This is a Non-spoiler review
Arcane is an animated sci-fi/fantasy action and drama series on Netflix. It is a videogame adaptation of League of Legends and follows the origins of two of its ‘champions’ (characters in the game) based on their lore. When I first clicked on Arcane, I was hesitant. Video game adaptations have had a pretty bad track record. Further, western animation is normally associated with the Pixars and Disneys of the world: movies made mostly for children, with appropriate storylines and messages. I wasn’t confident that the animation would be gritty or complex enough for its premise. However, now that I have finished watching this series (multiple times), I can safely say that it is one of the greatest shows ever released.
The story is broken into three arcs, the first arc describes the childhoods and starting points of our main cast, and skips several years into the future in the subsequent ones. It follows the story of 2 sets of characters: one is led by a pair of sisters, Vi and Powder in the poverty-stricken ‘Undercity’ stashed away by the gleaming city of progress, Piltover, ruling above. We follow our other set of characters in this city: two scientists, Jayce and Victor, and Councilor Medarda, amidst the political turmoil in the presiding seats of power. The premise is described as follows: ‘Amidst the escalating unrest between the rich, utopian city of Piltover and its seedy, oppressed underbelly of Zaun, sisters Vi and Jinx find themselves on opposing sides of a brewing conflict over clashing convictions and arcane technologies.’ The story describes the formation of this independent nation of Zaun, and how the characters affect this progression.
The world-building is incredible, with nods to socio-economic commentary without being overly explicit. Arcane’s strongest point is most definitely its characters. They are always realistic, with well-defined arcs that make interesting decisions plot-wise. Even seemingly one-dimensional characters like Silco (the primary antagonist) grow beyond their tropes to depict a degree of complexity and flaws that make him human. Even the side characters get their share of time on screen, as we dive into their head, understanding their motivations and goals. Arcane committed to a diverse cast of characters and did it in a way that was organic and meaningful. Each character dynamic was interesting to explore, with their directions being far from predictable. Most importantly, each of the characters has agency, with the plot not just affecting them, but their decisions actively causing the plot.
The storylines are also unique. They often rely on audience interpretation and ask important moral questions. It deals with topics like death, guilt, substance abuse, and mental illness with a degree of maturity. Its plot also explores themes dealing with the fallout of corruption, polarization, economic disparity, and war.
The first thing that will stick out to you when you watch this show is the breathtaking visuals. With a combination of 2D and 3D animation, Fortiche (the animation studio) has gone all the way to create intricate backgrounds and character designs. One might be reminded of ‘Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse’ on first viewing, given that it is starkly different from the rounded, soft animation we are normally used to. This works for Arcane wonderfully, lending an air of steampunk grittiness that matches the tone of the story.
The sound design and music score complement each scene aptly. Several scores were tailor-made for certain scenes, and they will most definitely leave you with goosebumps by the end. All the voice actors have done a fantastic job of adding a whole new level of emotion to each scene. It is often difficult to see this level of fluid movement in animation, whether it is facial expressions or fight scenes. Arcane has raised the bar for both. Stylish and intense action choreographies will leave you itching to replay the sequence. Each frame has meaningful acting and expressive characters enhanced by a gripping atmosphere that conveys genuine emotion. The 9-episode long series keeps up its momentum: there’s never redundancy or unnecessary plotlines.
Arcane is well and truly a masterpiece: a visual delight with a mature storyline, multifaceted characters, brilliant animation, and overall, a breath of much-needed fresh air. It’s the type of show that proves a level of dedication to its craft and to the quality of its story. It is well-deserving of being a masterclass in its own right.
It should be known that you do not need to know anything about the lore to appreciate this series (In fact you might enjoy it more this way). I would recommend this series strongly. Do check out its trailer below.
-By Annapoorna Narayan