Julien Neaves, Editor
Preamble: My brother-in-law recommended I watch Arcane: League of Legends on Netflix. So I watched the first three episodes and I wondered what all the fuss was about. It seemed like a generic steampunk fantasy video game adaptation. Then I saw my fellow reviewer Matthew Bailey of Beers, Beats and Bailey raving about it, and I was like, “I don’t get it.”
But then I watched Episode 4 and I was like, “Oh! THIS is what you guys were talking about.” After a slow burn start Arcane goes on to become one of the best animated shows on Netflix.
Plot: A prequel to multiplayer online battle arena game League of Legends, Arcane follows sisters Vi and Powder who scrape out a life in the squalid streets of “The Lanes” while their neighbours in the advanced city of Piltover live in the lap of luxury. Then a discovery by a brash young scientist named Jayce has major consequences for both cities and the sisters as well.
Review: The animation style is quite unique. There is a deep, bright colour palette with a splashy look reminiscent of water colours. Both the blinding decadence of Piltover and the gaudy decline of the Lanes are masterfully brought to life. They feel lived-in and tangible. Sure the old “rich city, poor city” dichotomy it is a long worn literary trope but Arcane does enough to make their story stand out.
The series also boasts a compelling cast of interesting characters. Now I have never played the game and I didn’t feel like I needed to as the show takes time and care to craft and flesh out its band of heroes and villains. Vi and Powder are the main characters and both are intriguing. Vi (voiced admirably by singer/actress Hailee Steinfeld) is a gritty, street smart fighter with a big heart while Powder (SPOILER ALERT STARTS) goes from odd child to the totally unhinged, bomb-loving, gatling gun toting, murderous psychopath called “Jinx”. They could have easily gone Joker with her characterisation but she is her own kind of insane and it is so much fun to watch (SPOILER ALERT ENDS).
And the other characters are no slouches either. From the single-minded Jayce to politician Mel to haunted Viktor to sharpshooter Caitlyn to wise old Heimerdinger there are a lot of interesting folks ‘round these parts, each with their shades of light and darkness. Even the villain Silco has a layered persona and a legitimate reason for the horrible things he does. One of my favourite characters is actually one who never speaks—a black council member with a constantly moving mechanical neck piece, an accoutrement I find endlessly fascinating.
The story is a complex one with multiple storylines and factions but the writing is whip smart and it never gets confusing or overbearing. And the action? It is fan-freaking-tastic. We have powered gauntlets, monstrous Shimmer warriors, a science/magic-powered hammer, hoverboard renegades, various guns and lots and lots of bombs. The set-pieces are fast-paced, bloody and breathtaking while grounded with actual emotional stakes.
And speaking of blood, the series earns its 16+ rating with brutal violence, extremely dark moments, adult situations, and profanity. The only thing it doesn’t show is nudity though it comes close. So it definitely puts the “adult” in adult animated series.
After nine episodes I have joined my brother-in-law and Matthew in singing the praises of Arcane. And after a gripping Season 1 cliffhanger I am fully game for the confirmed Season 2.
Editor Jules’s Score: 9 out of 10
And you can check out more great Netflix video game adaptations below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.