Last Updated: 08.13 AM, Jul 23, 2022
Arcane is what you get when you give artists and video game developers complete freedom to do what they do best: create masterful art as a medium for storytelling. For someone who has not touched a video game since Wii Sports Resort came out, this Netflix series, based on the game League of Legends, was an unexpected delight. This tale of two cities, of the white and gold Piltover and the indigo neon-lined Undercity of Zaun, was developed by Riot Games and Fortiche. Each still of the film looks like a painting with a meticulous 2D background and a 3D character at the forefront. Their unique animation style brings the world alive.
The story follows two sets of duos: Vi and Powder, sisters who have a complicated past, and Jayce and Viktor, who are scientists trying to use magic and technology to improve the lives of their citizens. Despite the story having a ‘good vs. evil’ premise, the characters’ means to get to their end makes all of them morally ambiguous characters: the protagonists are skewed and flawed and the antagonists, sympathetic.
Although the world-building is not entirely unique, it is not what is driving the plot. The relationships between the characters are a reflection of every pivotal plot point and are what ultimately make or break the world they inhabit. In the first chapter, the sisters are shown to be extremely close as children. Despite living in destitution and relying on theft to make ends meet, they are content with each other. But the death of their fatherlike figure, Vander (sorry for the small, but predictable spoiler), and the separation of the sisters mark the end of their dynamic, resulting in the complete transformation of their world Zaun for the worse.
The representation of characters and relationships is also established through sound design and leitmotifs (short musical pieces associated with a person, situation, object or place). The bond between Vi and Powder is set up in the first episode through a leitmotif which gets enhanced and modified according to the state of their relationship. Similarly, with the arrival of Powder’s childhood friend Ekko, the musical landscape changes, introducing cyber hip hop for the first time in the show, shifting from the previous electronic synth themes. The sounds of the two cities also differ, with Piltover sounding grandiose and Zaun leaning towards the sound of synth and cyberpunk.
Music by artists like Pusha T and Imagine Dragons is also used in this series. Unlike most shows that pick a song whose title resembles the situation the characters find themselves in, Arcane uses music to elevate the narrative. Layered with leitmotifs and scores, the songs aid with the storytelling process. This worked especially well for fight sequences, which were quick-paced and perfectly choreographed. Take the final scene in the seventh episode: Powder and her childhood friend Ekko’s fight seems perfectly choreographed to the song ‘Dynasties and Dystopia’ by Denzel Curry, Gizzle and Bren Joy. Their weapons move to the beat of the song and the art style is entirely unreal and mesmerising, making it the perfect showdown.
Arcane is a show that gives the audience deeply flawed and relatable characters, drawn in an innovative and captivating style, with music that will be stuck in one’s mind for days. Hopefully the first of many, this show does true justice as the deeply intricate and complex origin story of a real, futuristic world.