Arcane Act 1 review – Riot’s brilliant animated series on Netflix opens with a startling, albeit familiar shot •


Editor’s Note: Just a disclaimer that we’re getting into some light story details here, although much of it is known if you already know the characters in the games.

As with everything Riot Games is producing these days, money is very much on screen in Arcane, its striking new animated series whose first act hit Netflix last weekend, with the second arriving on the 13th. As a League of Legends fan (to my eternal shame) this is an unsurprising treat, full of winks and nods and shiny blue nuggets of lore, just as I had hoped for. , and even suspected, a studio of Riot’s now formidable stature. could handle. As a fan of Simply Good TV, this is truly a surprise. Arcane is real, good TV.

To eliminate the obvious question: no, you don’t really have to be a LoL fan to enjoy Arcane. It’s a prequel, and the goal here is pretty obvious – to attract a new wave of fans through a whole new medium, which may even stick to that medium. Arcane takes place a few years before the “now” of League of Legends, when it really is. Basically it follows a handful of characters from LoL, but they’re all a few years younger. Those who regular gamers may know as being in their twenties are mostly teenagers and tweens, those in their late thirties are in their early twenties, those in their mid-thirties like Yoda-esque scientist Yordle, Heimerdinger, are in their early to mid-300s.

The polished Arcane trailer.

It’s a nifty way to balance the two – an avalanche of freshly infused lore for LoL nerds and an equal entry point for new viewers who don’t know anything – and Riot has been smart here on every level, really. Arcane takes place in the twin cities of Piltover, a brilliant steampunk land of scientific (and economic) progress, and Zaun, an “undercity” that exists below, equally steampunk and ingenious but without the freedom and security, and the ‘money. It’s a smart setting because, when it comes to LoL’s world of Runeterra (and the connected “realms”), it’s the one that divides the difference between the security of something recognizable – fairly modern technology, humanoids, guns – with something a bit new – the mix of magic, the relatively less popular steampunk genre, Heimerdinger’s weird yellow hair that looks like a giant brain.

Arcane is new in many ways, but it is also extremely secure in many others. It’s a bit of a theme with Riot. If you’ve been paying attention to the new, post-League of Legends games – the Legends of Runeterra card fighter, the Valorant tactical shooter, even the most specialized, the automatic chess spin-off Teamfight Tactics – you’ll notice they all land. squarely in the middle of their respective genres, first launching a sort of severe skill, the novelty still there, but well in the second place. Coming from these games to Arcane, much of it can look quite similar.

A great inevitable example here is his characters. Arcane protagonists – Vi, Jinx, Jayce, and support groups like Ekko, Caitlyn, Viktor, and Heimerdinger – are all League of Legends champions, and League of Legends champions are usually linked to some extremely recognizable archetypes, in some cases. even other characters from popular culture. Jinx, a chaotic, murderous, and skinny villain is cut from the mold of Harley Quinn, for example. Viktor, at the time of League of Legends, is a brilliant and bitter scientist accompanied by a robot arm, a la Doctor Octopus.

This is very much needed in LoL, and part of the fun of it – MOBAs are role-playing games as much as any other, with progression, specialization, and their own kind of. immersed in character – but they’re also extraordinarily intense, packed with ultra-high intensity action. This means that the game’s champions must all be instantly recognizable, painted in broad strokes, identifiable only by their looks, their four abilities, and maybe a dozen barking voices amid the carnage. Bringing these well-done, but ultimately pretty shallow characters to life in a TV series, more so than previous incarnations like the weird, quick animated trailer with a few raised eyebrows and cool flips, or even a feature film, means the writers have had to undergo a sort of depth relining, well beyond the already substantial revamping of the lore that LoL has undergone in recent years.


In places, it shows. Arcane, at least in its first four episodes, which are all I’ve seen so far, tells a few side stories. One focuses on an orphaned teenage girl Vi (which means Violet, it turns out) and her younger sister, Jinx (née Powder), who LoL fans will know to be rivals in the “Today”, both navigating more and more dangerous crime and mischief in Zaun. Plot B, as such, follows the brilliant idol Jayce and his glamorous science endeavors to the surface, alongside fellow Viktor Academy members and Professor Heimerdinger, and ultra-privileged childhood friend Caitlyn. .

The problem is, quite often you feel like you’ve seen the stories of these characters a few times before. Vi is the benefactor forced to do evil by nothing more than circumstances. Powder is younger, shunned by the older circle of friends, and faced with repeated claims that she is “not ready” for the live action until a big enough turn. Jayce slips into a subtle and reluctant arrogance. Caitlyn is courageous and determined unlike her upbringing in high society. Viktor is a genius who is perhaps too naively generous with this gift for his own good. Heimerdinger, once a pioneer, has grown fearful and conservative with experience and age. The effect, combined with Arcana’s origins as a series itself, can at times make the whole thing feel more like an exercise in expanding lore than an exercise in storytelling, where the characters undergo well-telegraphed character development but, given the large number of them and the relatively limited amount of time Arcane gives to each screen, there is less time to just character, between the big wide beats, they all have to strike at the right time.

But at the same time, and this is crucial, these beats are brilliantly executed, and these characters are immediately, remarkably magnetic. Part of that comes from my perspective as a player – when it comes to the attachment to a fictional character, I’m just as cold as any other, I think, but as a longtime main player. of Viktor, I found myself strangely, deeply compelled to see him on-screen, in motion, a visual experience that sometimes feels like looking at freshly discovered 8mm footage of a pre-born parent: it’s so is my guy; that was what his life was like. It’s oddly – maybe a to touch embarrassing – emotional. Obviously those few thousand hours with a few selected champions in LoL had more of an impact on me than just increasing my dexterity (or blood pressure).


Likewise, Arcane’s animation is nothing short of extraordinary, a product of Riot’s collaboration with Fortiche, a French studio that had previously worked on promotional events like clips for major K / DA K-pop events in League. of Legends. At first glance – in fact, at every glance – Arcane looks like a hand-sculpted static concept art work coming to life. It can sometimes be strange, a bit of another world. Sometimes it feels like it’s a painting that wants to be just that, an animated image that longs to be still, forced into unnatural locomotion through some sort of forbidden necromancy. But it’s still striking, culminating both in the moments of emphatic, shocking violence and explosions that fill the screen, and the quieter, one-off looks, laughs and shrugs that bring a dose. texture so welcome to the action.

Thanks to this animation, the relative rarity of it – rarely makes more than one thing at a time actually move around the screen, or at least rarely does. appear in this way, reminiscent of classic, stilted Japanese animations like Neon Genesis Evangelion – Arcane can achieve real subtlety, soft enough to cut through the broader lines of its conspiratorial history. We can all see what happens to Powder, as she doesn’t sneak around until she leaps into her Anakin-esque transformation into Jinx – but the predictability doesn’t make this eventual moment any less poignant or tragic. Nor the inevitable breakup – I haven’t seen that happen yet, but I would bet just about anything on that – between Viktor and Jayce. (It’s worth noting that some have pointed to queer baiting potential here, which can be a problem depending on how things develop, but, that said, there are as many reasons as there is. acting like a simple bromance – and a platonic, emotional man relationships are also needed in entertainment, in their own way).


All of that said too, and these are still just the first four episodes – the first act of three, plus a little bit of the second. To the rhythm of the events of the series, we whistle through the backstory of these characters, and that’s probably the most important point to stress here. Arcane is a series, probably created to be stand-alone, but knowing that there are a good half-dozen more regions on LoL’s planet Runeterra, plus a few more “realms” for good measure, I suspect the potential is there to spend a season in a different place each time.

The LoL fan in me loves it – I’m addicted to a fast-paced origin story and can’t wait to see more, applied to more of what I love – but the “good TV” fan think the opposite. Arcane, in his second and third acts, could benefit massively from slowing down a bit, spending a bit more time with the small group of characters he has right now, savoring these characters. like characters, as opposed to things that have to be developed programmatically at breakneck speed. It’s absolutely a thrill, full of welcome color and life. But modern television, which is really good, is all about slow burn, after all. Which will only make this big boom conclusive that people like Jinx yearn to feel even better.


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