Arcane: League of Legends

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?

14 thoughts on “Arcane: League of Legends

  1. I’ve never even heard of it. (I haven’t yet really tapped into Netflix anime like I have Hulu’s.) I know what you mean about movies based on video games. Usually the nicest I can say is that some of them are at least watchable. (I did enjoy the heck out of the Resident Evil movies, but they were an exception in many ways.)

    On Hulu last week I tried to watch two movies based on games: Mass Effect: Paragon Lost and Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker, but I couldn’t get through more than ten minutes of either. Both started with violent bloody battle action. Great for video games, but not of much interest to me in live-action movies, let alone anime. (But at least now, other than Pokémon, I’ve given all Hulu’s anime movies a try. Definitely a few worthy ones there, but not these two.)

    Last night I binge-watched all 12 episodes of Monster Musume (2015). Definitely the most prurient anime I’ve seen. It was pretty silly, mostly sex humor, but just interesting enough (and only 12 episodes) that I watched it all. I don’t know how common sex comedies are in Japanese anime; it was the first one I’ve watched. (Full Metal Panic! got kinda sexy, but not like this!)

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    1. I should have clarified in the post that Arcane, while animated, actually isn’t anime (as in Japanese animation). Wikipedia calls it “French-American”. I can definitely see the French influence. It seems like every French story I’ve ever seen involved characters in awful situations, where the authorities are no help, which fits a lot of what happens in this show.

      I got into something on Netflix a while back called Dragon’s Dogma, which I think is also based on a game. Although it wasn’t bad. I need to get back to it at some point. But yeah, most of the “Dragon” shows and Mass Effect, just based on what I could see about them, haven’t drawn me in.

      One thing I’ve noticed with anime, is that it rarely shows extra-marital sex, even in shows with a lot of fan service. When it does, it tends to be in pretty dark material, like Berserk. But even among dark anime, Berserk seems like an outlier. Maybe it’s just the stuff I’ve sampled so far, but it seems like anime is pretty prudish in certain ways. They’re fine with nudity and sexually suggestive content (and totally fine with violence and gore), but seem to draw the line at showing relations outside of prescribed norms. Of course, there’s hentai, which goes places western stuff won’t touch, but that seems well outside of mainstream anime.

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      1. I can’t claim any significant knowledge of Japanese culture, but I have found it and the Japanese fascinating for many decades. The Chinese seem, in their films, very chaste and modest to me. I almost never see much skin in a Chinese film, let alone sexual behavior. The Japanese seem to share that modesty but also to show signs of sexual repression breaking out in weird ways. (hentai being a good example). I’ve long thought the combination of population density in a small area, a truly ancient cultural weight, and the strictures of Japanese custom and tradition, all make for an interesting split between this Yin-Yang aspect of their culture.

        Some Japanese comedy anime like this reminds me of the old show Three’s Company which featured young people obsessed with sex, and constantly chasing it, but terrified of actually being anywhere near it.

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        1. I can’t claim to be particularly knowledgeable myself of Japan’s culture, or China’s for that matter. I do know eastern societies tend to value collective action more than the west, which tends to promote individualism a lot more. All probably related to what you said, population density, a result of higher and more consistent agricultural yields.

          Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on sexuality in Japan paints them as being more relaxed about it than mainland Asia. It also mentions something I remember hearing about, the decreased sexual activity in Japan, which is weird.

          It might just be that east Asia just hasn’t caught up with the west’s more freewheeling norms yet since they started industrialization later.

          I know what you mean about Three’s Company. I caught part of an episode sometime within the last decade, and was struck by how much the humor revolved around shocking and titillating us in the 1970s. But by today’s standards, the material isn’t the least bit shocking. It’s a stark reminder of how culturally specific humor is. I can’t imagine any young people watching it today and finding it as funny as we did.


          1. It began airing around the time I finished college, and I lived in Los Angeles then, and had been hippie starting in high school, so even back then I found it a bit silly. Honestly, I watched mainly for the eye-candy. There was a long-standing Ginger-or-Mary-Ann question for us young turks. There was kind of a secondary Janet-Crissy one.


      1. I’ve been watching a lot of his videos. He and I see eye-to-eye on things I don’t usually find others in accord with. We share a sense of outrage that movies and TV shows are so bad these days. (His sense of performance art surely makes mine seem more pedestrian!)

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