Incredible art design and a story that pulls you in from the first episode and doesn’t let go, Arcane S1 is one of the best shows you will see in some time. Based on the popular League of Legends videogame, the show presents the stories of some of the characters from the game in beautiful style. Along with Castlevania and The Witcher, Arcane S1 breaks the curse of videogame adaptations and proves that TV series based on games can be as good as anything else on the small screen.
Admittedly, I had low expectations as I started the series. The game has never held my interest but the unique animation style and trailer drew me in. Arcane S1 tells a gripping political tale full of magic and intrigue as we follow a plethora of characters living in the affluent Piltover and the ghetto-like Undercity. Told in three parts over nine episodes, the story begins in heart-breaking fashion as we follow sisters Vi and Powder. A battle between Undercity citizens and Piltover police lead to the death of the sisters’ parents and the girls are left in the wreckage in a grim opening scene before being taken in by their motley crew of an adoptive family. In Arcane S1, there is a clear divide between those living the high life in Piltover and those struggling in the Undercity. The tension between the two sides is clear and one small spark could set the whole place on fire.
Arcane S1 moves at a great pace. It allows for enough time to allow the main characters to claw their way into the viewer’s mind before picking up the pace with some explosive action in the stunning style that mixes, fantasy, sci-fi, and steampunk with an incredible hand-painted look. However, it is not just a pretty series, it has more substance than most series released over the past few years. There’s a host of morally grey characters in the series with many of the heroes and heroines feeling forced to make difficult decisions due to the nature of their lives and the world around them. Arcane S1 deals with the big question of ‘what makes heroes and villains?’. It is a question that has been asked in many mediums before but it is done to such a high standard in the series that I’m unsure that there is anything that surpasses it. Even the villainous Silco had me feeling sympathy for him during a few moments in the show. There is a weariness to the characters, even those living in prosperous Piltover. The series is able to look at the cost of progress and the price that must be paid as some people live in comfort whilst others suffer in darkness. Those living in poverty and pain turn to drugs, drink, crime, and anything else they can to survive. The show is a timely reminder of what happens when there is a great divide between rich and poor and the dangers of the elite hoarding wealth instead of sharing it amongst people who need it the most.
It is the relationships between the characters that stand out in Arcane S1. The slow burn of Vi and Caitlyn’s relationship had me almost shouting at the screen as I wanted them to acknowledge the strength of their feelings for one another. Whilst this stood out for me, every character in the series had realistic, complex relationships with those around them. The villains showed heart in tender moments and the heroes showed that they were willing to go to great (and sometimes dangerous) lengths to save the people they loved. The series puts its characters through hell and those who survive these traumatic events come out scarred and changed, both mentally and physically. It is refreshing to see a series give time to portraying the effects of grief, despair, and suffering in such a complex and interesting way. Nothing is brushed aside for the sake of a cheap scene or throwaway line. The characters suffer and develop in ways that seem natural and progressive for the story.
Arcane S1 is a stunning adaptation that is further proof of Netflix’s Midas touch regarding tv series based on videogames. Castlevania and The Witcher were obviously not lucky hits from the streaming giant and in all honesty, Arcane S1 is the best of the lot and that is high praise. Beautiful animation, a heart-breaking story, top quality music including a banger from Imagine Dragons, and characters you will fall in love with. Arcane S1 is the best tv series of 2021.