Arcane: Animation at its finest

Jake Cruz, Writer / Video Editor / Producer

Over the last decade or so, there have been a handful of times when I convinced myself I would give League Of Legends a fair shake. Every time I would sit down behind the keyboard however, I would get lost in an overwhelmingly complex system that never melded with my playstyle. I have always admired the juggernaut that is Riot game’s flagship title. Every few years I find myself taking the time to admire the world that the Riot team have built around League of Legends. The world of Runeterra is a vast and storied one, with lore and characters that have been lovingly crafted by some of the most creative minds on the planet. It was always a shame to me that such a masterfully crafted world such as Runeterra was relegated to a competitive MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena). No shade to the genre, however it is not typically a genre that takes advantage of such tools. Luckily though, the world of Runeterra has made the transition to a new medium. This medium melds perfectly with the vision of Riot Games. 

The city of progress (Photo credit Netflix)

Arcane is a Netflix animated series that takes the viewer on a nine episode journey which sets a new bar for television animation. Utilizing a blend of CGI and hand drawn animation, Arcane effortlessly outshines any television animation released in 2021 (Invincible, The Bad Batch, Masters of The Universe: Revelation’s). Arcane’s visuals hit on another level that we have not seen the likes of since the 2018 film Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. The two civilizations, the overworld and the underworld, are brought to life with a clashingly distinctive vision. Every pixel is placed purposefully to enhance the viewers immersion into this aged world that has been brought to life with such passion. Any singular frame of this show can be singled out, printed, and hung on a wall. Arcane is a flowing, vibrant achievement for animation. Such an achievement might be enough for the show to skirt by and achieve modest success, however Riot did not spend years building up a roster of characters for nothing. 

League of Legends "Arcane": Story & Release Date | EarlyGame
Vi and Powder ( Credit to Netflix)

Arcane’s characters are all champions lifted directly out of a League Of Legends menu, as Arcane acts as an origin story for many of the fan favorite champions. While it could be easy for the viewer to be lost in all the world building; every character is rooted in emotion, every motivation resonates with the viewer. There should be no fear going in, that the show requires the viewer to have dedicated themselves to League of Legends in order to fully appreciate it. 

In fact, not having prior knowledge of exactly how these characters progress; how their narrative arcs unfold and develop, allowed me to develop alongside them. There were no preexisting notions of how they should be portrayed, only the wonder of where all this might take us. 

Jinx ( Photo credit Netflix)

For example, while I had no clue as to what the context behind her character was, I have always been hyper-aware of Jinx. Jinx is the blue haired sex appeal that was synonymous with League Of Legends at the height of its popularity. Honestly, I never gave it a second thought. The character felt incredibly derivative of the insanely popular character Harley Quinn with none of the substance. Yet that is where Arcane truly shines; it gives these nuanced characters a platform to come into their own and tell their stories.The narrative rollercoaster that Jinx embarks on from the opening moments of episode one, to the very last shot is told in truly masterful fashion. By the time the ninth episode cut to black, the show had built up a world full of varied distinctive personalities that I never wanted to part with. 

Vi ( Photo credit Netflix)

Arcane takes place during the height of tensions between the grand City of Piltover’s under and overworlds. It is the classic tale of division and classism that we all know too well. Tensions between the two groups are constantly running high, dialogue between characters paint a picture for how each group views the other. The themes of classism, and the treatment of the people of the underworld will not go over the heads of the audience. Yet, it does more than just harp on age old tropes of the powerful versus the powerless. It’s up to the viewer to decide in its final moments what the true message of Arcane is. Does it commit to the idea of abolition as a necessity or is it merely speaking to the inevitability of anarchy?

Arcane: League of Legends' wild trailer, Netflix release date revealed - Polygon
Action punch punch cool stuff (Credit to netflix)

No matter what one might take away from it, one thing is clear; Arcane is yet another masterpiece coming out of Netflix this year. There is nothing quite like it on either a visual or narrative level in television animation, and despite its roots in a storied franchise it has been tailor-made to welcome in a new generation of fans.