League of Legends has become a cultural touchstone in the esports community, with the game having spurred countless other titles in the multiplayer online battle arena genre, amassing millions of fans worldwide.
Now, 12 years since its inception, the game’s incredibly rich lore is explored through the origin story of its iconic characters in the Netflix series Arcane. This stunning visual masterpiece follows Vi and Jinx, two sisters navigating Piltover at the dawn of the era of magic. Produced by Riot Games and Fortiche Studios, Arcane offers more than just a riveting storyline and engaging yet complex characters; it’s also a sublime experience that will delight both long-time League of Legends fans and non-players alike.
Bad bunch of misfit toys
Arcane’s sense of realism is enhanced through its colorful cast of characters, each masterfully written and fleshed out with clear and justified motives. Written as anything but complacent, the brilliant portrayal of their idiosyncrasies makes them easy to root for. Hence, each character’s growth creates an engrossing plot from start to finish.
The characters are depicted as morally gray. Often with good intentions, they are forced to make difficult decisions that sometimes result in more harm than good. While these decisions are framed as necessary, it leaves the characters with a palpable sense of regret. Even Councilor Heimerdinger, whose adorable facade charmed the hearts of many fans, is no clear-cut character. His steadfast and principled leadership has allowed Piltover to foster, but his inaction toward the undercity’s struggles resulted in distrust and extreme poverty.
A departure from the most powerful female fictional characters, the women of Arcane have personalities outside their strength. Despite its source material being male-dominated, the series manages to highlight a refreshing assortment of complex female leads. The unlikely bond between Vi and Caitlyn, who have an undeniable chemistry that just leaps off the screen, was taken advantage of by the showrunners having the “opposites attract” trope come to play. The duo’s interesting dynamic helps them beat challenges they wouldn’t have surmounted on their own. The same could be said about Jayce and Viktor, who literally saved each other’s lives.
Welcome to the playground
The animation by Fortiche studios serves viewers with continuous ecstasy-filled eye candy. Arcane deviates from the trends of mainstream animation, as dynamic 3D models are paired with the unique texture of 2D impressionist-like paintings. Moreover, Arcane bravely used different art styles to spice up the moment when the scenes needed it. The result creates emotionally compelling frames—notably when Jinx’s scribbles appear every time she’s in a frenzy. One thing’s for sure in Arcane: every frame of the nine-episode series is surely wallpaper worthy.
Effortless and immersive, the series’ world-building successfully captures the diverse zest of the city of Piltover, from aristocratic suburbs of the bourgeoisie to the gritty underground neon-lit city of Zaun. Every setting elevated the ambiance of the scene—even its minute details. From the first act down to its season finale, heartwarming segments are filled with artistic inklings from its source material. It’s undoubtedly a re-watchable series just for the animation alone.
The distinctive character design reintroduces familiar faces and debuts new ones. The League of Legends champions has accentuated features to highlight their character traits. Notably, the heroines of Arcane break away from the traditional sleek and skinny design, opting for anatomically correct features of strength that show them as strong and muscular.
But the pièce de résistance is Arcane’s cinematic soundtrack, complementing the raw and character-driven fight scenes. Every piece of action and music intertwine to grab the viewers on a chokehold from the thrill and suspense of the moment.
Dynasties and dystopias
Besides being a pleasure to the eyes and ears, the series is ultimately a commentary on the dangers of classism and the unrestrained march of progress. As Piltover thrived in technological advancements, Zaun remained extremely poor, sleazy, and violence-ridden, causing so much violence and death that it opened a proverbial Pandora’s box.
Arcane’s first season sets up heavy conflict brewing in the future for fans to dissect and digest. After all, its edgy action scenes are not without the somber consequences of violence. As the characters dwell between the satisfaction of violence and the safety of complacency, the series dives into heavy issues like the consequences of war—keeping its entertainment value without sacrificing its tact.
Arcane is definitely one of the greatest feats of animation since 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. Evolving League of Legends’ rich lore to explore bold themes, the series offers groundbreaking animation and a storytelling trailblazer. In addition, the series is surely an eloquent love letter from Riot Games and Fortiche Studios for the game’s loyal fans and new discoverers alike.
EDITOR’S NOTE: November 30, 2021
In a previous version of this article, “Fortiche” was misspelled as “Fortriche”. The article has since been updated to reflect the correct spelling.