REVIEW: ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ doesn’t know what it wants to be

“The Legend of Vox Machina” is a fun show for fans, but has too many references for the newcomers the team was trying to market to.

 

“Critical Role” fans have been eagerly waiting for “The Legend of Vox Machina” since its Kickstarter campaign in 2019, which raised $11 million. It was originally set to be one animated special, but was turned into a 10 episode series due to the amount of support it received.

 

After it was announced that Amazon would be streaming the show through Prime Video, the company began a robust advertising campaign. The cast and fans would post pictures of the advertisements they saw while out and about, including in the NYC subway system. The ad placement made it seem like Amazon was trying to market the show to the general public as well as to fans.

 

After watching the first three episodes of the show that are currently available, I think the advertising strategy conflicts with the actual show. There are too many in-jokes about “Dungeons and Dragons” mechanics and “Critical Role” to work for such a wide audience. I think this disconnect is why they relied a little too much on fart jokes and “ball tag,” which is exactly what you think it is. 

 

The show is a retelling of the first “Critical Role” campaign, which I’m not sure was the best choice. Sure, this campaign has the classic character archetypes that even those who don’t know much about “Dungeons and Dragons” know. However, it begins to become cringey in the second and third episodes, which may be affected by my preference for campaign two. 

 

Scanlan Shorthalt (played by Sam Reigel, as in the Twitch stream) is your stereotypical horny bard who serenades ladies and starts shenanigans. His introduction, though trope-y, is done well and I have no problem with it, but his songs throughout the show are just grating and made me want to look away from the screen. They were intentionally bad in the livestream that the show is based on, but it does not transfer well to the animation.

 

This first campaign is just not suited for an animated series. It was the “Critical Role” cast’s first time making a story designed for both spectators and the players, which caused all sorts of pacing issues. Most people will tell you to skip the first 30 or so episodes of the stream to get to the Briarwood arc, which starts in episode three in the cartoon. By condensing so much content into so few episodes, it creates weird tonal jumps and it’s clear that the writers didn’t know what to do with all six members of the adventuring party.

 

For example, Vox Machina suddenly goes from only being in it for the coin to trying to avenge a child slain by the monster they were hunting. The change from mercenaries to do-gooders is much more gradual and dynamic in the livestream. 

 

Aside from those points, the show is fun and has an interesting mix of gore and comedy. The gore, along with the sardonic characters, reminded me a lot of the Netflix series “Castlevania.”

 

The rest of the episodes will be released weekly on Prime Video.

 

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