Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations
So, I have a confession to make: I do not care for watching D&D games. Given how short my attention span already is, the prospect of spending three or more hours watching someone else’s games feels tedious. I could maybe make an exception if the people playing were enjoyable personalities who I already liked, but that is about it.
That being said, the series under review today, The Legend of Vox Machina, is one that feels unique in its conception. That is because the series was actually funded on Kickstarter, and is based on the first campaign of Critical Role, a continual D&D campaign done by a number of high profile voice actors including Matthew Mercer, Laura Bailey, Travis Willingham, and a few others. The show is currently on its third campaign, although Vox Machina only covers content from the first.
The story falls in line with the campaign itself, following a band of adventurers who are widely considered the worst in the land, as evidenced by their drunken behavior and their seemingly massive debt. The group catches a break when the king of Exandria tasks them with finding and defeating a mysterious beast which has been ravaging the kingdom’s countryside. From there, the adventure continually escalates into larger and larger proportions
D&D and Fantasy Storytelling
D&D is a game that, by its very nature, invites a lot of creativity. Now, I am sure many of the people reading this who have played have also had bad experiences. This could have been because of a bad DM who only wanted to play in a very specific way or because the campaign itself was disorganized or boring. It happens. Still, for every bad D&D story there is also probably a great one, where the universe felt real even as everyone was sitting around a table looking at each other irl.
The level of detail that emerged from a campaign like this speaks not only to Matthew Mercer’s talent as a campaign writer but also to the work of the other voice actors who managed to write such profoundly fun characters. Nothing about The Legend of Vox Machina would comes even remotely close to working if it were not for such a likeable cast and gorgeous fantasy setting.
Of course, the show does also maintain a lot of the freeflowing quirks that come from the dailogue of said campaigns. What I mean is that a lot of the series humor can be boiled down a lot of cursing and sex, often randomly inserted into conversations without much of a purpose other than to serve as a random punchline. Given that I am perpetually 12 years old in regards to my bar for comedic quality, this does not bother me as much, but it might not jive with others.
Of course, the series also would not work as well if these characters were be handled by less capable actors. Luckily, though, that is not at all the case, as every member of the main cast does an incredible job at selling the authenticity of their in game personas. Additionally, the way the actors play off each other in the series feels less like a properly scripted show and more like stuff that got pulled directly from the campaign, though I cannot say that for sure given my lack of knowledge regarding Critical Role.
Everyone on the show had absolutely phenomenal performances, but some of my standouts include Ashley Johnson as Pike and Taliesin Jaffe as Percy. Pike definitely feels like the character to grab a beer with, although engaging in that kind of “sin,” funnily enough, does become a major plot point which felt fairly compelling despite how stale some of those plotlines in normal campaigns can often feel.
Percy’s character takes up a pretty significant chunk of the first season, and without spoiling too much, goes through a lot of development. Which, honestly, is great because Jaffe manages to strike a perfect balance of giving his character a distinct vocal presence without making him sound obnoxious. It is a little dissapointing knowing that Percy will be less of a focus in the next season.
While I would not say there is a bad vocal performance among the cast, the one that felt the least memorable was surpringly that of the main villain Sylas Briarwood, played by Matthew Mercer himself. Though his character was interesting, and vocally Mercer did well, it still felt the least unique of the main characters.
To Animate a Campaign
Honestly, the biggest question mark for me going into The Legend of Vox Machina was the animation. After all, the series managing to meet its goal on Kickstarter did not necessarily guarantee anything of quality. They did manage to get enough eyes on the project that Amazon Studios came in to help produce it, which was comforting given their already proven track record on shows like Invincible.
and yeah, the animation is absolutely incredible. All of the characters looked visually disntinct, except for some shared similarities in the designs of Vex and Vax (though this makes sense given their sibling relationship). The backgrounds, while not particularly inspired in a lot of cases, felt unique to the world, particularly in the latter half in the town of Whitestone. The big tree in the center of the city felt fairly distinct, albeit a little reminiscent of some earlier dragon quest games.
As far as action goes, this is probably some of the best animated action I have seen in quite a while. There is a unique fluidity in the movement and fighting styles of each character which feels inspired from shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. This makes sense, though, considering that Titmouse, another studio that worked on the series, was also responsible for large portions of The Last Airbender.
It could have been the case, very easily so, that this show turned out to be complete garbage which made fans who donated towards its sucess feel robbed. After all, in an age where a lot of people are making “content” it can be hard obtain a level of trust about a project’s quality. I am happy to say that we instead live in this timeline, one in which everyone involved is clearly passionate and focused on making in a good show, which is why it is one of my favorite animated series in recent memory.
Have you seen The Legend of Vox Machina? How do you feel about it? Let me know in the comments below.
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