For a week, let’s talk about some Western Animation from Netflix and Amazon Prime. Ok, this is the only one from Amazon Prime but you know, ok? It’s on a streaming service for everyone to enjoy and watch. This was the show that kept fantasy Thursday going for me for an extra four weeks after Wheel of Time ended its first season. From standard fantasy to even more standard fantasy, it was a good time. I mean, the Witcher’s second season came out too during this time, but well…I have some thoughts about it. But this is about Vox Machina, not the Witcher. Maybe I should start discussing Vox a bit more perhaps?
Critical Role is a D&D campaign podcast that I’ve wanted to get into for a while, but it feels so ridiculously long. Probably because it is. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s a podcast lead by an anime voice actor, Matt Mercer, whose characters are also anime voice actors. So there is already a niche draw to it from multiple nerd activities put into one. Who in the nerd sphere hasn’t heard of Critical Role? But, it’s too long for someone with my lack of patience. So when a series was announced, it was time to finally dig into something Critical Role for the first time. Perfection honestly. Especially with it being an animated series, it’s in a more digestible form.
Taking place in Matthew Mercer’s imaginary world of Exandria, it starts with an edgy beginning where normal adventurers who swear are killed by a dragon who wants to destroy the land. So yeah, the standard way to say “this isn’t your normal campaign”. It could have been handled better or its unimportant there too. But after that, we meet the Vox Machina crew getting kicked out of a bar for probably their hundredth time. These eight adventurers are obviously out of luck until they come across an advertisement from royalty to take on the dragon for them. So pretty standard out of luck D&D group that is far from usual, but will save the kingdom anyway. Good times.
The characters are pretty cool honestly. All of them have a simple past and have somewhat cliched character personalities and an obvious class in a way that you can tell they are someone’s first campaign characters, but they are very well written to give you hints that there is something more to them. That is something which gives all of them room to grow. In this cast we have the brother and sister half elf pair of the rogue Vax and his hunter sister Vex, the horny gnome bard Scanlan, the dumb barbarian Grog, his best buddy Pike who is a great female dwarf cleric, Keyleth the female half elf druid, and Percy the gunslinger who wants to find more respect and nobility in his life again after losing it.
After the pretty standard introduction arc with the dragon, the show itself focuses on Percy’s backstory with the kingdom that he came from, Tal’Dorei, currently owned by the vampire family called the Briarwoods. It is a ten episode arc with some complex political ramifications, ballroom stuff, dancing, possession, great moments to let the story breathe and let all the characters grow instead of letting Percy’s revenge story take over the rest of the show. Not that he is a bland character, but there is the rest of the cast who have their own stories moved along in the darkest of time to see them grow further. That is why it’s so well written to me.
There is a double meta kind of thing with this cast of characters that has been around each other for a while and the voice actors also being around each other for a while. Well, it makes sense considering that Critical Role has been around for multiple years now. The character and cast chemistry is another part of why everything clicks so well. It helps each character feel much more genuine then they already do. The voice work of Laura Bailey, Talisin Jaffe, Ashley Johnson, Matt Mercer, Liam O’Brien, Marisha Rey, Sam Reigel, and Travis Willingham are so good. I mean, obviously they are professionals but still.
What makes it better is that the experience is so authentic to a beginning D&D campaign too. The real sign of that wasn’t all the cast interactions or the somewhat authentic powers on display. Oh no, it was the rogue who was struggling to open one singular door. What D&D campaign hasn’t had that moment when the door is the greatest villain of a campaign of all time? I really mean that by the way, it’s so authentic. No D&D player wants to be faced with a locked door. I mean, there are obviously some other things like problem solving and other things, but I just can’t get over this show’s door gag. Even months later, it’s so good.
Visually, the show looks and moves pretty great too. I don’t know what it is, but every time I look at the character designs I am somewhat reminded of the DCAU. That’s a good thing because I like that art style. This show has a very refined DCAU look to it that draws itself more into it too. Then there are the special D&D abilities that are just genuine moments of cool animation. This show is the whole package and if you are a fantasy fan or have played a role playing game before, this show is for you. I love it so much and I can’t wait for season two.