“Arcane” Season 1 Finishes Off With A Bang

SPOILERS FOR ARCANE: LEAGUE OF LEGENDS SEASON ONE AHEAD!

After keeping me on the edge of my seat for three weeks, Arcane: League Of Legends season one is finally complete; but the story is only just beginning, and Netflix, Riot Games, and French animation studio Fortiche have barely even scratched the surface of what League Of Legends‘ vast world of stories can offer. Yes, a second season is officially in production, but the end of season one has me in the mood to hop onboard one of Piltover’s famous airships and explore the rest of Runeterra. It all seems wondrous to me as a casual viewer who knows next to nothing about League Of Legends lore.

Arcane
Jinx | dotesports.com

And in its last batch of three episodes, I think Arcane masterfully capitalizes on that feeling shared by so many viewers new to the franchise by giving us a glimpse into the many League Of Legends stories yet to be told onscreen, any of which could be explored in successive seasons of Arcane or in spin-offs if the show is successful enough to warrant them. The extraordinary new character of Ambessa Medarda (voiced by Ellen Thomas) all but invites our heroes to join her on a journey far beyond Piltover to her own world of subterfuge and political intrigue, which sounds like a very good offer if you ask me.

But at the same time, what I really appreciate about Arcane is that it knows exactly where its center lies, and it always comes back there. If this final batch of episodes is perhaps lighter on epic action and spectacle than some might have hoped (although there’s still enough that it’s not underwhelming in that regard, either), that’s only because the finale is focused on delivering satisfying character moments for the main cast, some of which resolve season-long arcs and some of which only close one chapter of a character’s story to prepare them for the next.

In the end, Arcane comes down to one family and two sisters: the microcosm through which we witness the long-lasting effects of Piltover’s brutality against the undercity of Zaun. Orphaned in one war between the two cities, ripped apart by another, and reunited in a third, Violet (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) and Jinx (voiced by Ella Purnell) have spent every day of their lives fighting to carve out some kind of foothold in a world that would happily purge them from existence if it cared about them at all. Jinx forces the world to notice her through the chaos and colorful graffiti she leaves in her wake, and the world responds by hunting her until she has nowhere left to turn.

In a tragic twist of fate, Jinx’s terror leads her to believe that everyone close to her will betray her – “everyone” in this case being her sister Violet and her father figure Silco (voiced by Jason Spisak). There’s no question that Silco was an abominable man, but I think he genuinely loved Jinx and he wasn’t lying when he said he would never have let her go. He would have given up everything to do what he thought would keep her safe, and in the end – fittingly – he lost his own life to Jinx while trying to kill the one person he saw as a threat to her; Violet.

The whole sequence stung, but in the best way, because it’s never a clear-cut issue of who’s right and who’s wrong. Violet did abandon Jinx as a child, when she needed her the most…but Silco also lied when he told Jinx that Violet never tried to come back for her afterwards. They both want to protect Jinx, but Violet never explains how she plans to do that with the limited resources at her disposal. Sure, she’s got a powerful ally in Caitlyn (voiced by Katie Leung), but ironically Jinx might have blown that alliance to smithereens along with the council-chamber she blew up in the finale, which very likely killed Caitlyn’s mother.

Arcane
Violet | deadline.com

That’s another thing I love about Arcane. The heroes are never automatically right by virtue of being the heroes, and likewise with the villains. Violet and Jinx should have been each other’s solid ground, and perhaps they still could be, but it’s going to take a lot of work and self-improvement from both characters. Jinx has legitimate reasons to distrust Violet, and the show acknowledges that without trying to make excuses for Violet’s actions. Arcane makes you fall in love with a character for their virtues and their flaws, because nobody in this world is comprised wholly of one or the other.

Topside, that holds true of characters like Jayce (voiced by Kevin Alejandro), who finally confronts the reality that his idealism doesn’t necessarily make him a better politician than anyone else on the city council, and that you can’t always win battles by assuming the moral high-ground. Viktor (voiced by Harry Lloyd), his lab partner, uses these last three episodes to reach a similar conclusion about life in general, but whether because of his harsher upbringing or awareness of his own mortality, he doesn’t have the same qualms as Jayce – he’ll do whatever it takes to survive, even if that means replacing his weakening body with Hextech.

Then there’s Mel Medarda (voiced by Toks Olagundoye), the enigmatic councilwoman who’s stayed on the sidelines throughout season one – until the finale, when at long last her plan starts to come into focus. Turns out, this whole time that’s she been pulling the strings behind Jayce’s greatest accomplishments she’s also been engaged in a Game Of Thrones-style grudge match with her mother, who banished her to Piltover because she believed Mel was weak and couldn’t handle the responsibilities of ruling their own realm. So Mel took over Piltover.

Mel’s mother Ambessa erupts onto the screen, effortlessly showing off through her flippant mannerisms, confident gait, and disarming personality why Mel was right to fear and revere her as a child, and why she makes such an fearsome opponent now. There’s simply nothing that rattles her, and that characterization is significant – because when Ambessa reveals to Mel that their family is in real danger from an enemy who’s already killed Mel’s brother, we realize instantly the enormity of that threat if it’s something that scares even Ambessa. And don’t forget, all of this development is packed into just three episodes. It shouldn’t work, yet it does.

Hopefully Ambessa and Mel’s storyline becomes a major subplot in season two, but I’m very interested to see how it connects back to Violet and Jinx. Mel was in the council-chamber that Jinx blew up in the finale…and while I can’t imagine that Arcane would kill her off so early, even an injury might give Ambessa a reason to seek vengeance on Jinx or for Mel to do so herself. Those are the kinds of unexpected connections that these final three episodes sold especially well, as the interactions, particularly between characters from either side of the social divide, felt organic and intriguing.

On that note, I have to talk about Violet and Caitlyn. They’ve been partners in the League Of Legends game for a long time, but Arcane (at least to my knowledge) offers the first canonical hint that they’re more than just friends. I don’t want to call it confirmation of a queer romance just yet because they talk about their relationship in terms that are a little vague for my taste, and they don’t kiss (even though they came pretty darn close last week) but Jinx refers to Caitlyn as Violet’s girlfriend and Violet instantly knows who she’s talking about, so…make of that what you will.

Arcane
Mel Medarda | dualshockers.com

For a series I had virtually no interest in until its release day, Arcane: League Of Legends has surpassed my wildest expectations and quite possibly taken the top spot on my list of favorite TV shows from this year. As one of the few shows telling this kind of complex and mature story through uniquely beautiful and dynamic animation (if there’s any justice in this world, Fortiche’s talented animators should be in high demand from now on), Arcane easily stands out from the competition and raises the bar for the whole medium. Season two can’t come soon enough.

Series Rating: 9.5/10

“Cowboy Bebop” Is Gonna Carry The Weight Of Its Wrong Choices

Night before last, I was honored to attend a virtual screening for the first two episodes of Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, a live-action reimagining of the beloved 1998 anime that debuted its full first season yesterday. The two episodes I saw were pretty good – a little slow, perhaps, and guilty of retreading ground the anime already covered, but good enough to leave me wanting more when the credits rolled. Sadly, it turns out that Cowboy Bebop is one of those shows that gets progressively worse as it plods along through a ten-episode season that feels like an eternity.

Cowboy Bebop
Spike Spiegel | vulture.com

Now, we all love a show that’s so bad it’s good in a roundabout way, and I even think Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop has its fair share of unironically compelling elements, including a couple of scenes toward the end that enrich the world of the anime so significantly that, if (and that’s a big if), if expanded upon in a second season, we could theoretically just forget about all the bad stuff and move merrily along. But this first season’s greatest crime is that it makes Bebop boring – and that’s really hard to do, so this took concentrated effort.

Ironically, it’s Cowboy Bebop‘s inability to free itself from the imagined constraints of a straight-up remake that keeps this series about the dangers of never moving on from the past entangled in a web of its own creation. The glimpses of originality that shine through are much appreciated (though often built on other generic tropes), but every time it looks like the show might finally do something bold and unique it inflicts upon us another halfhearted re-enactment of storylines that were intended to be stand-alone in the anime and are here awkwardly fused with the series’ mostly new overarching narrative to create some lopsided chimera of a first season.

If it was ever implied that there was some reason behind the inclusion of these storylines, apart from the desire to lure in fans of the anime with scenes and characters they already know, that would be one thing, but none ever emerges; and in any case such clarity of purpose would be jarring in a series that ricochets tonally between snarky profanity-laced comedy (which is where, tellingly, it seems most comfortable) and a transparent facsimile of the anime’s melancholy atmosphere.

Uneven writing is largely to blame, but the whole series is gonna carry that weight. And if that pun was obvious, it’s still more subtle than Cowboy Bebop‘s bull-in-a-china-shop approach to adapting a story famous for its multiple delicate layers of meaning. Where the anime slowly peeled back those layers to reveal more depth than one might at first expect from a sci-fi western, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop has nothing to uncover and nothing to say that the anime didn’t already communicate more efficiently and poetically. It’s shallow and thematically muddled.

Cowboy Bebop‘s best attempts to disguise this involve repeatedly hitting you over the head with dialogue that spells out the series’ message in capital letters (incorrectly, but that’s beside the point), but such clumsy writing only draws more attentions to the areas in which Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop not only fails to honor the visionary anime, but very purposefully throws out the source material. I’m hardly a purist, but in this case it’s clear that Cowboy Bebop‘s writers aren’t motivated by some spark of their own genius but by the desire to build another franchise for Netflix.

Specifically, I’d point to what I feel is the most significant change, and that’s the reimagined team dynamic between our three main characters; former hit-man Spike Spiegel (John Cho); ex-cop Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir); and amnesiac bounty hunter Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda). Both the anime and live-action series revolve around the traumatic events in their backstories that defined them and still affect them to this day, but the anime allowed this conflict to impede on their ability to form new relationships or start over with their lives. You felt all of their pain because it was evident in how they remained closed-off from each other, how they kept their secrets sealed behind closed doors.

Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop can’t ever go to those lengths, because that would require editing out at least fifteen minutes of friendly banter from each episode. Leave aside the fact that the characters’ backstories are already rendered weightless by being unloaded early in the season before we form an emotional attachment to any of them, the live-action versions of Spike, Jet, and Faye are simply too emotionally available, too familiar with each other, too well-adjusted, for the core conflict to work. They bicker, but they’re already basically a family unit by the end of the season when they face the first real challenge to that dynamic.

Cowboy Bebop
Jet Black | indiewire.com

Of the three main characters, I do want to point out that Mustafa Shakir is not only an excellent Jet Black, but a vast improvement on the anime’s version of the same character. Jet was my least-favorite of the main trio, partially because his backstory was simply less interesting to me and partially because his character often stayed behind on the Bebop while Spike and Faye would go after a bounty together or individually. Shakir’s Jet is always in on the action, effortlessly taking the lead. He’s also a father in this retelling, which leads to some plot-beats that would have been predictable if not for Shakir’s performance.

I wish I could say the same of Cho or Pineda. Cho is a very good actor, but his Spike is written to be so talkative and funny that it’s only in those rare moments where he’s allowed to speak volumes through silence that he really feels like the character – for instance, when he gets off an elevator wearing headphones and strolls casually into the middle of a casino-heist, or when he’s hanging upside-down from a billboard and lights a cigarette while he waits to be pulled to safety. These are both new scenes, but they express the character’s motto of “Whatever happens, happens” perfectly.

Pineda, sadly, is dealt the worst hand, as her character is only Faye Valentine insofar as that’s her name and she shares roughly the same backstory. The nostalgia for a life she doesn’t remember that kept Faye frantically bouncing from place to place in search of belonging, the vividly realized claustrophobia of being in your own body and still not recognizing whose it is, and the vulnerability that comes with that, leaving Faye susceptible to manipulation – almost none of that is brought over into live-action. Pineda’s Faye is only a step above a comedic-relief character.

Even with an entire episode centered on a gender-bent version of the con-artist Whitney Matsumoto (Christine Dunford), who here poses as Faye’s doting mother, the series squanders its opportunity to explore Faye’s internal conflict. Cowboy Bebop could have played up the psychological horror of waking up with no grip on reality or sense of stability, and then being fed lies by a total stranger who claims to be the only person who remembers you…but instead Faye and the others get roped into a whole bunch of humorous hijinks involving Matsumoto’s husband that culminates in an utterly random plot twist for shock value.

And while we’re on the subject of characters undercut by cheap humor, I can’t not talk about Vicious (Alex Hassell). I’ll be honest, I never liked him in the anime to begin with; he was a despicable, one-dimensional villain. But I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed on his behalf while watching the live-action Cowboy Bebop drag Vicious’ name and reputation through the mud, reducing the menacing warlord to a sniveling parody of Lucius Malfoy, with a stringy platinum-blonde wig so atrocious that if you told me it was found discarded on the set of Jupiter’s Legacy, I’d believe you.

Vicious is constantly surrounded by a whole host of other actors hamming it up as various crime-lords of the Syndicate, which might have been enjoyable in a different show; in Cowboy Bebop, it’s just weird and unnecessary. John Noble is probably the best of the bunch, playing another authoritarian father figure in the same vein as his iconic Denethor, only a little more overtly villainous. Vicious is also accompanied by Julia (Elena Satine), who in the anime remained enigmatic and invisible until the end of the series. Here, she’s a major character, which is a nice change. The final episode sets up a very interesting future for her, which as I said could turn the whole show around in season two.

Apart from some interesting new characters, there’s also the occasional character so exquisitely redesigned – and often modernized – that at best you wish they looked like that in the anime, as I felt was particularly the case with Gren (Mason Alexander Park). Sadly, they’re all stuck in this inferior series.

Cowboy Bebop
Vicious | netflixlife.com

Even in its best episodes, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop falls far short of the anime on which it’s based. There’s good stuff scattered here and there, and with a lot of work this show could be something interesting down the line – but I don’t know if it will ever feel like a proper adaptation of Bebop. And as disappointing as that is, take comfort in the fact that the original anime is also streaming on Netflix, so you can skip this entirely and go straight to the source. You won’t be missing much.

Series Rating: 5/10

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” 2nd Trailer Puts The Villains Front And Center

There’s a certain irony to the fact that Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and his villains are so extensively intertwined with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that Spider-Man: No Way Home already feels more like a proper Spider-Man movie simply because Peter Parker is facing off against villains from pre-MCU Spider-Man movies, but hey, I’m not complaining…at least not about the villains that we’re actually getting in No Way Home. Yeah, it’s sad that the MCU hasn’t got their own versions of these iconic characters (yet), but I’m not sure I’d have trusted director Jon Watts with that great responsibility either.

Spider-Man
Doc Ock and Spider-Man | buzzfeed.com

The villains that Holland’s Spider-Man has fought up until this point, like Holland’s Spider-Man himself, have suffered from being weighed down by MCU baggage. To be fair, Vulture actually makes sense as a victim of Tony Stark’s ruthless pursuit of profit, but then Marvel undermined their own creativity by doing the same storyline again, only worse. Mysterio’s generic quest for vengeance against Stark did little to benefit a potentially interesting character.

And Stark is only one of several MCU characters who have loomed over the franchise, pulling focus from Holland and his actual supporting cast, most egregiously the underutilized Zendaya. Every Spider-Man movie features a big-name MCU hero in a major supporting role (Stark in Homecoming, Nick Fury in Far From Home, Doctor Strange in No Way Home) who invariably makes a mess that Peter Parker then has to spend the entire movie cleaning up. Fans often critique solo movies, like Doctor Strange or more recently Eternals, for feeling disconnected from the broader MCU, but MCU Spider-Man perfectly demonstrates the dangers of leaning too far in the opposite direction.

Shoehorning in all these connections has given Watts and his writers an excuse to stop fleshing out the characters they’re actually supposed to be building a franchise around, which is how we end up with only a vague idea of who Holland’s Peter Parker is, much less his circle of friends and family. I don’t know if No Way Home will actually remedy this issue, because it’s a sprawling Multiverse epic with a lot of characters and subplots, but at least this time around Tom Holland’s onscreen competition comes from other Spider-Men and their own villains.

We all know that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield are in No Way Home at this point. Technically it’s still only a rumor and I still need to point that out, but this is not another case of Mephisto fever – hard evidence exists, and you can find it in this very trailer. Doc Ock even indirectly mentions Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man when he confronts Tom Holland in what looks to be their first fight. We can see that Ock’s instantly iconic introductory line, “Hello, Peter”, is followed by confusion when Ock actually unmasks the MCU’s Spider-Man and is taken aback, saying “You’re not Peter Parker”. Who’s he referencing? Probably the same guy who’s very clearly punching Lizard in a frame from the Brazilian version of the trailer.

But Sony wants the Maguire and Garfield reveal to be a surprise for moviegoers, and I respect that. So for now, this trailer just focuses really heavily on all of their villains – okay, well, five of their villains; just enough to indicate that Marvel is assembling a Multiverse Sinister Six team, but one short of completion. Personally, I think that empty slot has to be filled by someone from Holland’s own universe. If the MCU really can’t come up with one Spider-Man villain of their own, that would be extremely embarrassing and very telling of how this franchise has been mishandled. My bet’s on Mysterio posing as Doctor Strange, because I still don’t get why Benedict Cumberbatch is acting so weird in these trailers, but Vulture would work.

Spider-Man
Electro | comicbook.com

Of the villains pulled from other universes, the stand-out to me is Jamie Foxx’s Electro – because my god, what an upgrade. Last time we saw his version of the iconic villain, he was inexplicably neon blue. Now, he’s wreathed in comics-accurate yellow lightning, and most importantly he’s wearing a proper costume and his starfish mask. Granted, the mask is made of CGI lightning, but it works better than I ever expected it to. Scratch that, I never expected them to adapt the mask in the first place, so this is a welcome surprise. Electro has been my favorite Spider-Man villain since as long as I’ve known about Spider-Man at all.

Doc Ock and Green Goblin both look pretty good in costumes lifted from the Sam Raimi films in which they originated, although there’s a clear difference between how Raimi directed both characters and how Watts tries to mimic his style, and that lessens the impact of both characters’ long-awaited reappearances ever so slightly. There’s discourse on social media about Peter Parker making fun of Doc Ock’s name, but honestly I think the real problem is that very few of Peter Parker’s jokes in the MCU are actually clever or funny, not that he makes jokes.

As for Sandman and Lizard, they’re kind of just…there. I don’t expect them to have a particularly large role in No Way Home, and honestly I don’t want them to, either. Sandman has been reimagined as a floating cloud of dust particles similar to the shapeless elemental beings that Spider-Man fought in Far From Home, while Lizard’s design doesn’t appear to have been touched up at all – and that’s not a good thing. I’d have swapped out either one for Rhino, and I don’t even like Rhino. Ideally, Black Cat would be on this team, but at this point she’d be better off waiting until after Catwoman has debuted in The Batman to avoid copy-cat accusations (I’m worse at making puns than MCU Peter Parker, I know).

But the really interesting thing about how No Way Home is utilizing these villains is how they seem to play into Peter Parker’s character arc. The trailer sets up the major conflict at the heart of the story, but it’s not between Peter and any of these Multiverse baddies – it’s between him and Doctor Strange, who sees them as potential threats to the universe and basically instructs Peter to kill them all, one by one. Peter doesn’t want to have to kill any of them, so he very forcefully chooses to defy Doctor Strange and liberate the villains. The twist is that they still want to kill him (except Ock, who seems like a genuinely good guy), so the challenge of returning them to their respective universes is going to test Peter’s ability to save everyone without getting any blood on his hands.

Spider-Man
Green Goblin | indiewire.com

That’s a really compelling conflict, but No Way Home can’t be afraid to “go there” in terms of showing the consequences of Peter’s wavering. It’s been theorized that someone close to him will die in this movie to drive the point home, and the trailer ends on Zendaya falling from the Statue of Liberty in a sequence evocative of Gwen Stacy’s horrific death in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – but that’s crossing a line even for me. If Marvel actually kills off Zendaya, especially in such a callous manner, we riot. We can all agree on that, right? Just take Happy Hogan instead. Kill Uncle Ben again, for all I care. But don’t fridge Zendaya, okay?

Trailer Rating: 8/10

“Arcane” Part 2 Flies High And Falters Only Slightly

SPOILERS FOR ARCANE: LEAGUE OF LEGENDS PART ONE AHEAD!

Netflix’s release strategy for Arcane: League Of Legends makes it one of the few original series’ on the steaming service that we get to enjoy across a span of multiple weeks, but Netflix has found a way to marry their hallmark binge-watch formula with the weekly format that other platforms have adopted to great success over the past two years. Instead of releasing just one episode each week, Arcane drops a bundle of three – each no fewer than forty minutes long – so that you still get to binge sizable chunks of the show, and the viewing experience will easily fill an evening whereas episodes of some Disney+ series’ fly by in less than an hour.

Arcane
Jayce | dualshockers.com

It’s a method that I think Netflix would be wise to utilize more often, at least for established series’ with large audiences willing to stick around week-to-week. One major complaint about the binge model is that even Netflix’s best and biggest series’ rarely get a chance to stay in the general conversation for more than a single weekend before viewers have finished the entire season and moved on to their next fleeting obsession. That in turns pulls focus away from the content of individual episodes and puts pressure on showrunners to write cliffhanger season finales that will keep general audiences from forgetting their show entirely.

But personally, I relish having an opportunity to review Arcane in segments. I pulled the first season of Shadow And Bone apart episode-by-episode, but that was an adaptation of a book series I already loved. If all ten episodes of Arcane had dropped on one day, I’d have only written a single review because I don’t know enough about the League Of Legends franchise to support ten separate posts – but I’d have missed the chance to dive into all of the animated series’ nuances, which are highlighted by this wonderful weekly-binge release strategy.

Episode four picks up several years after the events of episode three, which I think also helps support the weekly release – you feel like you’re actually watching the premiere of Arcane season two. And not only is it more epic in scope and heavier on action like the second season of an established series would usually be, but the characters have also developed exponentially. With just three episodes behind us, all that development could easily feel rushed or even unearned, but Arcane somehow makes it work. Every character is more abundantly alive and interesting than before, which might be why episodes four through six have a harder time focusing on any one in particular.

Positioned as the heart of the narrative both thematically and emotionally, yet slightly at risk of getting shoved aside by the jostling subplots of other characters this week, the orphaned and estranged sisters Violet (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) and Powder (now going by the name of Jinx, and voiced by Ella Purnell) don’t actually meet until episode six, and even then only briefly, which prevents us from exploring the evolution of their relationship with each other. Individually, however, they’re still compelling co-leads.

Fascinatingly, despite Violet being the only member of Vander’s family to escape from the crime-lord Silco (Jason Spisak) at the end of episode three, it’s she who’s regressed and landed in a dank undercity prison while Jinx is thriving under Silco’s tutelage, moving freely between Zaun and Piltover. Over the years, she’s been fashioned into a killing machine and outfitted with an arsenal of hand-made weapons and gadgets, although her flair for the melodramatic is seen in her colorful carnival-performer aesthetic and the glee she derives from violence. She’s strongly reminiscent of DC Comics’ vivacious antihero Harley Quinn.

Arcane
Jinx | pcgamer.com

Somehow I get the sense that that comparison is overused and that League Of Legends fans everywhere are probably rolling their eyes at me, so I’m going to follow up by saying that there are two crucial differences between Jinx and Harley Quinn. One is Jinx’s struggle with childhood trauma, specifically the guilt of having caused two of her friends’ deaths and the shame and horror of being abandoned by her older sister. Watching her fight those feelings is extremely compelling, and it’s a shame that Arcane doesn’t put as much effort into crystallizing the dynamic between Jinx and Silco that I felt is another defining element of her character.

In fact, Silco almost disappears entirely in these three episodes, perhaps because there’s just one too many antagonists at this point. His new goals are hastily sketched out, but the show loses sight of the tormented and in my opinion quite fascinating character behind the menacing façade, leaving him with surprisingly little to do except sit behind a desk and brood, or else pop up here and there to frighten his various business partners into submission. The only consolation is that I’m sure his methodical preparations for the approaching war between Zaun and Piltover will pay off in the long run, and the results will be epic and catastrophic.

On that note, however, I’m also disappointed that we spend less time in Zaun over the course of these three episodes – and of the time we do spend there, significantly less of it is devoted to expanding on the themes of class and social divides that were established in the first three episodes. As the city of Piltover advances far ahead of Zaun, leaving the undercity’s inhabitants increasingly destitute and desperate, we’re only afforded brief glimpses into how life has changed for them since Vander’s death and the estrangement of the two cities.

Instead, these three episodes focus more on what’s happening “top-side” in Piltover, where brilliant inventor Jayce Talis (Kevin Alejandro) bridges the gap between science and magic to create all kinds of incredible technology for the city. But with fame and fortune comes power, and with power comes opposition. Jayce is reluctantly forced to navigate Piltover’s political scene and outmaneuver his enemies on the city’s council if he plans to achieve everything he knows he’s capable of, all while racing against the clock to save his business partner and closest friend Viktor (Harry Lloyd) from death.

Political intrigue is one of my favorite fantasy tropes ever, so it’s neat to see that element woven into the story, but Jayce isn’t really the focal point of this narrative as far as I can tell, and Arcane suffers from being spread a little thin in these three episodes as it struggles to find any connections between Jayce’s journey to the top of the world and Violet and Jinx’s intensely personal conflict mirroring the social divide for which Jayce is at least partly responsible. Their storylines will eventually overlap, but currently the only substantial crossover is through the character of Caitlyn (Katie Leung).

Although she only had a small role in the first three episodes as one of Jayce’s friends, Caitlyn really comes into her own in episode five, as she embarks on a solo mission into the undercity to locate Jinx and bring her to justice, only to discover that she’s become inextricably entangled in something much larger than herself – a vast corruption scandal linking Piltover’s law enforcement to the criminal enterprises of Zaun. She eventually meets Violet, and their romantic chemistry/sexual tension is off the charts. We stan a morally righteous queer character who will let her morally ambiguous girlfriend get away with just about anything.

Arcane
Jinx | elintranews.com

There’s plenty to love in these three episodes, despite their flaws. The action in particular is even more dynamic and creative, and all the characters have matured into better fighters. The animation is still luscious, with Piltover even more beautiful thanks to Jayce Talis’ enhancements to the city. And this story continues to expand in unexpected directions across a world that is rich with detail. As we gear up for the final batch of episodes next week, I can only hope that Netflix decides to build out this franchise across multiple seasons and spin-offs. It’s what we deserve.

Episodes Rating: 7/10