Last year, The Legend of Vox Machina was a surprise favorite of mine; one I almost completely missed out on. As the producer of The ‘Verse! (the geek-centric podcast featured on Awards Radar) I was sent press screeners, but unfortunately with so much other content dropping and so little time, they sat unplayed for weeks. To be honest, I almost passed on watching them at all. My taste in animation has grown much more selective over the last few years. That’s not to say I am an animation snob in the least, I just like what I like and based on the title graphic alone this series did not seem like a good match.
Luckily for me, when I mentioned the series to my podcast team, some of them knew enough about the show’s history to pique my interest. One night while cooking dinner I put an episode on and within minutes I was hooked. What I found was an epic adventure, intense action, colorful characters and some hilarious, raunchy humor. The taste test of the series quickly convinced me to binge several of the bite-sized (approximately 24 minute) episodes. Needless to say when season two screeners became available to me I did not wait to watch this time around.
The animated series derived from a very popular D&D campaign that found a life of its own online from the group known as Critical Role. The roles in The Legend of Vox Machina are performed by that same group who played and continue to play the D&D campaign together. The results of their voice work is quite impressive. You can sense their real life bonds between the actors in each performance, providing a touch of authenticity to a fantasy world. They are in tune with their respective characters and with each other with a college chum-like chemistry which continues to work into season two.
The campaign crew consists of some familiar D&D classes – a group of eccentric outcasts turned mercenaries; the gunslinger with a dark past Percy (Taliesin Jaffe), the half-elf twin sister and brother Vex’ahlia (Laura Bailey) and Vax’ildan (Liam O’Brien), the half-elf druid who is learning the bounds of her powers Ashari Keyleth (Marisha Ray), the horny song-slinging bard Scanlan (Sam Riegel), healing cleric Pike (Ashley Johnson), and powerful, kind hearted, yet not-so-bright barbarian Grog (Travis Willingham).
When it comes to season 2, I think Ox from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure said it best when he uttered these insightful words, “Everything is different, but the same… things are more moderner than before… bigger, and yet smaller… it’s computers…”
It sounds like a joke, but I don’t think it comes any more succinct than that. What fans get in season two is the same but yet different. Everything we loved is there and picks up right where they left off. But, on a whole the season feels fresh, not just a lazy rehash of last season. The world building is much more ambitious as is the character development. Just as you think this band of misfits has found their place in the world after saving Tal’dorei from destruction a quartet of dragons come swooping in and shit hits the fans.
As for the bigger and yet smaller this is where this season is a welcome upgrade over the perilous adventures of season one. Those dragons are a group known as the Chroma Conclave – mighty beasts set on destruction. The Conclave proves to be a foe the group is not strong enough to defeat. Seeing it’s a mismatch the group set off on mission to locate the Vestiges of Divergence, ancient artifacts they hope will even the playing field. The quest takes them beyond the city walls to explore new realms, expanding the world of Vox Machina to new measure.
At the same time this season digs deeper into who each character is, peeling back some of the protective exterior letting us learn more about their backgrounds, their powers, and insecurities. This closer look at the characters provides added depth that allows them to earn some of the surprisingly emotional moments. Unlike some animated series, the characters continue to grow and evolve, instead of being in a perpetual state of arrested development. Not only do we learn more about each of the team members, we get to explore their upgraded powers – just as you would in a D&D campaign. They’re a ton of fun as the battles this season are even bigger than before..
The animation has also gotten an upgrade, still sticking to the classic cell animation look that worked so well in season one, but adding some additional “moderner” 3D animation seamlessly integrated into each episode. This is most evident during any scene with the dragons, but in general the visuals feel next level in season two. The intricate dragon design makes them more menacing than any monster opponent Vox Machina has faced before. Cheers to Titmouse Inc., the team behind the animation, for the amazing amount of detail and creativity put into each foe. The dragons’ unique characteristics differentiate them in looks, personality and weaponized skills – fire, iced and acid breath, all of which are terrifying.
As a whole, The Legend of Vox Machina season two delivers more of what we loved about season one, action, adventure, chaos, delightfully rag tag characters, engaging storylines, and Grog grows a killer beard. There is also plenty of humor which often comes through Scanlan’s crude innuendos and clever songs or Grogs hilarious big dumb moments of comedy. The series continues to keep things moving along at a brisk pace, never in one place for too long. As usual, I will let you discover the finer details on your own.
The closer character exploration is a welcome addition even though it does often divide the team into their own mini-adventures. This lessens the moments where the show really shines, just sharing the room with the dysfunctional band of misfits/friends as they put their personalities on full display. You may never know what adventure to expect behind any door, but you do know you will never be bored as we watch this motley crew on their trek to become heroes. Even if fantasy is not your thing, roll the dice on this series… preferably a D20.
The Legend of Vox Machina is streaming exclusively on Amazon’s Prime Video. Season one is available in its entirety with season two premiering three new episodes weekly (4-6 drop January 27th).
For more weekly coverage of Vox Machina listen to our podcast, The ‘Verse!