It’s been a long time since I’ve been much of a game player, so I’m not familiar with the League of Legends game, or its overall story universe. But apparently the game developers have put together a rich lore and history behind it, and some of that is starting to come out in various franchised fictional works. One of them is a new Netflix animated series: Arcane: League of Legends.
Historically movies and shows based on video games have been pretty awful. But it seems like that’s started to change in the last few years. For example, while the latest Moral Kombat wasn’t deep stuff, I thought it had a much more substantial story with richer characters than the 1990s version, and I’ve heard good things about Castlevania, despite its game lineage.
But when I first heard about Arcane, I didn’t know anything about its origins. All I saw in the trailer was a visually striking show that seemed to have some depth. I was intrigued enough to bookmark it, but prepared to be disappointed. I wasn’t. This is a show with a rich setting and compelling characters, characters who find themselves in awful situations and have horrible choices forced on them.
The setting is two cities, one built on top of the other. On the top is Piltover, a rich city of artisans and scientists. Below is Zaun, a literal underground of the poor and desperate. The overall world portrayed here seems roughly steampunk in nature, with airships and an overall 19th century feel, but mingled with a lot of advanced technology. And magic exists in this world, although it’s regarded with serious distrust by the authorities.
The show seems to be about the origin stories of several characters known in the game. Not being familiar with the game, to me they just come off as interesting characters. The central protagonists are two sisters living in Zaun, Vi and Powder. Vi is older and clearly an extremely capable individual, even as just a teenager in the first episode. Her little sister, Powder, struggles to be a useful member of the small gang that Vi leads, so much so that the gang often regards her as a “jinx”, a label Powder will eventually adopt as her name.
The story begins with Vi leading the gang on a raid into Piltover of a rich hoard that they had been tipped off on. Due to something Powder comes across, the raid ends up going sideways, with large portions of the building they were raiding being destroyed. The gang escapes, but this sets off a sequence of events that changes the lives of several characters.
One of them is Jayce, an academic researcher whose workshop is the one Vi’s gang raided. It turns out Jayce has been experimenting with technology to tap into magic, a forbidden line of inquiry, which the destruction of his workshop makes clear to city authorities. Jayce’s motivations are idealistic, to help humanity, particularly the humanity within Piltover and Zuan. But the head of the academy, Heimerdinger, sees only peril in his efforts, although he thinks highly of Jayce, and sees him as having a promising career, but only if he’ll let go of these dangerous ideas.
So we have a show with desperate people fighting to survive, and competing ideas about exploring knowledge. There’s a lot more going on here than I’ve described, but this gives a sketch of how it begins. There have been six episodes released so far, with I think three left to go. I’m not sure if additional seasons are necessarily in the cards, since the whole thing is essentially a prequel for the situation in the game. Although other prequel shows have run for multiple seasons, so who knows. And I have no idea if the game leaves room for sequel seasons.
Be forewarned that this isn’t a light hearted tale. It explores adult themes and situations. But it’s one I’ve been finding compelling, and recommend if it sounds like your kind of story.
Have you seen it? If so, what did you think about it?