It’s a crit, folks! The Legend of Vox Machina season 2 is distinctly different from both its predecessor and the Dungeons & Dragons campaign it was based on, but the profanity-laden animation continues to roll a 20.
Adapting Dungeons and Dragons for TV is difficult. Let’s just get that out of the way to begin with. Play sessions that are hours long need to be shrunk down into neat half hour episodes, or at best a movie length feature, and so much nuance and detail is lost — not to mention countless emotional moments, a ton of banter, and endless puns.
Critical Role, the actual play web series that spawned The Legend of Vox Machina, has hundreds of hours of content. So, understandably, things will have to be left out of any adaptation. Fans expected that, both before season 1 aired and again going into season 2. Just because the plot of the Prime Video show is a version of the original campaign doesn’t mean everything will make it. What most fans were more worried about was the feeling of the show.
Previous attempts at adapting D&D for television have gone poorly, all in all. (Though there’s hope on the horizon with the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves movie.) What goes wrong is simply that television can’t capture the experience of sitting around with your friends, laughing at dumb in-jokes, and getting invested in characters that you get to create. D&D is loud. It’s sometimes cheesy. It’s nearly always chaotic.
I am very pleased to be able to say that The Legend of Vox Machina season 2 is loud, sometimes cheesy, and often chaotic. While, as expected, the season does take some liberties with the original source material (much more so than the first season did), it works well because, even more than last season, it feels like D&D.
Where The Legend of Vox Machina succeeds is exactly where other stories have failed.
The second season of The Legend of Vox Machina picks up right where the first left off, in the capital of Emon. Besieged by dragons, Vox Machina — Vax’ildan (Liam O’Brien), Vex’ahlia (Laura Bailey), Keyleth (Marisha Ray), Scanlan (Sam Riegel), Percy (Taliesin Jaffe), Pike (Ashley Johnson), and Grog (Travis Willingham) — manage to escape the city.
The first episode is brilliant and, at times, scary. It’s a lot of action as dragons take Emon and destroy everything in their path, but it is gripping, with no two moments of mayhem hitting exactly the same.
Vox Machina must save Tal’Dorei from a foursome of ice and acid-breathing dragons known as the Chroma Conclave. To do so, they must embark on a quest to retrieve some ancient artifacts that are scattered across the land. The trope is a solid fantasy mainstay: we’re going on a McGuffin hunt.
This kind of epic quest setup is everything that D&D does well in its tabletop format. While season 1 of The Legend of Vox Machina focused closely on one particular location, season 2 shifts attention to the world as a whole, revealing everything from ancient temples to entire other realms.
Not only does the world expand, but the journey is undertaken by seven characters, all with individual arcs and dynamics that are keenly developed while also building up the plot to a truly epic final showdown. Despite the busyness of the show — a main ensemble cast of seven is difficult to keep up with in any medium — none of the characters feel left out or underdeveloped. Every single character gets their “main character moment” in season 2.
There are also dozens of side characters in season 2, both returning favorites from the prior season and new faces (who will likely be familiar to longtime fans of Critical Role, of course). While the cast gets bigger, the narrative has gotten tighter, resulting in a season where every scene feels vital. There’s no excess here, the season has been trimmed and polished until it shines, and every character is essential.
As with most fantasy premises, The Legend of Vox Machina is full of well-worn tropes. It’s so tropey it’s absurd, and there’s no attempt at subtlety here: season 2 is well aware of its tropes, as are the characters and the actors who voice them. Dungeons and Dragons games have never shied away from embracing those cliches. It’s expected. What The Legend of Vox Machina does well is taking those tropes and simply making them bigger, more absurd, and more self-aware.
While season 1 contained a fair amount of exposition to bring newcomers up to speed with the members of Vox Machina, season 2 was able to dig a lot deeper. Ashley Johnson, the voice of gnome cleric Pike Trickfoot, said that season 2 let the cast “get more into the nitty-gritty of the characters.”
This certainly feels true. While season 1 introduced the characters well, by the end of the new season, you will feel like you really know them in all their imperfect, antihero glory. Half-elf rogue Vax’ildan’s voice actor Liam O’Brien also had thoughts to share on the growing relationships between the gang in season 2.
The characters are at the core of The Legend of Vox Machina, but they are well supported by the efficient adaptation of Matt Mercer’s original Critical Role plot. Prepare to be glued to your screen and waiting eagerly for each new installment.
The character of Scanlan lends a musical component to the show just as he did in season 1, and almost every fan will be happy to know that there is even more music in season 2. This time around, we also get songs from Grog and Vex’ahlia. It’s increasingly clear that fans need a soundtrack release at the very least, if not an entire studio album.
Animation-wise, Titmouse, Inc. has outdone itself this season. Fantasy often looks better animated, with just enough left up to the viewer’s imagination instead of spelled out in (often questionable) CGI. There may be some iffy moments with the effects in The Legends of Vox Machina season 2, but there’s a charm to that which its intended audience will likely appreciate. There’s no way to take giant, pink, floating butt cheeks seriously, so why even try?
The other charm that fans will want to know about is, of course, the proliferation of butt jokes. Critical Role was nothing if not vulgar, and season 1 did a good job of keeping the humor just as low-brow and plentiful as its mothership. Season 2 turns it up a notch. From ass-play jokes to Scanlan singing to cover up the sounds of Grog’s alone time, there’s no shortage of delightfully foul humor across the 12 episodes. While it’s not for everyone, it’s certainly exactly what the show’s OG fans will expect (nay, demand). With dragons in the mix, the butt jokes just get bigger.
“The people want what they want,” Sam Riegel, the voice of bawdy bard Scanlan Shorthalt, said, “and we’re not going to stand in the way of that.”
As Mercer, Critical Role’s original dungeon master and a voice of several characters in the adaptation, put it:
“I’m very proud of the fact we, as swords-and-sorcery, high-fantasy genre storytellers, can graciously grasp world-ending cataclysms and the true drama of friendship lost and the consequences of one’s terrible actions … and in the next scene, have dragon butt stuff.”
Whether it’s vicious battles, emotional character moments, or dragon butt stuff you’re after, The Legend of Vox Machina season 2 delivers the goods, distinguishing itself from the source material in a way that gives enough nods without simply being the same old story. And, with a group of voice actors as distinguished and talented as the Critical Role team, it’s no surprise that the cast pulled it off spectacularly.
The first three episodes of The Legend of Vox Machina season 2 will be available for streaming on January 20, 2023 through Prime Video. If you can’t wait, check out the trailer below!
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