Arcane: League of Legends – Season 1 Review

Rating:

Arcane Works Like a Charm

Main Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Ella Purnell, Mia Sinclair Jenness, Kevin Alejandro, Jason Spisak
Created by:
Christian Linke and Alex Yee

Jinx:Are we… still sisters?
Vi:Nothing is ever going to change that.

“The Monster You Created” (Arcane Season 1, Episode 9)

League of Legends is one of the world’s most popular video games. It has been the focus of Esport tournaments, inspired thirty official songs with accompanying music videos, and is now an animated series on Netflix. Arcane: League of Legends shows the backstories for several of the game’s Champions, focusing on sisters caught on opposite sides as two cities inch closer to war.

Can Arcane follow in Castlevania’s footsteps as a good video game adaptation or will it get Jinxed? Let’s find out.

The Good

Choose Your Champions

Viktor:When you’re going to change the world, don’t ask for permission.

“Some Mysteries Are Better Left Unsolved” (Arcane Season 1, Episode 2)

League of Legends has more than one hundred playable characters, but its Arcane prequel chose to start small with only nine.

Vi and Powder are sisters who were orphaned when their parents died during an uprising. Vi is protective of her skittish sister, who their friends claim is a jinx because she keeps screwing things up. They kick off the series by pulling a heist that brings military attention to their home. A tragedy during the first act’s climax separates them.

Parallel to Vi and Powder’s story viewers meet Jayce, a young inventor on the verge of scientifically harnessing magic. Their heist exposes his work to the city government, and he is censured for his dangerous research. At his lowest point, an ambitious and sickly student named Viktor offers to help Jayce prove that it can be done.

There is a several year timeskip after the first arc. Powder is now a psychotic anarchist calling herself Jinx. After she commits a bombing that kills several police officers, a by-the-book cop named Caitlyn recruits Vi to help catch her sister. 

Jayce and Viktor have also moved up in the world thanks to their Hextech and a new transport system called Hexgates. An overconfident Jayce is lured into a treacherous political environment. Viktor resents waiting in the wings and desperately continues their research despite learning that he has a terminal disease.

A Tale of Two Cities

Mrs. Kiramman:You’re a Councilor’s daughter! Your actions reflect on the entire body.
Caitlyn:My actions?! You know what else reflects on the Council? Its citizens living on the streets! Being poisoned! Having to choose between a kingpin who exploits them and a government that doesn’t give a shit!

“Oil and Water” (Arcane Season 1, Episode 8)

Arcane‘s main characters are important, but there is almost more focus on the divide between the gleaming capital of Piltover and its impoverished sister city, Zaun.

Piltover is one of the only cities in the world to shun magic for science. Its wealthy citizens are ruled by an aristocratic Council of influential families. The elite maintain control through Enforcers, police who double as an army and have no problem getting rough with criminals.

Piltover treats the Undercity of Zaun as its slum, home to outcasts, criminals, addicts, and the desperate. The Zaunites unsuccessfully rebelled against Piltover in a bid for independence during the backstory. This tight-knit community is banded around Vander, a peace-seeking pillar of the community, and Silco, a drug kingpin and would-be revolutionary.

The timeskip changes the two cities. Hextech-powered devices bring Piltover fame and power, but also lead other countries to try persuading the Council to give them Hextech weaponry of their own. Meanwhile, Zaun has deteriorated, with much of the populace addicted to a drug called Shimmer, Silco ruling them with an iron fist, and multiple crime lords plotting against him.

Get Jinxed

[Silco has benched Jinx for killing a woman during a heist. She is hallucinating]
Jinx:
It wasn’t her. It wasn’t! I know, j-just some wannabe street trash. I just got confused, that’s all! Now… he thinks…I’m weak. “Sevika will clean it up.” Sevika’s a regular Johnny-on-the-Spot! I’m not weak. And I’ll prove it to him.”

“Happy Progress Day!” (Arcane Season 1, Episode 4)

The approaching war between Piltover and Zaun and various character schemes are important, but the plot’s core focus is Jinx’s escapades.

As Powder, she kickstarted the plot by causing Jayce’s prototype to explode, drawing attention to Vi’s gang and exposing his research. Her friends often called her a jinx for screwing up, leaving her desperate to prove herself. Powder buckled as pressure built, culminating in a tragedy that left her alone and easy for Silco to recruit. 

Jinx became Silco’s best agent and latched on to him as a father figure. She blew up a building as a diversion and stole Hextech. The attack caused tensions between Zaun and Piltover to skyrocket. Caught between Silco’s manipulation, Vi’s appeals to their past as she hunted her sister, and hallucinations whispering in her ear, whose side will she choose?

Jinx’s trauma and mental instability get a lot of screen time. As a child, she was prone to meltdowns and very co-dependent. As an adult, she’s paranoid, prone to flashbacks, suffers frequent audio/visual hallucinations, and will lash out at anything that triggers her. That’s not a great combination for a person who loves explosives and carries a portable mini-gun everywhere she goes.

Music of Legends

Kiss your perfect day goodbye
Because the world is on fire
Tuck your innocence goodnight
You sold your friends like guns for hire
Go play with your blocks
And now you’ll pay when these walls come tumbling down
Oh, they’re tumbling down

“Guns For Hire” by Woodkid

Arcande’s plots and characters are great, but the series is elevated by an amazing soundtrack. It almost reminds me of a grittier version of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s soundtrack, and that was good enough to make our list of the Top 5 Modern Superhero Soundtracks.

Piltover scenes feature sweeping scores like “A Bicentennial” and “Our Hextech Dream.” Zaun has darker tracks such as “Welcome to The Lanes” and “Is There Anything So Endearing as a Daughter?” Meanwhile, the main characters have more personal songs, including “This City Needs Healing” and “You’re Perfect.”

Several vocal songs complement emotional scenes. Ramsey’s “Goodbye” makes the tragedy’s aftermath even worse, while Woodkid’s “Guns for Hire” plays over an utterly gorgeous escape. They’re not all mellow tracks, as evidenced by Denzel Curry, Gizzle, and Bran Joy’s “Dynasties and Dystopia”, an excellent rap song that plays under a heavily-stylized fight scene. The standout of the soundtrack is “What Could Have Been”, where Sting’s vocals, Ray Chen’s violins, and a cliffhanger meld into a haunting finale.

Arcane’s theme song “Enemy” deserves special mention. This catchy number by Imagine Dragons and JID plays over the opening credits and is featured in one of the episodes as Vi wanders Zaun on her way to a fight. The band appears in-universe playing the song before the brawl starts up. The official music video features the animated band alongside Powder and Vi’s gang, giving them a bit more characterization.

Fun Fact: Despite not being part of the soundtrack, there’s a scene where Jinx is working on a new weapon while rocking out to “Get Jinxed”, her League of Legends theme song.

The Bad

Plot Armor

Ekko:You’d be surprised what you can pull off when your life depends on it.

“The Monster You Created” (Arcane Season 1, Episode 9)

While Arcane isn’t canon to League of Legends, it is still a prequel for all intents and purposes. That wouldn’t be a problem except for the bane of all prequels: Plot Armor.

The show explores how several Champions reached their positions in the game. This means that they can’t die because they still need to become those characters. Much of the main cast is trapped in a scenario where certain things must happen to get them to that point, meaning attempts to end conflicts are doomed from the start and there is little tension in dangerous situations.

Most supporting characters aren’t inherently safe, but they also have no safety net. They could survive and go somewhere else or they could be marching to the metaphorical guillotine to explain why they aren’t around in the game.

Ironically, Arcane turned this weakness into a strength by appealing to newcomers. If someone watches the show blind, they don’t know who is and isn’t guarded by Plot Armor. Meanwhile, longtime fans can enjoy watching how their favorite characters evolve.

The Verdict

Arcane is excellent, a skillfully made show with stellar voice acting, great action, and more drama than you could aim a minigun at. There’s not a bad episode in the bunch and its only weakness is an unavoidable meta problem. Arcane rivals Castlevania for the title of best videogame adaptation on Netflix and is worth your time.

Related posts

Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Netflix Dates emailed free to you every week