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HomeEntertainment‘Arcane’ Achieves Its Ambitions: A Mid-Arcane Review

‘Arcane’ Achieves Its Ambitions: A Mid-Arcane Review

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Video game company Riot Games released the long-awaited television series “Arcane” on Nov. 6. The series expands on the lore surrounding multiple characters in their hit video game League of Legends. 

Set in the divided region of Piltover and Zaun, “Arcane” does not take narrative risks but does well to provide great emotional weight and insight into its cast. At the heart of “Arcane” is conflict: the show takes advantage of the division between Piltover and Zaun — two cities that are part of the same region — and juxtaposes various character dynamics in it. Both cities are hallmarks of scientific innovation and commerce, though on opposite sides of the spectrum: Piltover and its people are some of the richest and well-educated individuals, living life comfortably in their gilded houses and institutions, whereas Zaun and its people thrive in the dangerous black market and pursue research that Piltover deems too dangerous. Piltover is the golden child, whereas Zaun is the black sheep — “Arcane” uses this same dynamic for main characters Powder and Violet.

The show’s protagonists are close sisters Powder and Violet, who grow up to become the beloved playable characters Jinx and Vi in League of Legends. They are known to be polar opposites: while Jinx uses her many guns to dish out damage from the backline, Vi uses her heavily armored fists to force her way as part of the frontline. 

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They share the same intrinsic talent for violence, which “Arcane” displays through Jinx’s knack for turning things towards violence, especially unintentionally, and Vi’s natural aggression and her raw fighting skill. In fact, a harrowing accident caused by Powder tears apart the sisters, with the accident resulting in deaths Vi blames her sister for. 

With Vi becoming an enforcer for Piltover and Jinx a dangerous Zaunite criminal, the sisters grow to symbolize each city through their use of violence: Vi eventually uses her violence to enforce peace — a symbol of Piltover’s apathy and cruelty towards Zaun — while Jinx uses her violence to wreak havoc, encapsulating the risk and danger which is part of daily Zaun life. “Arcane” illustrates their arc in a heart-breaking way, showing their seemingly unbreakable bond torn apart by misfortunes. 

Other characters share the stage with the sisters include a young Caitlyn, who grows up to be one of Piltover’s sheriffs; Jayce, a Piltovan scientist who hopes to harness magic; Heimerdinger, one of Jayce’s superiors; Viktor, Heimerdinger’s assistant and also a hopeful scientist; Mel, one of Piltover’s richest and a patron for scientific innovation, Ekko; a sneaky friend of Jinx and Vi, Vander; a peacekeeper in downtown Zaun; and Silco, Vander’s former close ally and current mad scientist. So far, only Mel, Vander and Silco are unplayable, though Vander, known as the Hound of the Underground, likely turns into Warwick, a playable wolf character.

Through its characters and setting, “Arcane” is a masterclass in exploring its main idea of conflict between the “violently peaceful” Piltover and the “peacefully violent” Zaun, which makes up for its lack of an innovative narrative — or, really, any narrative. So far, the show relies on its characters to react to one another and the environments they inhabit, which is not a true flaw because “Arcane” recognizes the strength of its characters and the fact that they should take center stage. Really, no event in the show is particularly novel, but the show portrays its characters in such a sympathetic way that viewers root for all of them, and such portrayals would not be possible without the fantastic animation of French studio Fortiche. 

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Fortiche translates “Arcane” into a never-ending series of beautiful paintings that detail both the bustling metropolis of Piltover and grimy underbelly of Zaun in grand colors. The show’s visuals have so much personality to them, enhancing the authenticity of the locations and the characters. The characters’ happiness, anguish, confusion and determination are palpable through the mere depiction of their faces, as well as the striking, neon effects that Fortiche uses to illustrate moments of great emotion or intensity to the viewers. Combined with the atmospheric music produced by Riot Games Music, “Arcane” truly is a whirlwind of emotions throughout. 

The show’s combined artistry and amazing characters prove to mainstream entertainment that video games can be a profitable source of inspiration for both small and silver screens — an ambitious goal that the show easily smashes into the ground.

The show’s artistic elements are wonderful, and its characters provide a great emotional core for viewers to be truly invested in the series. Though a television show seems like a very ambitious goal for video game companies, Riot Games’ “Arcane” rises to the occasion and gives both League of Legends players and the general public a wonderful nine-episode experience that is definitely worth watching.

Beatrice Malvar is an Entertainment Staff Writer. She can be reached at bmalvar@uci.edu.