Critical Role’s Mighty Nein animated series could be great, if it’s nothing like The Legend of Vox Machina
Pray to the Wildmother.
Reading last week’s announcement that The Mighty Nein – the party from the second campaign of popular D&D actual play series Critical Role - would be getting their own television series gave me incredibly mixed feelings. On the one hand, I have a great fondness for that particular cast of characters and enjoyed watching their adventures back in the day. On the other hand: The Legend of Vox Machina.
Last year, I wrote about my feelings towards the animated series The Legend of Vox Machina – which is based on the first Critical Role campaign and is currently in its second season – and it’s safe to say that I didn’t vibe with the show. I was always wary about a straight adaptation of the Critical Role campaigns, largely because I feel like an actual play show doesn’t translate well to a television series. All the unique aspects of an actual play – the in-jokes, watching the players physically interact with each other – are lost in a direct adaptation.
When I watched The Legend of Vox Machina, I was thoroughly disappointed. My biggest issue with the show was its overall tone, which swings wildly between crass and immature to incredibly dark. Whereas rapid tonal shifts feel a lot more natural in an actual play, where the level of immersion will always be light enough to allow for sudden moments of levity in what might be an otherwise serious scene, they don’t play out as well in a television series. The first campaign of Critical Role feels a lot more lighthearted and sillier than future campaigns, but I still remember the players recognising when to be serious and when it was okay to joke around.
As a result of having these richer characters, Campaign 2 was able to feature much more gripping narratives and relationships.
I don’t know what this obsession is with cramming in as much ‘mature’ content into an ‘adult’ animated show as possible, but The Legend of Vox Machina suffers from it. Granted, it might have gotten better in Season 2 – which I’ll admit, I’ve not watched – but it is frustrating and embarrassing to feel like I, an adult audience, was being catered to through the inclusion of smug swearing, sudden gore and vomit, and farts. It’s not that levity and stupidness isn’t allowed in an adaptation of Critical Role. It’s that it felt like the entire show was being built on the idea of sexy and rude shenanigans in fantasy land, rather than telling a story where you were supposed to care about its characters.
In contrast to the trope-ladened characters of Vox Machina, The Mighty Nein is a party of complicated but undeniably sympathetic people. The likes of Grog, Vax, Vex, Percy, Scanlen, Keyleth and Pike appear like stock characters when standing next to Mollymauk, Beau, Nott, Caleb, Fjord, Jester and Yasha of the Mighty Nein. From the off, it was clear that these characters were cut from a different cloth than those of the previous campaign. Rather than their characteristics being derived from elements of their class or species – such as Keyleth being the nature-loving druid or Scanlen being the hilarious gnome – the Mighty Nein are messy, complex individuals whose personalities were shaped by a variety of different facets.
Don’t get me wrong, Vox Machina had its fans, but the Mighty Nein became the face of Critical Role almost overnight.
It helps that the continent of Wildemount feels like a richer place than Tal’dorei, one capable of creating the Mighty Nein. The characters of Campaign 2 are intrinsically tied to the world of Wildemount. For example, Caleb’s quiet and secretive nature was shaped by his association and history with the Empire. Whereas Jester, having grown up in an environment less tainted by the Empire’s militaristic ambitions, is outgoing and emotionally open. As a result of having these richer characters, Campaign 2 was able to feature much more gripping narratives and relationships.
Being a part of the Critical Role community during the very peak of the second campaign made the love for those characters almost inescapable. The fan art, cosplay and outbursts of affection – especially after certain plot points, conversations or relationships were had – were absolutely everywhere. Going to London Comic Con meant finding artwork, fan-made merchandise and cosplayers, all focused around the Mighty Nein. It made complete sense that people would be this obsessed with these characters. They were characters who deserved to be obsessed over. Don’t get me wrong, Vox Machina had its fans, but the Mighty Nein became the face of Critical Role almost overnight.
I’m just praying to the Wildmother than the creators take a good look at the aspects that make Campaign 2 and the Mighty Nein so beloved.
Which is why I’m so torn about there being an animated series based on the Mighty Nein. The series creators will certainly have a lot more to work with when it comes to this cast of characters, which will hopefully make them easier to root for than Vox Machina. Campaign 2 is also a lot more complex when it comes to themes, structure and storytelling, which will possibly even allow them to experiment with perspective, timelines and scenes outside of the Mighty Nein themselves. Also, the thought of seeing Caduceus, Jester and Beau in animated form is incredibly exciting.
Nevertheless, the approach to adaptation taken by The Legend of Vox Machina, and the issues with the show in general, are making me very wary of a Mighty Nein animated series. I’m just praying to the Wildmother than the creators take a good look at the aspects that make Campaign 2 and the Mighty Nein so beloved – their nuanced personalities and the rich themes their character arcs tackle – and put the focus on those, instead of fantasy hijinks.