From celebrating 1,000 subscribers on Twitch, to breaking Kickstarter records, it has been a long and shockingly popular road for Critical Role. Although I cannot claim to be an original fan, and I only started binging Critical Role’s campaign a little over two years ago, I have become a big supporter of Matt Mercer and his nerdy, voice actor friends sitting around playing Dungeons and Dragons (They play Dungeons and Dragons!). I also was unfortunately late to witness them turn what was supposed to be an animated special into an $11.3 million Kickstarter fund that landed them a series on Amazon Prime. However, seeing The Legend of Vox Machina feels like a well-deserved critical success.
Our story begins
The episode begins by introducing us to a varied group of lovable idiots who beat, sleaze, and steal their way through every tavern in town. Right off the bat, each character is likable and defined, immediately bringing me onto the table they’re playing on through their design and performance. The animation is beautiful, full of color and character which successfully brings D&D’s plastic minis to life. We follow our group of misfit heroes, known as Vox Machina, as they search for whoever will hire them in the city of Emon.
The party brings themselves to the Tal’Dorei council and are reluctantly hired to discover what (or who) is destroying villages outside the city. As they leave the council, Vox Machina member Vex'ahlia gets a strange feeling that reminds her of her childhood before quickly being whisked out of the hall. With very little confidence, the party arrives in a village and promises the people living there that they will defeat whoever is responsible for such mayhem across the countryside. While searching, Vex'ahlia again feels that strange presence, reminding her of the dragon attack that took the life of her mother.
Just as she tells the party, they are attacked by a massive blue dragon, confirming her feelings. Being quickly dispatched and left for dead, Vox Machina decide to quit their new job, seeing nothing but certain death flying before them. However, when they return to the village, all they find is rubble and ash. With their grief and guilt as a source of determination, the party swears to bring the dragon who caused this to justice.
Where will this adventure take us?
The opening episode wastes no time in delivering the story of Vox Machina. It sits you down and places you directly in the middle of the action. The confidence this opening brings is not unwarranted. With a cast of award-winning voice actors creating what is essentially an $11.3 million passion project, the show immediately feels full of heart and life. Each character is unique and fun, with just enough D&D cheesiness to make it lovable. The animation is gorgeous, with fluid movements and colors that breathe vitality and soul. The show doesn’t shy away from adult content, which makes for a very natural and appropriate feel. Maintaining the adult aspect of the show not only adds Vox Machina to the outstanding list of adult animation (shows like Invincible and Castlevania) but it also focuses the show on what makes Critical Role, Critical Role. Matt Mercer and his friends all play D&D; however, they are as close as you can get to professionals. They started just like any of us would, in a basement over some coffee table, but they have since grown to a professional studio with a cast and crew, keeping track of the story and game. The Legend of Vox Machina plays into the adult aspect of Critical Role while keeping the almost scripted professionalism, making for a beautifully made love letter to the greatest role-playing game. Every aspect of this episode feels loved, as if every ounce of effort and care went into its production, making for a tightly-knit 27 minutes of fantastical fun.
Even with a glorious list of triumphs, the episode does not make every saving throw. While the show kicks off quickly without wasting time, it does little for those who are unfamiliar with Critical Role’s somewhat incomplete campaign one. Having started streaming their campaign on Twitch halfway through, a hard-cut into Vox Machina leaves new viewers with a lot to catch up on. While the animation is beautiful, the use of computer graphics for the villainous dragon in the opening episode is a bit jarring (insert Attack on Titan joke here), sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the well-groomed and detailed environment.
Featured image: IMDb