Arcane, the new animated fantasy series adapted from the world of the League of Legends MOBA game, is an animated series on Netflix that goes above and beyond what you expect from the usual YA tropes and becomes something deeper and more poignant. The tragedy that plays out in the first 3 episodes that sets up the rest of the story is more heartbreaking and emotional than expected. You don't need to know about or play League of Legends before you see Arcane. It might be better if you didn't so you can take the show as a story on its own instead of a video game spinoff.
The show takes its time telling its story of the prosperous upper city of Piltover, built on Scientific discovery and wonder, and the undercity of Zaun where the underclass lives. A quartet of urchins from Zaun attempt to burgle a Piltover researcher's workshop for goods and blow up the building, setting in motion a catastrophic chain of events that sets the series on its course. The kids include the teenage Vi and her preteen sister Powder, who are the main characters of the show around whom all the key events will revolve. Vi will become a lethal fighter and Powder will grow up to become the chaotic and murderous Jinx, but in these first three episodes that form the first act of the story, they're still kids scraping by, but Powder's actions have repercussions that will change everything.
Character is destiny, and the writers know this better than most. The characters in Arcane are types, but the writers dig deep to give them more nuance and complexity than the usual genre shows. No one is truly Good or Evil. Even the ones who do the worst things have their reasons and are capable of love. Vi is a protective hothead. Powder is sweet-natured and eager to please but can't help screwing up and causing chaos. The young Piltover researcher and inventor Jayce Tallis whose workshop the kids blow up is on a course to bring magic, a feared element, to the world, and his expulsion from the academy pushes him to accelerate his research that will change the world. Crime boss Silco may be out to get power and control Zaun, but his emotional motivations run deeper than just being the Bad Guy.
The first 3 episodes are a single story and the 1st act, depicting Vi and Powder's childhoods and the breaking point of their relationship before Act 2 jumps forward a few years to show their paths to becoming the Vi and Jinx that fans of League of Legends know. What sets Arcane above other animated shows and Fantasies is the love and care the writers and animators put into it, far above and beyond other shows. Fortiche, the French studio that Riot Games works with, imbues the character animation with more nuance than any animated characters ever showed before – every glance, every shift in facial expression, every expression and nuance are there. Combine that with the intensely emotional voice work from the cast and you might forget you're watching animation. There are no generic expressions or poses found in standard CGI animated shows from Asian studios that have lower budgets and have to cut corners. The design and aesthetic of the world has that extra effort with a colour palette that's deeper and more subtle than any other animated series. Few shows are as lavishly designed as Arcane outside of Shadow and Bone. The animation of Arcane goes far beyond any animated show or movie that came before it, and it heralds the next step in animation.
Arcane is being billed as a special event on Netflix with an unusual release format: 3 40-minute episodes out on Saturday night this week, 3 more next weekend, and then the last 3 the weekend after that. Each weekend's release is a single act in an ongoing story that reveals the lore and back story of the world of the League of Legends MOBA game, which has been around since 2009 and has since become an Esport staple. The show serves as the real story in the origins of player characters Vi, Jinx, Caitlyn, and Jayce, so fans of the game will have that thrill of recognition and seeing the characters' actual stories outside of the little bursts of personality and quips they utter in the game. Arcane lets fans know these characters at last.
Arcane is streaming on Netflix.