Review: ‘Arcane’ is leagues above other Netflix original shows

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Riot Games’ Netflix series, “Arcane,” is both the best “League of Legends” story Riot Games has ever told and one of Netflix’s best offerings yet.

In 2019, Riot Games announced plans to expand the lore of Runeterra, the setting of “League of Legends,” with spinoff games. What they didn’t reveal was that they also wanted to expand into television.

Riot Games’ Netflix series, “Arcane,” is both the best “League of Legends” story Riot Games has ever told and one of Netflix’s best offerings yet.

“Arcane” takes place in the city of Piltover, home to a thriving suburban topside and the struggling underdeveloped undercity known  as “The Lanes.” After a violent battle between the two sides erupts, sisters Vi (Hailee Steinfeld) and Powder (Ella Purnell) are left orphaned. Along with Mylo (Yuri Lowenthal) and Claggor (Roger Craig Smith), they are taken in by the Lanes’ heroic leader, Vander the Peacemaker (JB Blanc).

The conflict eventually subsides and Vi, Powder, Mylo and Claggor are old enough to help in meaningful ways, including performing heists on the topside. During one such heist, Powder finds a set of mysterious crystals in the Piltover penthouse of scientist Jayce Talis (Kevin Alejandro). After their heist goes horribly, the culprits evade capture, but the Piltover Wardens will stop at nothing to hunt them down.

Meanwhile, the sleek crime boss of the Lanes, Silco (Jason Spisak), plots his revenge upon the topside. Using shimmer, a drug that gives users monstrous strength, Silco is hellbent on turning the Lanes into an independent nation called Zaun, severing attachments from Piltover completely. This plan, along with the power of shimmer and the crystals, will change Runeterra and its inhabitants forever.

The emotionally draining third episode changes “Arcane” from a good show to, as its name suggests, something truly magical. Every character has a surprisingly deep and compelling plot that wouldn’t be out of place in earlier seasons of “Game of Thrones,” from Vi and Powder’s sibling contempt and broken familial bonds to Jayce’s story about the wonders and atrocities of scientific innovation.

The story engages audiences, unlike its source material. “League of Legends” has always had a somewhat inaccessible story; outside of reading a character’s in-game biography or the unofficial wiki, this expansive world has had no tangible plot. This is what makes “Arcane” such an appreciated addition to the franchise’s lore.

While you don’t need to know anything about “League of Legends” before watching, “Arcane” celebrates the game’s longtime fans. As a former “League of Legends” player, I lost track of how often I screamed, “is that (x-character)?” It was exciting seeing cameos by characters from the game’s conception, knowing who they’ll eventually become.  The worldbuilding sets up other characters and regions of Runeterra for future seasons to explore.

As perfect as the show’s narrative is, the art style and animation are even better. Art director Julien Georgel and animation director Barthelemy Maunoury created incredible pastel paint-textured 3D visuals that are pure eye candy. Taking inspiration from works like “Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse” or “Telltale’s The Walking Dead,” each episode emphasizes exaggerated character expression and bold vibrance.

My only gripe with “Arcane” was its soundtrack. From the opening track by the painfully outdated series staple Imagine Dragons to consistent out-of-place music choices that don’t match the given scene, it left much to be desired.

I’m genuinely excited to see what Riot Games has to offer next and what new directions, twists, turns and magic “Arcane” will make in season two.

Season one of “Arcane” is available to watch exclusively on Netflix.

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