The nine-episode animated series, Arcane, dropped on Netflix in November of 2021. It was met with universal praise by audiences and critics alike for its incredible animation, well-written story and expansive worldbuilding.
Based on the widely popular online video game “League of Legends,” developed by Riot Games, Arcane was first announced in development in 2019 during a special anniversary event. The directing chairs were announced to be Christian Linke and Alex Yee with help of French animation studio Fortiche. The show aims to tell an origin story in a specific setting within the game’s universe, but no prior knowledge is needed to enjoy the incredible story that unfolds.
The story is divided into three different arcs during two separate time periods, with the setting being the upper-class steampunk city of Piltover and the poverty-stricken underground of Zaun.
Two sisters named Vi and Powder live in Zaun with their family of adopted siblings who often cross over into Piltover to steal valuables. One day they unknowingly steal magical crystals that contain arcane magic. These crystals belong to aspiring Piltover inventor Jayce, who hopes to utilize the arcane magic in a new form of technology known as Hextech.
As the city of Piltover prospers from Jayce’s Hextech inventions, Vi and Powder find themselves separated by opposing sides of an ongoing political feud that is intertwined with conflicting ideals, drug trades and emotional trauma.
One of the show’s biggest strengths comes from the setting itself. The cities of Piltover and Zaun are intriguing and detail-rich as the show does wonders in handling multiple storylines, each one showcasing the inner conflicts of the setting. While the lower class people of Zaun struggle to remain afloat, the upper class elite of Piltover prospers from the revolutionary Hextech technology and exploitation of Zaun. Each side interconnects with each other to create an in-depth steampunk setting that viewers can get invested in.
Another one of the show’s standout features is its cast of complex characters. The show presents Powder as a tragic character who was once eager to prove herself due to her own personal expectations, but because of the consequences of Powder’s own actions she becomes separated from Vi, causing her to spiral into emotional turmoil that stays with her for years.
The show does an excellent job of portraying trauma in a realistic and heartbreaking way not only through Powder’s character development but also throughout the majority of the cast.
Each character feels distinctly human and they never seem to fall into a singular trope or stereotype. The show also does an amazing job of showing the morally gray side of each character and how people in positions of power aren’t just evil and have the ability to show empathy.
The sheer quality of the show’s animation is also worthy of praise. Combining gorgeous cel-shaded 3D animation with stylized details drawn in 2D adds to the setting and makes each action scene incredibly engaging to watch. One scene that stands out involves Powder facing off against an old childhood friend. It cuts back and forth between the past and the present and is one of the most visually impressive fight scenes ever put to screen.
With the first season receiving universal praise, an inevitable second season was announced not long after. However, the release date was postponed to 2024 to ensure that the second season rivals the quality of the first. Arcane is an absolutely amazing series that is worth checking out even without knowledge of its source material.