As someone whose only second-hand experience with League Of Legends is through the massive multiplayer online game’s soundtrack of epic original music, I’ll be totally honest: until last week when I finally started getting bombarded with marketing for Arcane: League Of Legends, I had almost no interest in nor preconceptions about the Netflix adaptation which longtime fans of the game have been waiting for with bated breath. And the biggest thing holding me back was my concern that Arcane would be inaccessible to anyone unfamiliar with League Of Legends, its complex worldbuilding, and its sprawling ensemble cast of heroes and villains.
But for every time that Arcane suddenly throws an out-of-context piece of lore at the viewer and usually expects you to just roll with it (which is fairly easy in most cases), the animated series doubles down on establishing a single approachable storyline with just enough characters and fantastical plot devices to keep things lively, but never so many that a viewer new to the franchise will feel completely lost. Arcane‘s first three episodes provide a concrete baseline from which to expand and develop the world of League Of Legends in the near future.
And when I say near, I mean like next week. The three episodes currently available on Netflix are only the first segment of Arcane season one, which will be released in intervals between now and November 20th. Binge-watchers might take issue with this release strategy, but Arcane‘s episodes are significantly longer than the norm when it comes to animated television, so these three episodes together could make for at least one thoroughly satisfying evening. Each episode leaves you urgently wanting more, but episode three especially delivers in that regard, with a cliffhanger ending that actually got me to gasp out loud. Fans of the game are possibly familiar with certain…developments, but I definitely wasn’t.
Arcane follows two sisters, Violet (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld of Hawkeye) and Powder (voiced by Mia Sinclair Jenness), who as I understand it both become major characters in the League Of Legends game universe. Arcane, however, opens during a pivotal moment in their childhood, and explores their early days on the streets of Zaun, a dimly-lit and crime-ridden city built underneath the prosperous town of Piltover, where a steampunk renaissance is underway. Navigating a rapidly growing social and class divide requires the sisters to make hard choices and more than a few sacrifices if they’re to survive.
The series packs a surprisingly emotional wallop, wrapped up in an impactful message about how those in power will do whatever they possibly can to keep oppressed and marginalized groups at a disadvantage by turning them against each other. The series revolves around bridges built and bridges burned, whether that’s manifested in the terrifying rifts in Violet and Powder’s own family that they feel powerless to fix, the ideological divide between their father Vander (voiced by JB Blanc) and his friend-turned-supervillain Silco (voiced by Jason Spisak), or the literal bridge between Piltover and Zaun that burned during the last conflict between the two cities. Okay, so not a subtle metaphor, but an effective one nonetheless.
As much a pleasant surprise to me as its mature themes, Arcane‘s animation style should be particularly exciting to anyone looking for the next evolution of the medium – because this is it. All the depth and richness of a painting in every shot, but brought to life with the same fluidity and awe-inspiring direction that distinguishes League Of Legends‘ own cinematic trailers, which have racked up hundreds of millions of views on YouTube. Video games are the blueprint for how to wed the unique sensibilities of animation and live-action, and it’s only fitting that Arcane is actually building upon that blueprint.
And of course, no adaptation of League Of Legends would be complete without a heart-pounding original score and soundtrack that makes you want to tackle a dragon or two. The game’s music has become widely popular outside of the core fanbase (as I mentioned, it’s the only reason I was familiar with the game at all), and Arcane‘s first three episodes feature catchy contributions from Bea Miller, Curtis Harding, Jazmine Sullivan, Ramsey, and a theme by Imagine Dragons. Harding and Sullivan’s “Our Love”, an upbeat yet nostalgic romantic duet, is my personal favorite track.
It’s safe to say that Arcane exceeded my expectations and then some. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next chapter in Violet and Powder’s story, especially because it will pick up after a significant time-jump during which the two characters will have matured into young women. I’m not going to get into spoilers for episode three here, but let’s just say…I’m very interested to see how the years will have changed them. That’s all I’ll say. If you want to know what I’m talking about, you’ll just have to watch the show.
Series Rating: 9/10