Arcane, a Netflix exclusive series, is a slick and engaging introduction to League of Legends
You don’t need to be familiar with Runeterra lore to enjoy the animated show.
Fans have been wondering for years whether Riot Games, the creators of League of Legends, would launch an animated series. It seems to be unavoidable. Previously, the studio made beautiful animated videos to promote everything from new characters to esports competitions. And, with a growing emphasis on expanding League’s storyline — which is difficult to achieve inside the limits of a team-based strategy game — a show seemed like a natural fit. It’s now a reality, with Arcane, a nine-episode series. The best part is that it’s not only a lot of fun, but it also doesn’t require any prior knowledge of League.
Early on in the storey, Arcane is set (mostly) in the city of Piltover, which is on the verge of a major change that will have far-reaching implications for the entire fantasy realm of Runeterra: a pair of scientists are working on a way to harness the dangerous power of magic for use in everything from weapons to tools to transportation. The show follows a group of characters across the city against this backdrop. Vi, a street kid, leads a small gang to a large score by taking them to the upper reaches of the city to steal some expensive-looking electronics. Naturally, the theft goes wrong and ends with some exploding crystals. The focus then changes to characters like the aforementioned scientists and an underworld boss with a long history of scars and a deep resentment.
What’s fantastic about Arcane’s fantasy-meets-steampunk universe is that it’s rather simple to grasp. The show doesn’t waste time with exposition, and it doesn’t assume you already know who the characters are. For example, while Vi is one of League’s most popular characters, the show primarily acts as a genesis narrative for her and a few other characters. It’s a fun chance for fans to discover more about how some of these characters came to be — you even learn more about Vi’s iconic gauntlets — but for everyone else, it’s a chance to meet interesting individuals at a key period in their life. There is no requirement for prior knowledge.
It also helps that the plot is relatively simple. There’s nothing novel or revolutionary about Arcane in my opinion. It’s a fairly standard fantasy storey that’s done exceptionally well. The villains are fearsome, the would-be heroes are clumsy and likeable, the action is thrilling to watch, and everything happens at a breakneck speed. The nicest thing Arcane has going for it is how fashionable it appears. Each frame appears to be a beautiful piece of hand-painted concept art, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in action. It’s also a universe that seems completely realised and lived in. Piltover’s slums have a toxic green appearance (police officers enter wearing masks), whereas the top levels are bright, airy, and elegant. All of the odd mechanical inventions that help keep the city alive and bustling were very appealing to me. What I mean is that after viewing the first several episodes, I’m desperate for an Arcane art book.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the show is how it is being distributed. It’s not an all-you-can-watch binge, and episodes aren’t released on a weekly basis. Arcane, on the other hand, employs a hybrid format. The nine episodes are separated into chapters and delivered in three-episode bundles over a three-week period. (It reminds me of Netflix’s experimental Fear Street horror film trilogy.) It works nicely for the first chapter, at least, because the three episodes each have their own obvious arc, while episode four picks up later, though I’ve only seen the first three episodes.
Arcane treads a tight line early on. It’s both a tribute and an introduction to a large fantasy world with millions of admirers that’s been around for a decade. Those who watch will be treated to a plot filled with interesting Easter eggs and a closer look at characters who have been around for a long time. Everyone else will be treated to an unexpectedly exhilarating adventure with plenty of style. The most startling thing for novices would be if they’re encouraged to play League of Legends, which lacks the show’s aesthetic and speed.