Arcane Review: Cities at War


Samara Lasker, Staff Writer

Arcane is brilliant. It’s the ideal video game adaptation, successfully transferring the characters from League of Legends to the small screen while maintaining all the nuances and characteristics fans have come to expect from LOL. Even those unfamiliar with the games, however, will find much to enjoy in this visually stunning and narratively impressive show.


The story is set in a world on the verge of total war. The utopian Piltover is located above ground. They are prospering, with food casually left out on rooftops and an endless supply of sunshine. In essence, these gentlemen abound in wealth. Below ground, however, the story is quite different.


Zaun’s underground city (referred to as the Undercity) is struggling, and their resentment of Piltover’s advancements appears to be fertile ground for rebellion. Two sisters, Powder and Vi, are at the epicenter of this epic conflict. Their relationship is ultimately what propels this series forward, and the show does an excellent job of depicting their individual paths to becoming League of Legends champions.


The contrasting fates of these two sisters are devastatingly split across the nine episodes. The two sisters, however, are only one cog in this well-oiled machine, as we meet several other characters who contribute to a larger whole.


Silco’s maniacal and villainous plan is to form his own army and force Zaun to rise up and become a powerhouse, similar to Piltover. To accomplish this, he recruits one of the sisters to accompany him on a mission to steal the Hex stone from Piltover. These orbs are extremely powerful magical items that hold the promise of unfathomable power.


Jayce and Victor, two aspiring scientists in Piltover, decide to use this power to further the development of their city.


Political and social issues are expertly balanced here with drama and thriller elements, successfully developing the worldbuilding for this fantasy land while also striking a perfect contrast with our own capitalist world. There is an exploration of the rich/poor divide, substance abuse, and even mental health disorders, all of which combine to create a heady cocktail that is as thematically relevant at the conclusion as it is at the beginning.


The pacing is also excellent, which is aided by Arcane’s pulsating score and soundtrack. Each montage serves a greater purpose, and the show is strong enough and clever enough to omit some of the exposition dumps in order to visually depict what is happening. And this show is a visual feast.


The show, which was co-created by French studio Fortiche Production and Riot Games, employs a unique style of animation that is neither cell-shaded nor CGI. The backgrounds are hand-painted digitally, while the effects are entirely 2D. The show has a genuine matte painting feel to it, which only adds to Arcane’s strength and uniqueness.