The story of Critical role it is that of one unlikely success after another. From the living room of an American voice actor to Twitch, to the theater, to the screens of Prime Video, this absurd project never ceases to amaze.
For those completely in the dark, Critical Role is a campaign of Dungeons & Dragons, broadcast on Twitch e YouTube, created by Matthew Mercer and played by some of the most famous and acclaimed American voice actors.
Born as a match between friends, it was brought to Twitch by Felicia Day via her channel Geek and Sundry, and since that moment it has never ceased to amaze.
The stories from the first season of Critical Role now arrive on Prime Video with the animated series The Legend of Vox Machina. A more unique than rare case in the world of contemporary streaming: not a project designed to respond to current trends, but a spontaneous work, born as a gift from the cast of Critical Role to their fans, and remained so.
The Legend of Vox Machina: the genesis of the project
It was March 4, 2019 when Critical Role announced his Kickstarter project. By that time the first season had already ended, and by now everyone in the world of Dungeons & Dragons had at least heard of Matthew Mercer and the success his streaming campaign on Twitch had had.
Hundreds of thousands of viewers every week, the detachment from Geek and Soundry to form a company of their own, and above all credit for contributing to the rebirth of Dungeons & Dragons.
The fundraising goal was ambitious: dollars 750.000 for an animated medium-length film, starring the characters of Vox Machina, the party of the first Critical Role campaign, now over.
In fact, Critical Role He had already tried to be produced by some large streaming service, perhaps for an entire animated TV series. But the answers had always been negative, and as a result he found himself forced to resort to the generosity of fans.
In the first 24 hours since the Kickstarter page opened, the donation counter was ticking dollars 4.332.066. Goal smashed, all the stretch goals burned in less than a day, and more than a month still ahead to raise the funds. They were all speechless.
It was obvious that from this moment everything would change. The medium-length film soon became a TV series, and when the Kickstarter ended and the amount raised had exceeded 11 million dollars, Critical Role was able to make the leap.
The Amazon, through Prime Video, will take over the production and distribution of The Legend of Vox Machinawhile assuring fans that all promises made during the fundraiser would be kept.
The Adventure Begins
When The Legend of Vox Machina project was announced, one of the main questions the community asked itself was what adventure it would be told. The choice fell on one of the most beloved narrative arcs of the first campaign, that of Whitestone.
But before we send our heroes north of Tal'Dorei, the first few episodes give us a little adventure to establish the origin of Vox Machina's success. So, taking a cue not from the campaign that aired on Twitch, but from the D&D game from which it all started, our heroes find themselves hired by the ruler of Emon, to defeat a mysterious beast.
By cutting large portions of the countryside, the story immediately presses on the accelerator, revealing the real antagonists. However, this does not take our breath away from the characterization of the characters, who, even if often not very deep, are able to immediately bring out their own personality.
The plot is linear and agile, thus remaining faithful to the material from which it takes inspiration. It is easy to become passionate about the plot and become attached to the characters, so much so that even I, who already know the story, I couldn't wait to watch the next episode to see what would happen.
It is not easy to tell a choral story. Without a protagonist who stands out, it is easy for the characters to struggle to emerge, for their outlines to fade, and for it to be impossible to distinguish one from the other.
Having a group of seven characters as the center of the narrative was perhaps the worst risk that The Legend of Vox machina faced. But the test was nimbly passed, simply by remaining faithful to the characters that have been created during the three years of the d & d campaign.
Just like during the sessions, most of the characters are little more than specks, which is very common in Dungeons & Dragons. scanlan is the egomaniac bard and with an unbridled passion for women, Grog is the not too good giant, Vex she is the strong woman, perhaps a little too attached to money.
This does not mean that there are attempts to give depth to some members of Vox Machina. Keylet in particular, she is the first to have a hint of character development, which relies on her insecurities. Quickly though Percy and to a lesser extent Pike they take the stage, showing aspects of their personality that the viewer can empathize with.
The rest of the main cast carve out a supporting role, but I'm sure that in the future, especially if the series is renewed for a second season, there will be a chance for them to shine too.
The secondary characters that surround the adventures of Vox Machina are simple but able to stand out. Nothing special or exciting, but honest shoulders for our protagonists.
The antagonists, on the other hand, are immediately recognizable as such and above all dangerous. Vox Machina is far from defeating them, and he must resort to subterfuges and strategies just to survive. Each encounter can have permanent consequences, and leave its mark on the protagonists.
The technical side is the only one that I feel like opening with a criticism. The Legend of Vox Machina sadly suffers from Dragon Prince syndrome. By this I mean that the authors of this series, just like those of the Netflix fantasy, have chosen to animate the characters at a lower framerate than the world in which they move.
It is an artistic choice, which was also criticized after the release of the first season of Dragon Prince, and which even I personally do not appreciate. I don't understand the philosophy behind it, and the results are clunky and unpleasant to watch. It's not a mistake, just a choice, but the fact remains that you find it unsightly.
The rest of the technical sector, however, is flawless. The action scenes in particular are noteworthy, spectacular and never confusing.
The dubbing stands out, of course. The voices of the main cast are those of Critical Role players, who are all established voice actors with decades of career behind them.
Ashley Johnson (Pike) we all know her as Ellie's voice in The Last of Us, Laura Bailey (Vex) is Abby in the second chapter of that same saga as her husband Travis Willingham (Grog) made his voice actor debut as Fullmetal Alchemist's Colonel Mustang.
Matthew Mercer, Campaign Game Master and voice actor for one of the antagonists, he is the voice of Cole Cassidy (formerly McCree) in Overwatch and Jotaro Kujo in Jojo's Bizarre Adventure. The other performers have spent more time as dubbing directors than voice actors, but they still do an excellent job, and nothing less is to be expected.
Same goes for the voice actors of the secondary characters, who can boast a truly stellar cast. From Khary Payton (The Walking Dead) a David Tennant (the tenth "Doctor" in Doctor Who), up to the participation of Felicia day, the woman who first had the crazy idea of broadcasting Critical Role.
The Legend of Vox Machina: Terms of Comparison
My opinion on The Legend of Vox Machina is largely positive from all points of view. But in this conclusion I want to put myself in the shoes of those who do not know Critical Role, and risk finding themselves disoriented in front of such a series.
I therefore chose three very famous and popular animation series, to use them as terms of comparison on specific areas of The Legend of Vox Machina. In this way I hope to be able to make the series more accessible even to those who do not participate in the Critical Role community.
The first work I want to compare it to is dragon prince, and not just for the questionable animation choices. I find the graphic style and the setting very similar. They are both series that make use of a classic fantasy, familiar, but at the same time streaked with eccentric elements that make it unique.
The second work I want to use to give an idea of the tone of this series, and it is Invincible. I find no better comparison, the tone of the two series is practically identical. Light and easy-going, but that does not miss moments of serious reflection. But above all topped off with abundant bloodshed and in general no regard for children possibly listening.
Finally, perhaps the most risky comparison I want to make is the one with Arcane. Be careful though, I am not going to discuss neither the technical side nor the characters of the series inspired by League of Legends, which for what I have seen so far are undoubtedly superior.
What I want to highlight is the approach of both works to the profane, to those who do not know the material from which they are drawn. Like Arcane, The Legend of Vox Machina doesn't care to explain the world in which it is set, but at the same time it doesn't need any prior knowledge.
He manages to convey all the necessary information, without treating the viewer like a child who has to have every single detail explained. To appreciate it just let yourself be carried into the world of Matthew Mercer and rely on his narration, as many have been doing for years with Critical Role.