Directed by: Young Heller, Alicia Chan, Eugene Lee
Distributed by: Prime Video
Written by Anna Harrison
Season one of “The Legend of Vox Machina” felt a bit like a miracle: a group of voice actors with some webseries called Critical Role about their Dungeons and Dragons campaign band together to make an animated short about the first of these campaigns, it ends up being (albeit briefly) the most funded Kickstarter ever, is picked up by Amazon for several seasons, and now they’ve announced a show based off the group’s second campaign, called the Mighty Nein. Season two’s veneer has faded somewhat, at least for a non-superfan like me (I’m more of a background listener to their campaigns), but the heart at the center of season one carries over even if it doesn’t beat quite as strongly.
Where we last left off, our group of intrepid heroes—capable twins Vax’ildan and Vex’ahlia (Liam O’Brien and Laura Baily), timid druid Keyleth (Marisha Ray), horny gnome Scanlan (Sam Riegel), holy gnome Pike (Ashley Johnson), angsty boy Percy (Taliesin Jaffe), and the very large Grog (Travis Willingham)—had returned to the city of Emon as heroes after defeating the evil Lord and Lady Briarwood. Their victory is short-lived, however, as a group of dragons calling themselves the Chroma Conclave attack Emon, forcing our heroes on the run.
Season one was, while very much a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with vampires, lost heirs, and a whole host of common D&D tropes (albeit executed well), rooted in the characters. The Briarwoods had massacred Percy’s family years earlier, and so his vendetta was personal. Season two plays out much more like a typical D&D campaign: in order to achieve their goal (defeating the Chroma Conclave), our heroes must go to various far-flung locales and complete some side quests before they can get the MacGuffins (the so-called Vestiges of Divergence) that will bring down the enemy.
While the personal is weaved into the tale, often in ways that deviate from the original campaign but which prove to be smart choices—the original is over 400 hours, after all—the character development and plot don’t intersect as well as they did in season one. Vax and Vex meet their estranged father on the way to a Vestige, Pike reunites with her grandfather (played by Henry Winkler, proving yet again that “The Legend of Vox Machina” snags the best guest actors) as she chases after a different Vestige, etc.—it’s all happenstance in a way that feels like a letdown after season one wove the personal into the plot so well. “These people killed my family and took my home away and also I am being consumed by a demon of vengeance” versus “this horde of dragons we only just learned about killed a bunch of NPCs and now we must travel through all these places that have only passing meaning to us in order to get better (metaphorical) guns.” The latter is more aligned with your typical D&D campaign, but it makes for poorer television.
None of these issues are big enough to derail the show, which still provides watchers with plenty of action, raunchy humor, and solid voice acting. Where largely season one belonged to Percy, this season spreads the love a bit more, with everyone else—but particularly Grog, Vax, and Scanlan—getting their time to shine, and as we go to these new locales, animation studio Titmouse gets to flex their muscles a bit more. (Were I more into anime, I’m sure there are dozens of anime references hidden in there. Alas, I only caught some of the D&D ones.) Even if, like the eponymous group, “The Legend of Vox Machina” is far from perfect, it’s still a pretty damn good time and hard to root against—besides, there are far worse fantasy shows on Amazon out there.
“The Legend of Vox Machina” Trailer
You can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd, Twitter, Instagram, and her website.