Sometime in the year 2012, at the behest of my friends, I downloaded a game called League of Legends, and it became a focus of mine intermittently for about the next ten years. I have sunk incalculable hours into this game, and though I’ve had a lot of good experiences with it, I’ve come away with an overall dissatisfaction, something which is pretty typical for people who play League despite it being one of the most popular video games of all time. There are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which is Riot Games’ (the company that makes the game) recent hundred-million-dollar settlement of a class-action gender discrimination lawsuit.
But one of the more secondary issues that people tend to have with Riot Games is that they don’t do enough with their intellectual property. League of Legends is a game with a total of 157 (and counting) characters to choose from, each with unique designs, gameplay mechanics, and—most importantly—lore, much of which is interconnected among other characters. For years, the only source for this lore, or for any supplementary information about these characters, was in short stories and minimal summaries featured on the website, which was too out-of-the-way for most players to care about unless they deliberately sought it out. As a result, knowledge of the character’s backgrounds was more the domain of dedicated lore nerds than of the majority of casual players, and Riot’s disinterest in the narrative fleshing out of their own characters was just another common complaint in a laundry list of criticisms of the company and their flagship game.
Every once in a while, Riot would release a short animatic which featured more realistic-looking versions of the characters, and the written lore content gradually expanded, but people still felt as though Riot was severely underutilizing the potential for the characters and world that made up League of Legends.
In recent years, Riot has released two additional games: Teamfight Tactics and Legends of Runeterra, an auto-battler and a digital card game. Both of these make use of the League of Legends IP in fresh ways, much to the satisfaction of those already invested in the world Riot had created.
But Riot’s real promise to finally make use of their characters in a more widely accessible form of media came with the creation of an animated tv show, Arcane, which began production in 2015 and was finally released this past November. It came to Netflix in nine episodes over the course of three weeks and focused specifically on the individual stories of several characters from League in a way that sought to finally deliver on that promise.
And boy, does it deliver. Sitting currently at a comfortable one hundred percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Arcane has been subject to near-universal acclaim, setting new standards for American animation and showcasing the kind of breathtaking work made possible when writers and animators alike are given the time and the compensation to do thorough, passionate work on an already compelling project.
The story is a fast-paced, dense stream of action, drama, and intrigue, and the show hardly goes a full minute without showing you something gorgeous or something unsettling. The voice acting, soundtrack, and visuals come together in an impressive blend of stylistic influences that manages to feel as original as it is cohesive, and the level of detail calls for multiple rewatches to catch every little thing.
If you have no familiarity with the Riot IP as of yet, I highly recommend it, and if you do have some familiarity, I can hardly recommend it enough. Video game–based content is rarely, if ever, this good, and season two is already announced for some time in 2023.
Image credit to Netflix
Philip Rienstra (‘21) majored in writing and music and has plans to pursue a career in publishing. They are a recovering music snob, a fruit juice enthusiast, and a big fan of the enneagram. They’re currently living in Grand Rapids with their partner, Heidi.
The video game world is fascinating (even as an outsider). Thanks for the great review.
I just started watching Arcane last night and, so far, it’s absolutely delivering on the hype!