Selling Arcane to someone is a difficult job.
“You should totally watch Arcane! It’s a Netflix Original…”
“…adaptation of the video game…”
“…League of Legends!”
“You mean that really complicated looking game that makes all my friends angry when they play it, has no single player or story mode, and is notorious for its toxic community?”
“Yeah, that one!”
Despite the warranted scepticism the concept invokes, Arcane does something that I personally never could have expected from it: it is amazing.
As the story takes place years ago in League’s official storyline, characters you know might look a bit different.
Arcane is a story with a lot going on. There are several different characters that have their own personal problems, and resolving them will have larger consequences on the world around them. Every new decision leads to someone else having to make one of their own, and as the gears start turning, things get out of hand for all sides of the conflict. The story takes place in the city of Piltover, a shining example of the advances of technology and progress with an ugly and unkempt underbelly, or in this case, Undercity. These two communities both have their own factions with different motivations and ideologies, and thanks to them being fleshed out correctly with logical and empathetical reasons for what they believe in, you might have a hard time picking your favourite.
The haunting beauty of Undercity can’t help but make you want to explore it.
The big picture is not what you’re supposed to focus on, as the show is all about the characters. The main emotional storyline about Vi and Jinx, two orphan sisters separated at a young age, and their attempts to reconnect while the world keeps pulling them apart from each other. Arcane is filled with characters that all have their personal relationships that clash and change with the rapid story beats and events. Villains are not evil for the sake of it, as you learn to understand where they are coming from and how they were formed into what they are now, and the heroes have their own questionable ethics and ways of operating. They falter, they grow, but their past mistakes will always come back to bite them. No one is perfect, and that’s what makes them feel so human. So many times I expected characters to act one way, usually the worst one, but got gut-punched when someone irredeemable suddenly shows more heart or sense than I had expected of them. When your villains deserve more sympathy and understanding than many stories’ heroes, you’ve done something right.
Way more menacing than a boardroom and people in suits.
Yet all that writing needs a shiny exterior, which in this case has taken the animated form. Not just any 2D Rick & Morty clone or 3D children’s show mind you, but maybe the best mixture of both in animation history. The closest thing I can think of that shares Arcane’s aesthetic is 2018’s Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, with the slight difference that Arcane just blows it out of the water. What makes that remarkable is the fact that Spider-Verse was a 1h56min movie, while Arcane is nine full episodes, 40 minutes each. The amount of work, love, and detail poured into every frame and scene leaves you in awe as your eyes sweep over the huge backgrounds of Piltover and Undercity, and action scenes suddenly mix up animation style and technique as the show throws a whole music video at your face out of nowhere.
The 2D effects of smoke and flame and energy and whatever you can think of look gorgeous in combination with the 3D models of the characters and environments, which on paper shouldn’t work and still makes everything look unique. You could take any shot in the series and immediately recognize its origin, as nothing you will find on TV or streaming services looks like Arcane. The directors Pascal Charrue and Arnaud Delord of Fortiche animation studio should get medals for their gorgeous shots that just beg for you to use them as your computer’s wallpaper, and which are going to stick to your mind as shining examples of what animation can do in the right hands. As someone who always liked cartoons as a kid and still watches anime and the like as an adult, Arcane made me giggle and jump for joy so many times as a new artistic choice or music enhanced fight scene appeared.
My computer’s new wallpaper.
There is one thing I must confess, however. I have played League of Legends. Like, a lot. Not in recent years, but in the past when characters like Vi and Jinx were first revealed and released. I have a history with them. I’ve played them, watched their character trailers, listened to their voice lines, et cetera, so seeing how they became those characters I like hits harder. I know the history and geopolitical status’ of Runeterra, LoL’s world, so to see that world in the flesh for the first time is something different for me than it is for someone who has no connection to League. Even so, I wish that anyone even slightly interested in Arcane would have the courage to watch it, as it doesn’t need LoL to stand on its own two feet. Arcane is not just some promotional product or tie-in made for fans to gawk over. It is a great series that will likely be remembered as one of the best Netflix will ever be associated with. Arcane made me laugh and cry, but most importantly, it made me remember why my preferred form of art always has and will be animation.
Header: Promotional picture from https://www.riotgames.com/en/news/global-arcane-premiere-co-streaming-and-rewards
First picture: Promotional picture from https://www.riotgames.com/en/news/global-undercity-nights-broadcast-co-streaming-and-rewards
All other pictures used are screenshots from the show.
Directed by: Pascal Charrue, Arnaud Delord
Written by: Christian Linke, Alex Yee
Available on Netflix