Network: Amazon Studios
Streaming Service: Amazon Prime
Release Date: January 20, 2023 (first three episodes)
Rating: 18+ (There is absolutely blood and gore in this fun Dungeons and Dragons-based show)
Reviewer Name: Adeene Denton
Episodes reviewed: 1-3 (of 12)
Note: this review is spoiler-free!
The Legend of Vox Machina (hereafter referred to as as "Vox Machina") has a long and storied history as a widely acclaimed podcast/ongoing live Dungeons and Dragons session, Critical Role, which is run by a group of very successful voice actors. Fortunately for those of us that struggle with watching or listening to a bunch of people play Dungeons and Dragons for four hours at a time (me), this animated show adapts the various arcs of the group's first campaign, and is a great entry point into the world of D&D-adjacent media, which contains both an inherent ridiculousness and the opportunity for really wonderful storytelling. While the first season of Vox Machina can best be described as "what if one guy's trauma was so bad it caused him to invent the world's first gun and subsequently make it everyone's problem," the second season bravely asks the question "what would happen if dragons were ridiculously powerful and decided to work together?" The answer to this question is, unfortunately, war crimes.
Should you jump into the currently-releasing season 2 without watching season 1? I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, but you could, as there's enough hints at what plot events and character development have taken place that following along is pretty straightforward. The seven members of the Vox Machina team oscillate between cool competence and outrageous idiocy with a facility that some may find frustrating, but I find extremely human and pretty dang believable. This is probably because, personally, I have a PhD and also regularly get caught pushing a pull door. Yes, the same door multiple times.
The plot of season 2, as it unfolds, has suitably high stakes and a ticking clock for Vox Machina to pull off the impossible. And while, like any fantasy lover, I do enjoy a good plot, the real draw of Vox Machina is less the worldbuilding (though it is suitably vast and detailed) and more the incredible depth of character in the seven core cast members. Each member of the team, from the half-elven twins Vex and Vax to the massive barbarian Grog, struggles with their own arcs of emotional growth and change. It would be easy to lose track of a character or two with such a large group, but the narrative keeps us focused on who relates to who, when one person's actions can inspire or depress another, and how a well-meaning action has ripplingly massive consequences.
In many ways, season 2 is an improvement on season 1: the story is unfolding at a good clip and the characters are starting to grow and change in more subtle ways. Where the first season focused on big, life-defining changes for several major characters, season 2 delves deeper, focusing on how these heroes define themselves in relation to the world around them. It's a much deeper, more thought-provoking angle to take, but one that looks to be very rewarding as the season continues. Vox Machina is at its strongest when showcasing how much its ragtag band of world-saving misfits loves each other, so I'm thrilled with how the new plot threads delve into real choices that bring this chosen family closer together. Though, not to worry - there's still plenty of lovingly-depicted dumb humor to go around.
The animation also seems to have improved to keep up with the stellar voice acting, as the entire production settles into a groove. With such a strong cast of voice actors, season 1 actually struggled at times to keep up with the level of energy and emotion they brought. Here, things seem more on an even keel. Magic continues to be portrayed in extremely cool ways that differ depending on the user; Scanlan's bardic magic has a distinctly purple, theatrical flair, while Keyleth's druid powers transform landscapes on an intimidating scale. The dragons go extremely hard! There is also a bear! There's nothing magical about him, but he's a really good bear.
So, should you check out season 2? Yeah, probably. Beneath all the Dungeons and Dragons trappings of druids and rangers, half-elves and tieflings, lies a heartfelt story about how a bunch of semi-competent idiots might just love and support each other enough to save the world. And that's the kind of story I need right now.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 pet grizzly bears
Watch this show if you like: Cool magic spells, friendship and found family, a plausibly bisexual cast of characters
Notable content warnings: gore and violence (though these scenes can largely be skipped/muted), nudity, LOTS of profanity
Date of Review: February 3, 2023