Reviews | Written by Ed Fortune 24/01/2022

THE LEGEND OF VOX MACHINA

The Legend of Vox Machina is the animated TV adaptation of a game of Dungeons and Dragons that you can witness by tuning into Twitch every Thursday.  Because apparently, that’s a thing that can happen in the modern media age. And it’s also really good.

This is a modern animated show, aimed at the adults. Avatar The Last Airbender meets Game of Thrones is the incredibly lazy elevator pitch. It’s the adventures of a bunch of down-on-their-luck mercenaries called Vox Machina. They’re a mix of fantasy creatures – gnomes, giant-like goliaths, armoured bears, half-elves and a rich human who cares about other people.  They aren’t the most together band of heroes and they live in a world that is not kind to outsiders. The show establishes very early on that death is frequent and even the mighty can fall in an instant.

In addition to a vivid and engaging art style (and very good animation), the show has two big things going for it. One is the voice acting; the core heroes are played by people who have spent literally hundreds of hours living these roles. The result is fantastic; you will instantly care about all of them. The second big thing is the world-building. The world, called Exandria,  is vivid in its detail which means every element on screen has it’s own story and reason for being there. This is, after-all, a show based on a very popular Dungeons and Dragons game and this means the Dungeon Master (Matt Mercer) has filled this world with several books worth of detail. The result is a consistent and believable setting for our viewing pleasure.

They are plenty of cheeky nods for the fans, and also plenty of supporting cast. Grey Giffin, Felicia Day, David Tennant to name but a few. It’s a who’s who of US voice acting talent and makes for a really fun show. And yes, there's plenty of humour mixed in with the action and gore; these characters talk a lot and say and do funny things. Especially the permanently lust-drive gnomish bard Scanlan Shorthalt and the perpetually dim Grog Strongjaw.

The show’s production origins are well documented. Top-rated D&D stream Critical Role has the unique quirk that all the players are voice actors, known largely for their work in video-games and anime dubs.  (Hence the name Vox Machina). The cast regularly joked how cool it would be to make their game into a cartoon. They made an animated intro. The fans loved it. They ran crowd-funding to do a pilot. The fans funded an entire series. And then Amazon Prime stepped in and added more cash and resources. With so much money on the line, and the Critical Role stream rising in popularity, fans and observers held their breath. It needed to be good.

Luckily for all of us, the troupe of voice actors who’ve spent their careers in the animation industry knew what they were doing. It’s more than good, it’s an instant classic.  It’s also very violent, features nudity in the first few minutes and swears a lot. This is entirely keeping with the source material and style of game featured on Critical Role. Nothing too extreme compared to most anime out there, but bear in mind this is targeted at Mature Audiences.

Fans will be delighted and expect to see social media flooded with blow-by-blow analysis.  Will The Legend of Vox Machina  finally bring Table Top Roleplaying Games and Dungeons and Dragons  into the mainstream? No. Because those things have been mainstream for decades, the hobby has long since crawled out of its parent’s basement and now lives in an bespoke gaming room. So if you’ve not picked up a D&D starter set, now might be the time.

We’ve been lucky enough to see the first five episodes, and honestly we need more. Right now.  The show begins streaming on Prime Video from the 28th of January 2022 and will drop in three-episode bursts. Just enough to keep you want more.