Photo by www.netflix.com
My favorite piece of American visual art to come out in 2021 was Netflix’s Arcane, shockingly inspired by the online game League of Legends. Featuring new designs for champions from the game, Jayce Talis (Kevin Alejandro), Caitlyn Kiramman (Katie Leung), Ekko (Reed Shannon) and Viktor (Harry Lloyd) with a focus on the beloved sisters Vi (Hailee Steinfeld) and Jinx (Ella Purnell). It took Riot six years to develop a story that feels complete and thrilling to watch, something that will greatly surpass its inspiration. And fortunately, you do not have to know anything about the lore of the game to understand what is happening. This can be a fault with some adaptations, but is skillfully avoided in Arcane. Since its release on November 6th, watchers have been anticipating a second season which will take at least a year to release. For now fans will have to be satisfied with re-watching and creating theories.
One of the best parts about the animated series is that it is more accessible to a wider audience than the game that inspired it, and it does an authentic job with its representation. Teenagers and adults alike will enjoy a lack of cheesy dialogue, manageable dark topics, and a relatable cast. But it’s not just the main characters that are getting the attention. Raving reception for female side characters like Sevika (Amirah Vann), Grayson (Shohreh Aghdashloo), and Ambessa Medarda (Ellen Thomas) can especially be seen in the LGBT community, especially women in the LGBT community. The reason being that these characters do not get outshone by their male counterparts- they have their own agency, and are not just inexplicably strong but also look the part. The lack of male-gaze driven aestheticism of the characters has an underrepresented group of people appreciating the new take on the series. Lesbian and bisexual viewers can relate to the experiences of Vi and Caitlyn in the series, namely the pining, pseudo breakups, and the navigation of a same-sex crush.
Another unique aspect is the quality of the animation, making the fight scenes truly interesting. Personally, I am not a fan of most fight scenes, as there seems to be too much action going on or too many explosions for anything to be impressive, but that is not a problem with Arcane. There are enough explosions, gunshots, and montages to be thrilling while styling them in a spectacular way. Not only are the fight scenes engaging, but they are always plot relevant and add to the story. Some of these include the standoffs between Vi and Sevika, and the cinematic fight between Jinx and Ekko.
The distinctive animation also separates the two sets- you can always tell when you’re in high class Piltover or the undercity of Zaun. It can be noted that in Piltover you see the ongoing corruption and get context for the suffering of Zaunites. Alternatively, when something takes place in Zaun, you see the results of that oppression, and the reactions of the people there. It is not black and white, where someone is inherently good or bad. Having characters with traits of being both good and bad adds complexity to it, a realistic grey area. There is no easy answer or simple solution, and you’re not left feeling like everything could be solved if there wasn’t a small miscommunication. The tension between the two cities is nothing new, placing the younger characters in a situation that has been ongoing.
Part of the draw is the dynamic relationships between characters and opposing forces, making sure there isn’t a dull moment from episode one to nine. These character interactions drive the plot forward, always determining what happens next, with plenty of surprises to make things more difficult. Those who have a love for the found family trope will be pleased by the show’s twisted version of it, with not one but two surrogate father figures. There are plenty of complicated familial relationships portrayed, such as Jinx and Silco, Vander and Vi, and later on Mel Medarda and her distant mom. The character dynamics meet with the storyline to create a parallel between the new generation and the past, when observing the falling out of Silco and Vander to the falling out of Vi and Jinx. This shows you the roles each sister is meant to fill, and why they come into these roles.
There is a lot of social commentary and nuance regarding corruption and classicism. This is displayed in the relationship between topsider Jayce and his lab partner Viktor who is from Zaun. League of Legends fans will recognize this as the build up to a larger event that will most likely take place in the next season. Piltover’s greed and exploitation of Zaun, and the way different characters respond to that, is at the core of the plot.
Both characters and story are fully fledged, and the dialogue is highly enjoyable, Arcane is entertaining to watch unfold, and plenty of people are already fans. If you are looking for something new and diverse it is definitely worth a try. If this doesn’t convince you to watch it- then maybe it isn’t for you.