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The characters of Amazon Prime Video's "The Legend of Vox Machina," based on the first campaign of the Dungeons and Dragons web series "Critical Role." Photo Courtesy of IMDb.

‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ succeeds on charisma check, but just barely

 On Friday, Jan. 20, Amazon Prime Video released the first three episodes of the second season of “The Legend of Vox Machina,” animation studio Titmouse Inc.’s adaptation of the wildly successful Dungeons and Dragons actual-play show “Critical Role.” Though impressive in scope and showing plenty of promise for what’s to come, season two so far is underwhelming, if not as an adaptation, then as a story on its own.

This season, “The Legend of Vox Machina” follows titular adventuring party Vox Machina as they track down legendary magical items to help them defeat a cadre of villainous dragons dubbed the “Chroma Conclave,” bent on ruling the world. If it sounds played out, that’s because it is — mostly.

If the show is better than the synopsis would suggest (which it is), it’s because of the behind-the-scenes talent brought to the table by the voice actors and animation studio. The experience and understanding Vox Machina’s voice actors bring to the characters is indicative of the great time and care they’ve spent inhabiting them, starting with their initial home D&D game in 2012.

The show’s actual-play origins are double edged, though. While they lend a unique imaginative tone to the adventure, they also leave it stuck in flat characterization. When watching an improvised game, characters like the dim-witted goliath barbarian Grog (Travis Willingham) are charming because we see the distance between him and his player — in an animated show, all we see is the same trope we’ve seen a hundred times, played for laughs that never come.

This same thought applies to immature gnome bard Scanlan (Sam Riegel) and edgy half-elf rogue Vax’ildan (Liam O’Brien). Though well-performed and each possessing their own moments of nuance, generally, they hit the beats any role-playing game player has seen a million times before, and it can be grating when not interrogated. By Scanlan’s third sex joke in any given episode, the viewer is about ready to kill him themselves — not a good state for your audience to be in.

The flat characterizations (particularly with those three characters) illustrate a general lack of understanding of the audience from the writing team. Taken in conjunction with the imbalanced tone (more akin to a D&D game in the way an episode beginning with a foot fetish joke ends with a serious show-altering character death), it’s unclear who they’re aiming for. Although it’s intended for new and old fans alike, it never quite lands enough in either camp to be successful.

All of that being said, “The Legend of Vox Machina” is still a show to contend with, and one that shows great promise for the future relationship between Amazon Prime and “Critical Role.” This is in no small part thanks to the animation work done by Titmouse Inc., who have managed to capture and expand upon the spirit of the original show through creative animation. For examples of the quality Titmouse brings to this season, look no further than the dragon attack on capital city Emon in the first episode, “Rise of the Chroma Conclave.”

Titmouse’s animation of the Chroma Conclave lights a fire under the idea of dragons in fantasy, a once-frightening villain concept rendered doofy by “The Hobbit” and years of bad Dungeons and Dragons games. There’s a strong sense of danger to them in a way that should inspire any amateur dungeon master — this is how you create fear for your players.

Altogether, I’d suggest checking out “The Legend of Vox Machina.” Though at times gratingly childish, it’s a fun introduction to what has quickly become a pop culture giant. New episodes of season two premiere each Friday night on Amazon Prime Video.

Spenser Willden is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at or on twitter @spenserwillden 

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