Video game adaptations are a never-ending topic of conversation and controversy, but Arcane is not like most other video game adaptations. For fans of the rapidly expanding League of Legends universe, the series was a must-watch, but what about viewers who wouldn't spare the MOBA a second glance?
League of Legends is one of the most popular games of all time, with over 100 million active users and a dragon's hoard of cash and accolades accrued over its years of dominance in the genre. Despite this, the game holds an extremely polarized public opinion, utterly despised by huge portions of the gaming population, leaving this new hit animated series in an interesting position.
Arcane is a hit animated action-fantasy series set in the world of Runeterra and starring a handful of League's playable Champions. Fans of the game will find near-constant references, including a deep dive into a few characters' backstories that have never been satisfactorily delved into. League, to put it mildly, is not a story-rich video game experience. Most of its players will learn more from Arcane than they ever knew from thousands of hours in-game. Some games' tie-in content serves as little more than a series of cutscenes that fans have to seek out to figure out the plot of their favorite game. This is not the case with Arcane.
The fact is, Arcane is excellent. Its story centers around Vi and Powder, sisters raised in the seedy underbelly of a futuristic society and separated by vicious circumstances. The pair, now dragged into opposite sides of a larger conflict, face duplicitous crime lords, selfish bureaucrats, and their own mounting trauma in a desperate battle to save each other. Vi, the elder sister fresh from a stint in jail, teams up with a sheltered ex-cop to hunt down an old adversary and avenge her father's death. Powder, now going by Jinx, finds herself drawn into that villain's clutches, and transformed into a deadly weapon against her own people. Vi sets out to save her sister but discovers that Jinx may be beyond saving, and indeed that the world may need saving from her. The answer is clear, this series is an absolute hit, even without having heard of League of Legends.
Most of the main characters are playable in the game, but their introductions in the show establish themselves perfectly. In fact, the masterful visual design ensures that the characters have never looked this good. Arcane's iterations on some of the franchise mainstays make earlier takes look like unfinished drafts. Little can be learned about most of these characters in-game, fans who are introduced to this chunk of the cast through the show will likely find favorites easily. These are likely to become the definitive versions of Vi, Jinx, Jayce, and more. The characters and their excellent designs make an impression, and their stories stand on their own as well.
The real draw of Arcane is in its visual splendor. The series looks stellar until its final frames, even if the story was lackluster, or indeed missing entirely, animation fans would be obliged to tune in just to see what the artists do with the medium. League's massive budget has clearly been put to good use here, behind an inspired team who brings new life to old concepts. The series visuals are wrapped around a story that, while not particularly original, is immediately identifiable and very well executed. There are weak moments in the narrative, but newcomers can rest assured, no one is going in with an incomplete understanding or with extra information. Newcomers may miss the odd Easter egg or occasional reference, but the series manages an impressive feat of integration. Unlike some other adaptations, in moments when characters rise or fall to their more recognizable form, Arcane manages to sell the catharsis of their transformation, even for fans who've never seen their in-game standard.
Arcane's setting is important to the larger Runeterra mythos, but its unique beauty is better realized here than ever before. The political strife and rising tension in the city of Piltover is a fantastic element of worldbuilding that escalates perfectly through the series. Concepts like Shimmer or the Arcane Gemstones are easily explained within the plot, and will likely feel familiar to most audiences. The narrative is highly emotionally driven, many of the more secondary elements of the plot have analogues in other works or even in real life. In this way, the more trope-y aspects of the story and setting serve to make it more instantly explicable, allowing any audience to grasp the finer details and focus on the real draws of the series.
Arcane is a fantastic animated series that will enrapture fans and newcomers alike. Do not let disinterest in League of Legends dissuade from diving into this visually brilliant, emotionally stirring, deeply engaging masterpiece. Every animation fan should see Arcane, it sets a new standard for the franchise that League of Legends itself may never live up to.
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