Produced by Riot Games, Arcane is a nine-episode animated series that frankly, feels as though it's ended too quickly. Compelling characters, a fantasy world backdrop that incorporates old and new ideas into its breadth, interesting themes, and ultimately centering this conflict of nations and political ideals around ultimately, what can be considered a broken family. So let's get right into it!
Centering around a poignant conflict between two nations, the official city-state of Piltover, a society built on progress, technological advancement, and civil understanding, and the unofficial 'Zaun', a hive-esque undercity compromised of criminals, crooks, gangsters, and thieves of all kinds, Arcane takes us directly into the heart of this relatively localized conflict. Already, Riot has pulled a rather pragmatic and intelligent move by not centering their League of Legends animated property around one of the world-shaking wars or events that occur in their lore. Rather, by setting this tale between two cities, they are able to establish a proper foundation that gives us an understanding for how expansive and brilliant this world is, without overdoing it and entering too many overwhelming elements too quickly. On a story-basis, it already has an extensive canvas.
Arcane's strength comes not from its story elements, its fantastical mysticism in the form of Shimmer, a drug that can transform individuals into monsters, or the Hextech plotline that revolves around magic and science melding together to provide advancement for all of Piltover. Rather, it comes from the characters who are intrinsically involved with these changes. There's our two main protagonists, Vi and Powder (later Jinx), a pair of Undercity sisters that eventually become separated through tragic circumstance. In the process, the pair lose all their close friends aside from each other, and Jinx is led to believe her sister abandoned her by the ruthless crime-lord Silco, who desires a sovereign Zaun free of Piltoverian control. Meanwhile, Vi is imprisoned, but eventually released and embarks on an adventure to recover her sister. Their sisterly rivalry is the focal point of this story. Originally, the two sisters are under the mentorship of the kindly Vander, the Undercity boss by the time this story begins. However, Vander is usurped by Silco, a far more brutal and pragmatic man. Silco's character is... complex. Brilliantly so. At first, one could be mistaken for believing he's simply another eye-scarred antagonist hellbent on killing and maiming anyone for power. But after his adoption of Jinx, we see him grow from just a monstrous power-hungry insurgent to someone with a soft-spot for his daughter. Being the main antagonist of this Season, we see him enact terrible atrocities, such as dispatching the awful Shimmer drug in the Undercity and forcing blocks of territory under his control. But in his interactions with Jinx, we see a kinder, more tolerant man. A man who believes truly in his daughter, and would never abandon her.
There's also the Piltover side of the story, centered around Jayce, an up and coming inventor who discovers the Hextech formula and provides massive improvements to Piltover's society and financial situation. Jayce has an interesting arc where he learns to question his morals and decisions after being forced to leverage his intellectual genius with the political games played by the Piltover ruling Council, but overall, his character is mostly that of a heroic, if not torn man seeking to do right in a world that often refuses to allow it. His best friend is someone I care about greatly character-wise, that being the dying Viktor. A scientist with idealistic intentions, Viktor's condition induces an agonizing, slow death for the man, one which he is desperate to stop via the discovery of science. There's also Heimerdinger, the Piltover Council's Head up until his saddening removal at Jayce's hand, Mel; Jayce's love interest and exile from her own Noble House, but more pertinently; Caitlyn Kiramman. Starting as Jayce's apprentice and assistant to his scientific endeavors, Caitlyn becomes a central character as she works to uncover Silco's iron grasp on the Undercity and his continual strikes against Piltover in his incessant attempts to form the nation of Zaun. Now, there are many obvious hints throughout the series of Caitlyn and Vi having a budding relationship as their story progresses, and amazingly, it's done well! The characters have far more to themselves besides their sexual identities, and even their relationship is built slowly and over time, rather than an instantaneous or sporadic occurrence with no rhyme or reason.
Arcane also acts as a friendly entrance into the wider lore of Runeterra, or League of Legends. Whilst there are many references and characters who become playable warriors in the highly popular fighting game, all of them are still at their origination point and moving through events that would culminate in their becoming the fighters we know them as today.
To say that Arcane is one of 2021's best productions is an understatement. It contains emotional pain, a story of political stratification, technological advancement at the cost of one's humanity, and so many more themes, messages, and ideals in only nine episodes. Frankly, I was hungering for more. The animators, the voice actors, the world... it just comes together in this perfect recipe of good television. A 10/10, easily. Bravo to Riot. Whilst I still may not play the League of Legends game, Arcane is an excellent introduction into the lore of the world they've created, and now I'm fully invested.