By Henry Fisher | March 7, 2022
On April 19, 2019, the Legend of Vox Machina kickstarter closed – raising over $11.3 million. This was the dream of a community of people known as “critters.” With additional support from Amazon Studios, Critical Role’s first Dungeons & Dragons campaign would be turned into an animated series.
I won’t go over what D&D is here, but I felt as though the way this series was funded was relevant. While I did not support the kickstarter, I did follow it closely. I have watched Critical Role for years, though I did not watch most of the particular campaign that this animated show was based on. Will this be an unbiased review? Probably not. Have I gone into this blind? Definitely not. Do I understand the anticipation of the series? Yes.
With that in mind, I’ll be reviewing the show in “batches.” Each batch coincides with the groups of episodes that were released at the same time – though this is an unofficial organizer. Beware of spoilers.
Batch 1 (Episodes 1-3)
This includes the original two part animated special promised by the kickstarter. The original two episodes were expanded to ten, then twelve when Amazon signed on. And yet, the original two-parter remained to help introduce newcomers to the characters of Vox Machina.
This is… definitely an introduction.
It seeks to set up the tone of the show as an adult cartoon, and oh boy, is it ham-fisted with it. Within this 20-minute episode there is someone throwing up in another’s mouth, a somewhat off-screen sex scene, lots of gore, and the death of two children. Some of this is good, and it does fit the theme of the original campaign – however it does not translate as well to animation.
The show gets better as time goes on (less ham-fisted), but this is an important introductory episode for later arcs. In addition, the complexity of animating this arc’s big bad dragon means it was done in CGI. The CGI is fine, but it could certainly be better.
Brimscythe, the aforementioned dragon, is a well-known villain to the Critical Role community, so I do understand the lack of effort going into hiding his true identity. The final battle with him is very fun (and foreshadows my favorite arc of the original campaign). I do think it does fall into the “defeating it with the power of friendship” feeling near the end, with nothing of their tactics changing too drastically beyond knowledge of its weak point.
The last episode of this batch is the first of the main arc of this season. The Briarwoods are such good villains. I love them so much. In the original campaign, this is what really brought Critical Role into the spotlight.
The designs for Lord and Lady Briarwood are amazing, and they carry such a presence on the screen. Also, we get to see Vax do some espionage! That’s fun. He uses the random belt that turns into a snake. That’s pretty neat. The set piece of Sovereign Uriel’s palace is a great one.
In all seriousness, that was a great scene that starts to set the tone of this arc, truly the beginning of No Mercy Percy.
Batch 2 (Episodes 4-6)
Wow, I can’t believe they managed to fit a horror-lite into this animated series. Very cool.
The design on the wraiths is great, we get the introduction of Jarrett. Pike leaving makes sense, and her journey later on is… interesting? It’s okay. Not my favorite per se. Keyleth is definitely the highlight of this first episode, being the force that turns the tide – and in a very aesthetic way.
Next is the classic journey and the classic chase scene.
We get more of Gilmore this episode, and that’s pretty cool. His shop is full of easter eggs and is so highly detailed. There’s also some of the sparks for Keyleth and Vax’s relationship, which is fun to see.
The chase sequence is great! The design of the weird wolf creatures is very unique, I love the odd split jaws that they have. It’s also very creepy the way that the split wolf pulls half of its body along into the forest as it flees Vox Machina.
There is also a wonderful campfire scene which has some casual character moments. I’m really happy that the show found some downtime in this adventure, as the whole scene adds quite a lot to the story. Minus Scanlan’s story. If you watch it, you’ll know why I feel that way. Love the character, but man, he is gross.
Finally, Vox Machina reaches Percy’s home of Whitestone, and the shocking scene of several innocent people hanging from a massive tree. These people are dressed up as the members of the party, showing that this was purely an intimidation tactic on the Briarwoods’ part. It is truly a highlight of the show – the shock of the moment is great.
Yet again, the final episode of the three-episode batches delivers.
The scenery also delivers again. Whitestone is incredible, and I love the flashes to the villains’ perspectives. Vox Machina gets to meet some of the rebels and forge a plan to reach the captured leader, Archie. This character in particular was changed quite a bit from the original campaign, but it works far better with this somewhat revised plot.
The break-in scene is one of the funniest sequences of the show. It’s great. I love it. The music makes it just that much better.
While Stonefell is the least engaging member of Percy’s List, it was great to see the first name marked off. The music, again, is fantastic, especially since it synchronizes amazingly with the scene itself. I love Percy’s one-liners. They are amazing.
Overall, this second batch of three is far better than the first, and it gets better from here!
Batch 3 (Episodes 7-9)
The first episode of this batch is “Scanbo,” a well known sequence from the initial campaign. Its okay in this episode, more of just some good dumb fun. I feel bad not having much to say on it, since it was directed by Sam Riegel and Travis Willingham, two cast members of the original show – though there’s not really too much to it. I will take this moment to say the fire effects look pretty good in this show.
The next episode sees Stephen Root as Professor Anders acting as the primary villain, and he delivers on those voice lines! Each one feels slimy, and this character is definitely a unique member of the list. His death is especially brutal, and that combined with the shattering glass behind him makes a beautiful shot – pun intended.
Keyleth comes in clutch again, saving Cassandra’s life. Pike finally connects with the Everlight, finding the source of her block – her divided dedication to her friends and her faith. She must choose, and I like this new part of her story. While this does come up later, Pike’s return is a very interesting scene to me. Pike as a character shows that it is possible to still be faithful without dedicating all she is to her god. I think that’s pretty neat.
The final episode of this batch is good, but not too much of note. I love that the beginning included the Briarwood’s backstory. Their twisted love is a really engaging part of the story.
Batch 4 (Episodes 10-12)
Last batch, and Percy’s one-liners are still on point! The first episode has a tense agreement with Dr. Ripley. Again I love the voice work, this time of Kelly Hu, who plays Ripley.
Is it bad if my two favorite Scanlan songs either involve him not singing or are in the credits? Maybe. It was clever to have him play heavy metal to lift more people during the acid sequence.
Speaking of the acid sequence, Cassandra’s betrayal was something I had known about previously, so I don’t truly know how effectively it was pulled off here. I do love how Percy is in complete shock after this betrayal. It makes sense, and is a powerful way of showing their love.
The fight to stop the final ritual at the ziggurat is well put together. Unlike the Brimscythe fight, the defeat of the Briarwoods feels properly built up. Keyleth channeling the Sun Tree’s light is a beautiful scene – both in music and visually. Lady Delilah Briarwood’s line after the death of her husband, “I broke the world for us,” is amazing and chilling.
The last episode focuses on the fight to save Percy from his cycle of vengeance. It is great to see how much Vex and Cassandra care about him, willing to sacrifice themselves in order to save Percy’s soul. The other members of Vox Machina also have some good moments, but Cassandra and Vex are definitely the highlight.
The final scene is incredible, and I am very excited for season two!