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.
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.
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.
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