Arcane: a trailblazer for video game adaptations

Arcane promotional poster – Netflix

When Riot Games (working alongside Fortiche Productions, a French animation studio) announced Arcane, an animated series based on League of Legends, in October 2019, reactions took form in uneasy questions and uncertainty. Previous video game adaptations were notorious for their fair share of problems, ranging from underwhelming plots to inaccurate or dry characterization. At the time of the announcement, I chose to remain optimistic. Though the show was delayed due to the pandemic, trailers and teasers kept me sated until the first three episodes finally premiered on November 6.

Sitting on my couch that Saturday night, I knew Riot had high expectations to meet. Arcane had the herculean task of developing and integrating multiple storylines, exploring the tensions between the affluent city of Piltover and its oppressed undercity, Zaun. The series also promised to expand upon the lore of playable League champions while introducing new, non-champion characters to supplement its novel plot. I worried that, in an attempt to cover everything, the series would leave me with nothing. 

Yet, when all nine episodes had finally been released two weeks later, I was already eagerly awaiting a second season. The animation style is the best I have seen since Into the Spider-Verse; Fortiche and Riot blended 2D and 3D mediums to create a fresh, visually appealing style filled with many details I missed on my first watch. Whether it’s the initial descent into the undercity or an intense fight, each scene is fluid and satisfying. No champion or character feels neglected; all are fleshed-out with their own backstories and motivations and have their roles to play in the larger story. Silco’s characterization, in particular, creates one of the greatest antagonists in any series. The writers avoid overused tropes and generic, one-dimensional motivations to craft a villain that is unusually human; in part of Silco’s fatherly moments with Jinx and genuine character development and growth, I found myself rooting for him at times.

What I did not expect, however, was the show tackling a queer relationship. Vi and Caitlyn meet in episode 4, forming an unlikely bond, and throughout the remaining episodes their feelings for each other blossom. Too often, queer representation feels like an afterthought, but Caitlyn and Vi’s relationship is beautifully intertwined into the series—their connections deepen without taking over the main plot, and their moments of comfort after intense sequences provide an amazing balance, creating a genuine, developed relationship. 

The voice actors and actresses deliver incredible personalities to their roles; Ella Purnell’s performance embodies Jinx’s insanity, guilt, and trauma, while Hailee Steinfeld perfectly encapsulates Vi’s brash, reckless, yet tender and caring nature. The soundtrack is diverse—including violin solos by Ray Chen, the gritty punk rock of PVRIS, and the indie-style of Imagine Dragons—and each song fits its scene beautifully. 

Arcane is an animated masterpiece with the potential to reshape video game adaptations.

Most importantly, the series requires no previous knowledge of League of Legends lore to understand or appreciate; the major plot points are clear. Whether it be Vi’s search for her sister, Viktor and Jayce’s Hextech endeavors, or Caitlyn’s exploration and slow understanding of the undercity, each story is well-developed, all woven together in a path that is easy to follow. 

Put simply, Arcane is an animated masterpiece with the potential to reshape video game adaptations. Gut-wrenching and tragic, yet not lacking in the intimacy of heartfelt moments, anyone can appreciate its plot, characters, and underlying messages. With the ninth episode concluding on a cliffhanger and and a second season already in production, the future of Riot Games, League of Legends, and animation appear bright.