SERIES REVIEW – Dive into the world of League of Legends through the stories of two sisters and a host of other exciting characters – now in a Netflix animated series. Jinx, Vi and the others are “just” the heroes of the LoL MOBA game, but they come to life more authentically in this series with great fantasy and sci-fi elements than in most of its peers – even for those who have never played League of Legends in their lives (like myself).
Almost everyone in the gaming world knows the League of Legends title. Since 2009, Riot Games’ MOBA has been a leader in its field and continues to attract players from all walks of life, especially as the studio continues to expand the game modes and other mediums associated with the main game. A new medium has recently been added to LoL’s rich universe – and it’s on Netflix.
Arcane is an animated series based largely on the universe – and multiverse – imagined by Riot Games, including its characters, locations and themes. Part “fan service”, part animated artwork, Riot Games hopes to convince gamers and non-gamers alike to follow the adventures of the craziest killer and other heroes.
Arcane is basically about the two main characters, the famous Jinx and her sister Vi. While non-gamers may not recognise these names, they are fierce warriors who we see develop from childhood to adulthood. As children, Vi and her little sister witness a bloody war in which they lose their parents. Instead of being orphaned, Vander, a kind-hearted gang leader, takes them in.
They grow up surrounded by other children who become their comrades in arms and mischief. But their fate changes when peace between the twin cities of Zaun and Piltover is replaced by bloody war. This duality is a recurring leitmotif of Arcane: it constantly builds its great story on dichotomies.
This duality can be found in the relationship between Powder (Jinx) and Vi, Zaun and Piltover, but also between magic and technology. This creates a true tension that forces the narrative to develop organically on its own. Each of these sub-egos pulls each other up or down, and it is this constant dynamic that makes Arcane both extremely exciting and syntactical.
In addition, Arcane employs a rather simple but effective narrative scheme that relies above all on a movement that escalates into a crescendo as the tension builds, until the climax at the end of each episode. And the excellently crafted action scenes and more emotional scenes are also superbly balanced, and as a result we are never bored for a single moment, rooting for each character at some point.
The family of champions reunited
With each adaptation, the question of fidelity to the original work arises. Arcane isn’t just fan service, it doesn’t just multiply references and clichés to please League of Legends players. Instead, the series perfectly illustrates certain aspects of the universe created by Riot Games, while keeping in mind the coherence and openness of the scenario.
For my part, Arcane is understandable and enjoyable for LoL players and non-players alike, as it explores universal themes through specific characters. In this sense, the Fortiche studio has been able to respect the identity of the locations and characters, while giving them their own story, their own “soul”.
In LoL, you soon realise that you don’t really know the champions you spend hours playing with. The stories and personalities of the individual characters in Arcane are fairly coherent and well developed overall. For many of them, their character development until they reach the stage they know is pleasant to follow, and sometimes they even manage to surprise you.
An amazing sight
Visually, Arcane is an eye-catching piece of work, a testament to the colossal adaptation efforts of the animation teams. In particular, the studio uses colour and lighting effects to help change tone or emphasise an emotion, in the manner of a photograph or painting. This effect is reinforced by certain key scenes, whose composition is less pronounced than others and therefore appears as if frozen to the canvas.
This artistic dimension fits in perfectly with Fortiche’s style, which was already evident in the Get Jinxed video released in 2013. Recognising the studio’s graphic style with painted characters and sets, as well as its animation style that moves at the crossroads between 2D and 3D, the city of Zaun and Piltover literally comes to life under the pencil of Fortiche
To help them, Arcane uses an animation style close to realism, with interesting camerawork. You can feel the studio’s intention, which sometimes tries to replicate the mobility and quality of a real camera, especially in action sequences that remain well followed despite the intensity of the moment, or in phases where the camera plays with the focus to use a bokeh effect.
The special effects are also excellent, which of course is a must in a League of Legends series. However, Arcane could have gone even further in terms of its legacy, which is one of our wishes for the next season, which is almost guaranteed to come due to its huge success.
Another area that could have used a bit more effort is the lip-synching, which is sometimes not perfectly lifelike. However, the excellent dubbing clearly compensates for this flaw, which is more or less a feature of all animated series. In addition to the well-done dubbing, the voices are well suited to the characters’ personalities.
As for the rest of the soundtrack, it is simply masterful. The instruments perfectly accompany the sad and intense moments, as well as the almost unbearable tension in some scenes. Arcane also introduces some modern music, quite subtly and always well integrated into this eclectic fantasy and sci-fi world, reminding us that Arcane’s themes are ultimately timeless.
They also bring that little bit of badassery you’d expect from a series about Jinx and Vi. Netflix even had the luxury of including an unreleased Imagine Dragons in the cast list, which we didn’t regret one bit.
A true gem for everyone
Arcane is an extremely high quality adaptation. Netflix, and especially Fortiche, have managed to convince us in just a few episodes that it is still possible to make good adaptations of video games. If the studio masters and uses its unparalleled animation techniques, Riot and Netflix have been able to bring real added value to the video game franchise with an engaging story, characters to really love or hate and twists that pleasantly surprised us despite the simplicity of the basic story.
Arcane also does its utmost to appeal to players who are totally uninitiated to LOL, not only thanks to the universal storyline, but also thanks to its simply breathtaking visual universe. Hats off to the artists. If you’ve been hesitant to check it out, don’t do it anymore; it’s worth it.