Adult animation has become an increasingly popular genre within the film and television industry. Over the last few decades, shows like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” have increased the genre's reach.

While many sitcoms irreverently tackling real world subject matter, others are just as equally irreverent in the way they portray a specific sub genre and pick apart the tropes common to it. But what happens when an animated series just tries to tell a good story while still being hilarious?

Amazon Prime’s most recent animated series, “The Legend of Vox Machina,” is based on the first Dungeons & Dragons campaign played on the series “Critical Role,” which is streamed on Twitch and YouTube.

“Critical Role” — whose name is taken from the in-game term noting when a player rolls the dice to save their character from death — focuses on well-known voice actors playing the role playing game.

These same voice actors move from playing the game itself to playing their characters from the game. Talent like Ashley Johnson ("Growing Pains," "Avengers") and Matthew Mercer bring their characters to life in some rather poignant and humorous ways. Other guest actors like Rory McCann ("Game of Thrones") and Stephanie Beatriz ("Brooklyn 99") lend their voices.

Tthe series follows a band of monster-hunting mercenaries called Vox Machina, which includes three half-elves, a half-giant, two gnomes and a human gunslinger. Each character has their specific class skills – i.e. rogue, ranger, druid, etc. – but it’s the interactions between the characters that makes the series enjoyable.

Vox Machina is a dysfunctional band of outcasts. Nobody they encounter takes them seriously, and even the menacing monsters they face think they're incapable of success. But as is the case with such plucky would-be heroes, they make their dysfunction work for them.

Between facing down a powerful dragon and sinister dark forces, the team must also deal with internal conflicts. Cleric Pike (Johnson) struggles with a crisis of faith while gunslinger Percy must confront the trauma of his family’s murder at the hands of the Briarwoods, the first season’s antagonists.

The storytelling is legitimately good. While the modern dialogue seems out of place in the more traditional fantasy setting, it works as the actors embody their characters with parts of their own personality.

The animation is fantastic, using a similar style as seen in anime that gives the fantasy world a scope and grandeur that could otherwise be lacking in live action, which would inevitably utilize an overuse of CGI. The action set pieces are well paced and keep viewers on the edge of their seat while the original music ties in nicely with the show’s aesthetic.

The first ten episodes of the first season received their funding through a Kickstarter campaign launched in March 2019 by the Critical Role cast. It raised more than $1 million in the first hour it was live.

By November 2019, Amazon Prime not only picked up the series for release, it had already ordered a second season. This is huge in an era when Netflix is shutting down many of its animation projects, several of which got the axe amid their first season.

While it’s certainly not kid-friendly given the violence, language and mature themes, the thing it does best is not lean into the identity politics and woke narrative plaguing many media properties these days. It just tells a good, entertaining story.

Garrett K. Jones is a local fantasy author.  He currently has four books released in his ongoing series, and he produces a vlog on YouTube and the Creator's Corner podcast (available on Spotify, Google, & Apple).  IG/Twitter:  @gkj_publishing

Feel free to contact him with title suggestions of films you’d like him to review.

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