the first three episodes on Prime Video on January 28 2022, with new episodes arriving weekly until February 18.

The series is adapted from one of the game’s most popular campaigns and follows the exploits of a party of adventurers (the titular Vox Machina). After their astronomical bar tab comes due they find themselves having to take on increasingly perilous quests to pay it off.

You don’t need to be familiar with Critical Role to appreciate the series, nor do you need a degree in Dungeons and Dragons. Those that do have a history with either will doubtless be rewarded with nods and references, but the series is designed to be accessible to the complete newcomer and dedicated fan alike.

Western adult animation is notorious for relying too heavily on the shock factor. Vox Machina is definitely an adult show, with plenty of four-letter words, violence and sex references. At first, it feels like it might be pushing this too heavily to the point it becomes a crutch, but it pretty much dispels this by the end of the first episode.

This is very much a fantasy-comedy where the fantasy is as important as the laughs. Crucially, this is pastiche not parody and is clearly made by people who love the genre. The fantasy setting- which is similar but legally distinct from the one in D&D for legal reasons- is brought to life brilliantly. The script may be full of jokes, but the fantasy element is taken seriously throughout.

This means that they’re smart enough to stop the jokes for a little while when the story takes a dramatic turn, or calls for a more emotional character moment. And take a turn it does indeed, as while Vox Machina draws you in with its larger than life characters and sharply written dialogue (with a nice line in creative cussing) it gets you truly hooked with its gripping story and compelling characters.

The cast are a likeable bunch, and it’s fun to spend time in their company. It no doubt helps that the main Critical Role cast (who are already all well-established voice actors)  have already been playing these characters for years and have thoroughly made them their own. Bouncing off each other ably, both comedically and dramatically they work brilliantly as a unit. As a result, it’s hard to pick stand-outs among them, but if pushed then Sam Riegel as randy bard Scanlan and Travis Willingham as Grog probably get the best of the funny lines, while Taliesin Jaffe as Percy and Laura Bailey as Vex-ahlia stand out in more dramatic scenes,

The established cast are joined here by an impressive list of guest stars who only add to fleshing out the Vox Machina world. Listen out for the likes of David Tennant, Kelly Hu, Stephanie Beatriz, Rory McCann and Gina Torres, all bringing their A-game.

Visually the show is decent looking, if not particularly spectacular. The character designs are good, with a vaguely anime-esque style that suits the material well. The decision to go with 2D animation definitely feels like the right one, as the few elements that are rendered in 3D CG stick out like a sore thumb and don’t look nearly as good. 

Compared to the likes of Arcane or Prime Video’s own Undone (which is finally getting its second season later this month) then Vox Machina looks pretty unexceptional, even workmanlike. But compared to Invincible, or for that matter the majority of western adult animation, it’s a definite step up.

Vox Machina definitely won’t be everyone’s cup o' mead. Hardcore fantasy fans may be put off by the dirty jokes, while the connoisseur of ‘adult’ humour may not care for the fantasy side. But for those who enjoy the combination it offers, it’s likely that you’ll be all in.

A second season is already ordered, which is great news- Vox Machina has the potential to run and run. If you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to wait to see where they’re going to go next.


IN A NUTSHELL: Fantastic in every sense of the word, Vox Machina is a fantasy comedy that does justice to both parts.