Arcane: an unexpected masterpiece

December 9 2021

Arcane: an unexpected masterpiece
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Arcane turned out to be one of the biggest, and best surprises League of Legends fans received this year.

If you’re involved in esports in any way, you probably have some knowledge of League of Legends. For a game that came out in 2009, it has come a very long way. While the League itself was already self-sustaining, the expansion of its world was inevitable. However, despite a lot of people asking for it, nobody expected an animated series to be the one to helm this expansion. On Netflix, no less.

Piltover’s Finest

“Welcome to the party, try the punch!” - Vi

Fans asking for an animated series that explores and deepens the lore of their favorite video game is not something new. But usually, those shows either don't get made or don't live up to the expectations. Arcane is here to show everyone that video game adaptations can smash through the highest expectations to the point of being considered as an all-time great.

As League of Legends wrote and scraped off its lore quite a few times, fans were getting restless. Much of the in-game dialogue and character interactions pointed towards lore existing behind the scenes, but Riot Games never really focused on it. When Vi joined the roster, she arrived with her own theme song with lyrics and connections to other characters. Vi was the Piltover Enforcer and the partner to our favorite Sheriff with a British accent, Caitlyn. Vi is shown to have a “punch everything” approach, supported by her Hextech Gauntlets, in strong contrast to Caitlyn’s calm and collected personality.

While this whole buddy cop trope seemed to be the end of it, a new character named Jinx was released nearly a year after Vi’s release. Like Vi, Jinx had her own theme song with lyrics and was, apparently, one of the biggest troublemakers in Piltover. The login screen background for Jinx was the exact same as Vi's, a view of Piltover but completely ruined. This implied a deeper connection between the two, other than them being on the different sides of the law.

Arcane League of Legends Jinx and Vi

Jinx and Vi find themselves in an unforgiving world with no one else to turn to. (Image: Riot Games)

Further clues were given in Jinx’s dialogue, where she calls herself all sorts of insane but mentions if we think she’s crazy, we should see “her sister.” Fans were quick to recognize Vi as the sister in question. Jinx and Vi, being sisters, with Caitlyn in the picture, already had fascinating implications about these characters and the relationship between Piltover and Zaun.

This was back in 2013. Sounds weird, I know. But Riot Games claims that even after Arcane was pitched, it took nearly six years until the first episode was released. Since 2013, many new champions have been added to the game, each having their own story and relation to other characters. After all these years, Arcane brings us to Runeterra through the story of the troubled sisters, Vi and Jinx.

Secrets of the Undercity

“I’m on the case.” - Caitlyn

Arcane does something incredible to everyone’s surprise and does not solely rely on League of Legends. The way Arcane tells its story makes it quite obvious that this is not a “fan service” type of show where all you see is your favorite characters making their signature moves. You know, the Marvel approach. Instead, Arcane tells its own story, sets its own tone, and doesn’t try to check boxes that would make League of Legends players happy.

While Arcane seems to be focused on the story of two sisters who grew up in terrible conditions, it really tells the story of two cities. Piltover, the City of Progress, and the Undercity are the show’s main settings. Watching Arcane, you know that the world of Runeterra is much bigger than the cast of characters we follow. It’s not hard to see that the writers were meticulous in making the cities more than cardboard backgrounds to these characters. The whole story revolves around the situation Piltover and the Undercity are in.

Arcane League of Legends Council of Piltover

The Council of Piltover with an obvious condescending attitude. (Image: Netflix)

Piltover is the self-proclaimed city of progress. They have access to incredible technology, and they are constantly working to improve and innovate. Thanks to their advanced tech and organized leadership, Piltover is also a large trade hub, which brings a lot of money to be spent on further experiments and development. Meanwhile, Undercity, as the name implies, is the desolate underground city where everyone’s on their own and every day is a fight for survival. There isn’t any organized leadership; there are only the people who are strong enough for everyone to fear and respect. In Piltover, being a scholar or a noble is deemed important and respected. In Undercity, only the strong survive, and people are not above not killing their fellow Undercity dwellers to live to see another day.

Residents of Undercity mostly deal in criminal activities for a living. Having a rich city like Piltover right across the bridge causes them to steal from the citizens of Piltover frequently, which Piltover responds to by sending in Enforcers to either kill or apprehend these criminals. In time, this cycle has created an unhealthy amount of prejudice and made the residents of both cities despise each other. This hate is ingrained into every aspect of these people’s lives and is woven into each character's relationships.

Arcane manages to tell both sides of this story and the stories of many characters without making any of them feel like side or background characters. Vi, Powder (later Jinx), Jayce, Professor Heimerdinger, Mel, Viktor, Ekko, Silco, Vander… None of these characters feel like they are there to support the “main” characters. Arcane treats each of them as real people. These characters are introduced through the conditions they’re in and the hand life has dealt them. There are no good guys or bad guys, just people. Real people, with real problems such as hunger, disease, injury, and madness. The characters are relatable because most of them are not even larger than life. They’re people trying to survive.

Arcane is a great video game adaptation because it does not expect you to know anything beforehand. Arcane aims to be a good show, not just a good adaptation. 

You’re a Jinx

"What if I had a gun that... shot other guns?" - Jinx

Okay. We’ve got the background (and my praises) for Arcane out of the way. Let’s talk about the characters and how they compare to their League counterparts.

Vi, short for Violet, is an orphan of the Piltover-Undercity conflict. Voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, Vi has a hot-headed personality and usually tries to solve problems by punching them. Thanks to her in-your-face personality—as everyone keeps reminding her—she usually blocks incoming attacks with her face. Quite in line with her League version. However, Arcane goes deeper and tells us why and how an Undercity brawler like Vi would end up on the other side of the law, becoming an enforcer of Piltover no less. Trying to survive with her rag-tag band of young bandits that includes her sister Powder, Mylo (Yuri Lowenthal), and Claggor (Roger Craig Smith, Mirage in Apex Legends); Vi finds herself at the center of a huge clash between Piltover and Undercity because of her sister.

Jinx (previously Powder), another orphan of the same conflict and younger sister of Vi, is an introverted child who’s fascinated by clockwork mechanisms. Voiced by Mia Sinclair Jenness and Ella Purnell as Powder and Jinx, respectively. Powder is younger than the rest of the group and constantly tries to live up to their standards. While Vi and Claggor are understanding and helpful, Mylo constantly bullies Powder for not trying hard enough and implies that she’s only in the group because she’s Vi’s sister. Suffering emotional abuse, Powder starts to feel guilty and tries to prove that she’s just as capable as the others by making clockwork explosives. However, her inventions constantly fail to work, which further empowers her guilt and weakens her resolve. To avoid spoilers, I won’t talk about the process that turns her into Jinx. Still, the way Arcane handles Powder’s mental health throughout the series was very impressive both visually and narratively.

Arcane League of Legends Jinx

Jinx is also an inventor, albeit a bit different from the other inventors in the show. (Image: Netflix)

Vander is a reformed man. Voiced by JB Blanc (who voices Braum in League of Legends and Caustic in Apex Legends, among other roles,) he is the de facto leader of the Undercity. His fighting days are over, and he believes doing things by the book is safer, especially for the kids under his care: Vi and Powder. Vander is not a character from League of Legends but is strongly implied to be one down the road.

Mel Medarda (a show-only character voiced by Toks Olagundoye) is a mysterious member of the Piltover Council who takes an interest in Jayce and his work. She lives in her family’s shadow, so it’s quite challenging to figure out her endgame. 

Jayce Talis, not yet known as the Defender of Tomorrow and voiced by Kevin Alejandro, is a young experimental scientist during the events of Arcane. He’s an open-minded young man who was once saved by a mysterious figure who used magic. He now wants to use Piltover’s advanced technology to summon magic and combine the two into what the League players know today as Hextech. Jayce wants his inventions to help everyone and improve the lives of both Piltover and the Undercity. But he is also from one of the prominent houses of Piltover and harbors an inherent disdain towards the Undercity despite his core beliefs. Jayce is drawn into the events of Arcane because Vi’s group robs his house, thanks to the info they got from a little kid called Ekko.

Arcane League of Legends Vander and Powder

Vander tries to cheer up Powder with her favorite drink. (Image: Netflix)

Ekko, voiced by Miles Brown and Reed Shannon, is a young boy from the Undercity who’s also fascinated with clockwork mechanisms. He’s friends with Vi’s group and played with Powder during their childhood. He’s good at hiding in tight places and eavesdropping on conversations. He helps Vi’s group on multiple occasions, thanks to his abilities.

Viktor (not yet the Machine Herald and voiced by Harry Lloyd of Game of Thrones fame) is a young man with chronic health problems. He’s a genius inventor from Undercity who made it to the other side of the bridge and made himself a name in Piltover. He stumbles upon Jayce’s research and is fascinated by it, causing the two to join forces to create Hextech despite warnings from Professor Heimerdinger.

Heimerdinger, voiced by Mick Wingert, is a Yordle inventor revered by everyone in Piltover. He’s known to be at least 300 years old and shares his wisdom with the up-and-coming inventors of Piltover. He claims magic is inherently dangerous and not to be messed with, even to help other people. Professor Heimerdinger (a portmanteau of Oppenheimer and Schrödinger) thinks the risks magic brings are far greater than the good it will achieve. His wisdom is beyond anyone’s in Piltover, but Piltover’s a city that looks towards the future, and sometimes, an older person is not what the city wants to listen to.

Vi and Caitlyn Arcane League of Legends

Pictured: Definitely just two very good friends. (Image: Netflix)

Caitlyn Kiramman, voiced by Mollie Harris as her young version and later by Katie Leung of Harry Potter fame, is a detective in Piltover’s Police Force. She’s from one of the biggest noble houses in Piltover, and her mother is a council member. Thanks to her status, she lives a privileged life but doesn’t like it. She wants to do actual work—live a real person’s life—but is constantly prevented by her mother. She’s also close friends with Jayce since their childhood. Through her detective work, she figures out something unseen is happening in Piltover and the Undercity. Her search for the truth crosses her path with Vi’s, a fact that makes a lot of League players very happy. 

And there is Silco, another show-only character, voiced by Jason Spisak. Silco is a man who wants Undercity to prosper, but his methods are questionable at best. He has an underground organization where he produces a drug named Shimmer, created by a scientist called Singed. When consumed in large portions, Shimmer grants incredible speed and strength to the user at the cost of their physical and mental health. When administered with Shimmer, the subject becomes a zombie-like creature that’s conscious enough to receive orders. Silco plans to use Shimmer to overpower Piltover while creating countless Shimmer addicts in the Undercity. 

Arcane League of Legends Singed's lab

For Singed, the ends justify the means. Even if it costs lives. (Image: Netflix)

My Friend Across the Bridge

"Order, entropy; a never-ending cycle." - Professor Heimerdinger

Arcane creates an incredible atmosphere and immersion by combining a fantastic soundtrack and Studio Fortiche’s impeccable visual design. While the overall score is nothing to write home about, the specific songs chosen for certain set pieces elevate the whole sequence. As Riot Games’ long-time collaborators, Imagine Dragons once again make an appearance. This time also literally. You can see the animated version of Imagine Dragons in one of the episodes as a band performing in the Undercity. Other than Imagine Dragons, the soundtrack includes the amazing talents of Bea Miller, BONUS UK, Woodkid, and Sting, among others. 

Arcane League of Legends Piltover

The Piltover landscape with a Hexgate, created with Jayce’s efforts. (Image: Netflix)

Visually, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Arcane is one of the best-animated shows ever. Studio Fortiche had done multiple shorts for League of Legends before, which caused a lot of players to ask for an animated series, and boy did they deliver. Arcane being an adult-oriented, serious show is supported by outstanding visual design and direction. Fortiche manages to build realistic fights in a fantasy setting by using long takes, actually showing characters taking damage, and using inspired camera movement. It gave me the same feeling of joy when I first watched Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The show manages to convey the energy and the feelings of each character perfectly. Fights are built around characters and their stories, not around their skills in League of Legends.

As I mentioned above, narratively, Arcane treats its characters equally. But what makes Arcane a great show is the fact that it treats show-only characters with the same importance as the game characters. Characters such as Mel Medarda, Vander, and Silco are not there just as tools to advance the stories of the League characters. On the contrary, all three increasingly become essential to the overarching plot and have a real impact on the world.

Conclusion

 "To the skies!" - Jayce

Arcane breaks through the terrible video game adaptations tradition like Vi breaks through walls. It throws us not into the stories of a few characters from a video game but the story from one part of a huge world. Runeterra is a massive world with lots of stories that can be adapted into animated series for further seasons of Arcane. Arcane focuses on Piltover and the Undercity for the time being, but as Jayce and the Council of Piltover constantly say, there’s a big world out there waiting to be explored.

There’s Ionia with its ninjas, samurais, and mystic arts. There’s the neverending dispute between Noxus and Demacia. There’s the Void with its Watchers and their many secrets. There’s Freljord, an ice-cold tundra with fierce warriors and Void-touched Iceborn. There’s the unforgiving desert of Shurima with its Ascended warriors and deities. There’s the mighty Targon Mountain with Solari and Lunari Orders… and Braum.

Arcane League Legend Caitlyn closeup

Caitlyn, a citizen of Piltover, goes through a culture shock after seeing the Undercity. (Image: Netflix)

Arcane is having an effect similar to the one Avatar the Last Airbender had on audiences. People are drawn to it regardless of their interest in League of Legends or even animated shows for that matter. Hopefully, Arcane will keep its quality in the following seasons and, thanks to its inclusive approach to storytelling, will bring in a bigger audience. Personally, I can’t wait to see a season of Arcane about Diana and Leona’s relationship.

With its adult tone and perfectly balanced fan service moments, Arcane offers a great all-around experience with moments that you’ll want to rewatch several times. The only downside of this show is that it sets the bar incredibly high for its future seasons and other similar shows. Let’s all hope that Arcane’s quality leads to more high-quality shows and great video game adaptations in the future.

If you’re interested in trying out League of Legends after watching Arcane, try using G-Loot app to quickly improve your performance and become a powerful player in no time.

See you on the Summoner’s Rift.

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Barış Tekin author picture

Barış Tekin
Content Writer

Cat Whisperer, Fight Choreographer, Retired Stuntman, Semi-pro Voice Actor. I dream of a world where Wattson mains can be happy.