Arcane: League of Legends – Season 1 Review

It took a while to convince me to watch this series as I have had zero interest in the game the show is based on, but the clips I saw were extremely impressive so once I saw a few people say no knowledge of the game was necessary to watch it I gave it a shot, and those people were right! It’s a truly stunning series visually and the story has lots of twists, believable characters and really mature storytelling, the good kind of mature storytelling, not the over-the-top swearing and nudity kind (I’m looking at you, Live Action Cowboy Bebop!) Let’s take a look!

Synopsis:

Amidst the escalating unrest between the advanced, utopian city of Piltover and the squalid, repressed undercity of Zaun, sisters Vi and Jinx find themselves on opposing sides of a war over twisted ideologies and arcane technology.

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

Jayce during his politician days but before he starts killing people with a magic hammer.

The first thing you have to mention with this show, and indeed the thing that finally got me to give it a go, is the animation. Wow. It’s CG heavy but somehow due to its painted-looking art style it looks entirely 2D, which is the perfect combination really as you get super fluid fight scenes and movement combined with a look that’s easy on the eye. It’s one of those “watch a clip and see for yourself” things, because that’s what I was told and a few clips is what it took to make me give the show a chance despite having zero interest in the League of Legends phenomenon.

That nicely leads into the next point as well: how great the story is. I had no reference to LoL beyond the character Jynx, who has become the game’s mascot and therefore leaked into my world via my love of gaming and anime, though only visually. The series focuses on two locations: Piltover (full of happy regular citizens and rich people) and Zaun (full of miserable poor regular citizens and criminals), the two being connected via a bridge (officially, with other ways to go between them if you know how) leading to a very simple rich v poor, one looking down on the other, the other looking up with envy situation, complete with Piltover having a large military force they can send down to the “undercity” to knock people about until they get answers for whatever question they wish to ask. That being said it’s not a simple black and white story as two characters called Jayce and Viktor are two of my favourites and they’re on the Piltover side.

Jynx gives subtly a go.

They discover a way to use arcane magic in conjunction with regular technology and despite long… long time city council member Heimerdinger being strongly against it due to experience with such things they manage to make it safe and dub it “Hextech”. Jayce’s story across the series sees him go from nothing to suddenly being highly regarded to then get forced into politics, eventually getting caught up in the war between the sides only to accidentally kill a child on the opposite side and wish to go back to being a simple inventor of things. Viktor on the other hand is a disabled scientist who never loses sight of wanting to help the little man even when his friend starts to rise, only to then fall foul of the lure of power when he thinks the magic can save his life, a beloved lab assistant getting killed in his personal experiment being what brings him back to reality. So similar stories, but they way they bounced off each other was great.

The actual lead duo in the story, at least from a marketing standpoint, is the sisters Vi and Powder, the latter becoming Jynx as the story progresses, who live in the undercity. Again it’s a really well told story as we see the two as part of your classic street gang of kids stealing to get by and being mentored by an older freedom fighter named Vander who turned away from that way of life to help run a bar instead. When a simple burglary job goes wrong the kids become wanted by the Piltover police we are introduced to Silco, the lead villain of the series and a charismatic crime boss who was traumatised as a kid by nearly drowning in a fight with the children’s mentor. Eventually a big showdown occurs with Silco’s group after he experiments with a drug that can turn people into muscled up aggressive monsters and Vander and Vi are hurt in the battle, though they’re determined to fight on until Powder, who the other kids have been calling Jynx because she kept ruining their jobs, throws an explosive that ends up having a bit too much force and kills several of the other kids, and ends up causing Vander to die as well (eventually). Vi says Powder “really is a Jynx” and leaves the child crying on the streets, leading to Silco comforting her and telling her she’s safe with him…

Caitlyn is a police officer from a high-society family, going against what is expected of her because she’s passionate about justice. Just thought I’d mention that, I don’t actually get into her backstory in the review…

That all happens in the first three episodes, the next six taking place after a timeskip. Vi ended up in prison and is eventually released by Piltover cop Caitlyn, who incidentally is childhood friends with Jayce, and the two eventually bond despite being from different sides of the coin, as it were. Meanwhile Powder, now going by her harsh nickname of Jynx, works for Silco and is very much the mentally unhinged type, talking to her lost friends like they’re still around and only dropping her explosion-happy persona when she thinks she meets, or later actually meets Vi again. As the two cities nearly go to war Silco and Jayce try to come to equal terms, with Silco wanting complete independence and Jayce wanting Jynx to put behind bars as an example given at that point she had killed many officers with her “toys”, meanwhile the lady herself kidnaps Vi and Caitlyn before managing to also kidnap Silco as well, placing them around a dinner table and waxing lyrical about her insanity while Vi tries to get through to her. Silco, for the record, sees Jynx legitimately as his daughter and just wants her to be happy, to the point where he claims to have decided to let the freedom of his very city go because he doesn’t want to hand her over to them.

Over in Piltover Jayce, Viktor and the Council argue over Silco’s demands while Jynx ends up shooting Silco dead accidentally, though he doesn’t blame her. This event finally sends her completely over the edge as she then fires a missile at the council chambers just as everyone votes to give Zaun its independence instead of going to war. Great, and sad way to end the season. There are lots of other stuff going on, like a pack of “cool hoverboarding rebels” led by a boy / man named Ekko, the previously mentioned Heimerdinger being slowly outed from the council due to his old fashioned values, or Silco dealing with other underworld bosses and a hard-headed right-hand woman with a steampunk arm. Some good fights and, as mentioned, just stunning artwork and animation all round.

The Bad:

I mean… you certainly can’t mistake him for one of the good guys, that’s for sure!

Not much! Given I’m a complete novice when it comes to League of Legends they managed some top class world building to the point where if I didn’t already recognise Jynx and the series didn’t have “League of Legends” underneath its title I would’ve just assumed it was a great new adult animation, or maybe based on a YA book series or something of the like.

I mean maybe some of the rebellious orphan kid gang from the first three episodes were extremely cliché and uninteresting, but given their ending in Episode 3 I can understand not wanting to bother with too much personality for them…

Overall Thoughts:

Vi holds one of the big punchy gauntlets, as I believe they’re officially called.

Arcane: League of Legends came out of nowhere to end up as one of my favourite shows of the year. Mature and well-plotted storytelling, interesting and multi-layered characters and most of all absolutely stunning animation meant that even though I had no interest in LoL I had a great time watching its world unfold in front of my eyes.

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