After the explosive and emotional finale of Riot Games’ animated series Arcane, viewers are still reeling from the jaw-dropping way the show ended.
Critics and fans were raving from the opening act all the way to the final minutes of episode nine—and for good reason. After experiencing what Riot and Fortiche Productions had to offer, it can be safely said that this was the perfect way for League of Legends to truly enter the mainstream media spotlight and to gain the attention of those who don’t play the game.
When looking at the entire project as a whole, Arcane has plenty of nods that seasoned League players will recognize and respect, but the show isn’t just made for those that are in the know. In fact, it might be a show that will make people want to be in the know; at its core, it is a beautifully animated saga featuring charming, refined characters living out deep, engaging storylines within an immersive environment.
(Spoilers for Arcane begin here.)
The ends justify the means
In Arcane, none of the characters feel out of place, while the backstories and motivations are all excruciating yet understandable, no matter where you think they lie on the morality scale. At the start of the series, you might paint a majority of the characters with the blue and red tints of good and evil. But by the time the credits roll in the final episode, you’ll find yourself conflicted as their stories dye them into many shades of grey.
A huge theme permeating through the show like the toxic gases of Zaun is that “the ends justify the means” for so many people. But sometimes, that mentality can cause them to lose more than they could have imagined. This diverse cast of characters experience heartbreak like no other as they deal with the consequences of their actions. Whether it’s losing their loved ones, their own self, or their life, people are willing to give up everything for what they think is right. And you can bet that there was ton of loss across the board.
The main villain of the show, Silco, was finally offered Zaun’s independence by Piltover, but the one catch was that he had to hand over Jinx. And even though his blood, sweat, and tears over the countless years were for this exact moment, he realized the love of his daughter meant more than the city he fought so tirelessly for, only to die trying to convince her of that.
Viktor wished to make a breakthrough that could finally help push humanity into their next stage of evolution and progress, and he was willing to put his own life and body on the line for the cause. But he ended up losing something he never meant to risk in the first place, and it broke him and the viewers alike. He might even lose more as time goes on, based on what we know about his character.
Jinx, on the other hand, said goodbye to Powder. She’s been pushed around, abandoned, and manipulated her entire life, and now, she has accepted her dark, destructive shadow to protect herself from the hurt and betrayal that has jaded her mind and crushed her soul. And yet, even when she pulls the trigger, we can still see the frightened little girl who only wanted to help.
Sacrifices are made, people are broken in many different ways, and the stories they drag you through bring a roller coaster of emotions that should echo in your memory for a long while.
Sights and sounds of Piltover and Zaun
What can be said about Fortiche’s work on the animation for Arcane that hasn’t already been said? It’s wild to think this same studio created the “Get Jinxed” music video in 2013, but they’ve grown just as much as Riot has. This production is a culmination of their successes, failures, and learning lessons.
When “Get Jinxed” released, League was only four years old. It was a singular game still building towards the future and a far reach from what we know today: a expansive universe with rich lore, interesting characters, and countless adventures and experiences in store—both on Summoner’s Rift and beyond.
In a similar way, Fortiche’s animation team was a lot different than today, but you could still see how much they’ve improved when comparing how Arcane looks to their old depiction of Piltover. Animations are smoother, facial movement is much more expressive and realistic, and environments are more detailed and polished.
Every setting in the show was unique, bringing its own flavor and style to the screen. The dark, seedy shadows of Zaun had some of the most enticing, evocative places to explore, from Silco’s hauntingly beautiful underwater base to the dilapidated, depressing childhood home of Vi and Powder at the bottom of the Sump. On the other side of the spectrum, Piltover was a shining landscape with vibrant sights, like Mel Medarda’s view from her sophisticated abode or the towering Hexgates over the sea. Zaun and Piltover were wonders to behold, and Fortiche helped us dive into their ambience.
Their animations also perfectly captured the moment that was on screen, while also showing off some distinctly different styles at the same time. Whether it was the frantic inner machinations of Jinx as she fought against her own self-doubt and rampant thoughts, Vi and Sevika’s explosive fistfights, or Ekko and Jinx’s ultimate battle on the bridge in act three, the visuals caught your attention, kept you at the edge of your seat, and punctuated all of the heart-stopping situations with a handful of exclamation marks.
Behind the amazing visuals, however, the soundtrack of the show also took a life of its own and was an essential part to elevating multiple points across the acts. Familiar artists were abundant in Arcane‘s star-studded lineup, but they were more than just big names.
Fans were treated to hard-hitting beats and expertly executed lyricism from Pusha T and Denzel Curry as they welcomed the viewers to the Firelights. Woodkid’s chilling vocals reverberated across the city as Jinx sparked the flare in the hopes of finding her sister.
Imagine Dragons and JID created a catchy and impactful theme song that eloquently explained the feelings of so many people within Arcane, while PVRIS and MIYAVI gave viewers a punchy anthem for Vi and Jayce’s brutal brawl against the Chemtanks. These tracks were perfectly placed and injected into scenes as another way to strike even more chords within fans’ racing hearts.
Leaving you wanting more
The only hiccup of the show had to do with how much time was at their disposal. Because most of the backstories and developing plot were so detailed, it would’ve been hard to develop them at a natural rate in the span of nine 40-minute episodes. There were a handful of scenarios that needed more time—but instead, were skimmed through or bypassed entirely.
For example, Viktor and Sky’s relationship never fully developed, save for a couple of scenes showing she had a crush on the sickly scientist. Her accidental death is sad, but as a viewer, we never built a connection to Sky for it to have a significant meaning. In fact, the only real interactions shown between the two were strictly professional and one-sided.
Caitlyn and Vi’s relationship developed a bit too quickly, especially when considering the surrounding circumstances. Vi hated Piltover and Enforcers throughout her entire life after they killed her parents, and that hatred probably festered even more after being thrown in prison. When she interacts with Caitlyn, however, it doesn’t take long for her to trust her, work with her, and even become enamored with her. There wasn’t enough time to realistically show how Caitlyn broke her walls down and became a close friend, because they’re quickly thrown into new situations.
The reunion between Jinx and Ekko on the bridge was also a bit odd, since viewers had to infer their close relationship as children in the span of a few minutes. They showed glimpses of the two playing together during the fight scene, but before that, they never connected on-screen at all. The only way you could have known they were close was if you watched the “Enemy” music video with two characters featured as kids.
In a similar way, Jinx’s breakdown at the end of the first act comes out of thin air, and is one of the more jarring transitions of any character in the show. For some people who were coming into Arcane without any prior knowledge of the game, the young child never really showed any hints that she was dealing with any inner demons. The end of act one is shocking, but also confusing for viewers who aren’t familiar with what she becomes in the future.
These confrontations were brilliantly portrayed. But after catching your breath at the end, you can’t help but wonder what other backstories weren’t explored to its full potential.
Now, even though Arcane‘s might have needed more time for its plot points to progress, Riot and Fortiche strengthened every other aspect of the show to the point where it didn’t even matter. Some instances might have been rushed, but the natural dialogue, the bewitching animations, and the overall storyline made it so these issues were never completely noticeable while in the moment. For their first full-length series, they’ve blown all the expectations out of the water and made a gem that could stand among the giants of the industry.
Towards the future
It’s hard to imagine how Riot and Fortiche could possibly outdo themselves after creating a show like Arcane, but for people who are familiar with League and its lore, it’s clear this show has only scratched the surface of potential.
Piltover and Zaun are only one region out of many different cities and regions across this expansive world, and each place brings a different, diverse collection of characters, sights, sounds, and stories. Thanks to the exhausting world-building efforts of the writers at Riot, Runeterra has all the narratives you’ll need to create more engaging series that break records and steal the hearts of viewers across the world.
The only question is where Riot will take us next as we await the next season of Arcane. It’ll be a long time until we get to see our favorite characters on screen again, but maybe we’ll see more people join the droves of fans to experience League through Summoner’s Rift, Teamfight Tactics boards, or in the other mediums this company will have available in the future.
In the meantime, tell everyone you love and care for to watch this show. They won’t regret it.
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