For years fans have been wondering when the hell League of Legends developer Riot would make an animated series. It seemed inevitable. Previously, the studio created stunning animated shorts to promote everything from new characters to esports tournaments. And with an ever-increasing focus on expanding LeagueStorytelling, something that is difficult to do within the confines of a team-based strategy game, a show made perfect sense. Now, it’s real, with a nine-episode series called Arcane. The best part: not only is it a lot of fun, but you don’t have to know anything about League to enter it.
Arcane is set (primarily) in a city called Piltover from the very beginning, which is on the brink of a major change that could affect the entirety of Runeterra’s fantasy realm – a couple of scientists are discovering a way to harness the dangerous power of the magic to use on everything from weapons to tools to transportation. Against this backdrop, the show follows a handful of characters throughout the city. Things start with a street kid named Vi who leads a small gang to a big score, and heads uptown to steal some expensive-looking gadgets. The heist naturally goes wrong and ends with some crystals exploding. The perspective then shifts to people like the aforementioned scientists and an underworld kingpin with many scars and a great grudge.
The good of ArcaneThe world of fantasy and steampunk is that it is quite easy to understand. The show doesn’t waste time with big story dumps, nor does it expect you to already know who these characters are. Vi, for example, is one of Leaguemost popular characters, but the show primarily serves as an origin story for her and a few others. For fans, it’s a good chance to see how some of these characters came to be, you even learn about Vi’s iconic gauntlets, but for everyone else, they introduce you to interesting people at a crucial time in their lives. No prior knowledge is required.
It helps that the story is relatively straightforward. There is nothing about Arcane which I would call new or revolutionary. It’s a pretty typical fantasy tale that is very well done. The villains are intimidating, the potential heroes are messy and easy to identify, the action is extremely satisfying to watch, and everything moves at a rapid pace. The best Arcane what it has going for it is how elegant it looks. Each frame looks like a beautiful piece of hand-painted concept art; in motion, it is unlike anything I have ever seen. It is also a world that feels lived and fully realized. Piltover’s slums have a toxic green look (police officers even wear masks when venturing inside), while the upper levels are light, airy, and luxurious. I especially loved all the weird mechanical creations that help keep the city alive and bustling. What I’m saying is, after watching the first few episodes, I want a Arcane art book ASAP.
One of the coolest things about the show is how it will be released. It’s not an all-you-can-see binge festival, nor do the episodes drop weekly. Instead of, Arcane use something of a hybrid format. The nine episodes are divided into chapters and will be released as three-episode packs over the course of three weeks. (It is reminiscent of the experimental Netflix experience Stree of feart horror movie trilogy.) For the first chapter, at least, it works well because all three episodes have their own clear arc, while episode four starts some time later, although that’s all I’ve seen so far.
Early, Arcane walk a fine line. It is both a tribute and an introduction to a vast fantasy realm that has been around for a decade and has millions of fans. Those viewers will find a story with some exciting Easter eggs and a deeper look at characters that have been around for years. A surprisingly exciting adventure awaits everyone else that doesn’t skimp on style. Really, the most jarring thing for newcomers might be whether they are inspired to play. League of Legends in itself, which is decidedly lacking in the flair and speed that make the show work so well.