Series Review - Arcane (2021)
When it was announced that a League of Legends animated series would be coming to Netflix, I was worried about how they would adapt the characters into a serialized story. As a player of the game for over six years now, I was worried Arcane would go the route of Warcraft, relying heavily on Easter eggs and fanservice for those that have played the game and know the lore.
You can imagine my surprise when I got to the end of the third episode and realized it may be the best new series to come out of 2021.
Created by Riot Games’ creative director, Christian Linke, and their creative designer, Alex Yee, Arcane adapts the story of the rich industrial pioneers of Piltover and their poorer, crime-ridden underground, Zaun.
The series follows sisters Vi and Powder as they attempt to climb their way out of the gutters they were born in. The two, along with help from their family, head to Piltover in hopes of stealing valuables to hopefully give themselves a better life. However, in the process they nearly ruin the career of Piltover Academy student Jayce Tallis, and become noticed by the the villainous Silco who wishes to control Zaun and propel it into the future. This one event causes a ripple effect that could change Piltover and Zaun forever.
The writing for this series is almost too good to be true. The amount of care given to every character, especially those from the game is absolutely wild. Arcane was able to make me a fan of characters I had known for years but never had a real connection to. I find myself suddenly wanting to pick up Ekko and Jayce for the first time ever, and if that isn’t a sign of good Arcane is, I don’t know what else I could say. The entire writing team knocked it out of the park.
Riot’s art and animation team has always been top notch, with the game’s cinematics in recent years causing fans to clamor for an animated series or film. Arcane feels like concept art come to life. The combination of 3D and 2D animation feels like the next step-up after Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse. The level of artistry at play with this series is astounding. it all feels like the culmination of years of work spent refining this style and direction.
Speaking of the direction, the camera direction and framing were consistently a high point of the series. Nearly every single shot could be a work of art on its own. The choice to have the “camera” movements more grounded to reality as if there were an actual camera man following the characters makes the audience feel as if they are there among the action.
The consistency in style also allows the jump cuts whenever Jinx is on screen, to display her decaying mental state to feel even more abrupt and jarring, with her psyche seemingly breaking the flow of the scene.
While directors Pascal Chaurre and Arnaud Delord deserve plenty of credit, the entirety of Riot’s art team and Fortiche’s animation team crafted one of the most visually distinct animated series to come out of the West. I will be excitedly awaiting Fortiche’s next work (assuming they aren’t already at work on a second season).
While the animation team pulls the majority of the weight when it comes to the appeal of the series, I would be lying if I didn’t say the voice acting is top notch.
Hailee Steinfeld (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, When Marnie was There) captures Vi’s anger through her desire for more than she has makes it easy to be on her side throughout the series. Even in the character’s missteps, her performance allowed me to sympathize with Vi.
Katie Leung plays what is probably the most morally good character in Arcane, Caitlin. The daughter of a rich household that wants nothing more than to make her own name for herself and help wherever she can, Leung is able to bring a level of compassion to Caitlin that is not truly there in any other performance. You can feel the kindness in Caitlin heart, even if it is buried in sarcasm when she is beside Steinfeld’s Vi.
Jason Spisak (Young Justice, Green Lantern: the Animated Series) revels in his role as the villainous Silco, chewing up the scenery every moment he is on screen. Spisak has had villainous roles before, but Silco is the first that that he’s truly been able to shine in. The way he plays off the rest of the cast, particularly JB Blanc’s Vandor, only adds to Silco’s intimidating atmosphere.
Jayce is Kevin Alejandro’s first role in an animated series, and I am certain he’ll have a bright future in voice over after Arcane. His scenes, especially those alongside Harry Lloyd’s Viktor, are some of the best in the whole series. Lloyd’s Viktor acts as the altruistic/sympathetic of the two, especially as Jayce’s intentions are morphed by his pride.
The differences between the two are reflected perfectly in the tone of voice the two carry in their stand out moments. with Alejandro consistently holding this loud and proud voice, even in Jayce’s darker moments.
To contrast, Lloyd’s softer voice for Viktor adds to Viktor’s desire to stay out of the spotlight. He only wants to further his designs to help people, and Lloyd captures that through his performance.
Despite his limited screen time, Reed Shannon kills it as Ekko. If it weren’t for the other powerhouse performances alongside him, Shannon would easily steal the show.
However, it is Ella Purnell’s performance as Jinx/Powder that is the best of the show. Purnell captures Jinx’s broken mind perfectly with her constantly shifting mannerisms and vocal pitch, allowing Jinx to constantly feel as if she is one terrifying moment away from disaster. While I am likely biased since Jinx was the character I was most excited to see in the series, Purnell went above and beyond as her.
Arcane is a masterpiece. I never thought we would get a video game adaptation to rival Powerhouse’s Castelvania, yet here we are. I hope that the West realizes with series like Arcane that animation is for more than just kids series and adult sitcoms. If you are a fan of fantasy, dramatic storytelling or complex character writing, Arcane might just be the perfect show for you. All nine episodes are currently available to stream on Netflix.