Sophie breaks down the vibrance of League of Legends’ Netflix show Arcane & considers what animation has to offer modern audiences
Beating out fan-favorites like Stranger Things and The Mandalorian, Arcane has skyrocketed to the top of the charts. Produced by Riot Games’ Fortiche Productions, the series follows the backstories of several League of Legends characters with main focus on sisters Vi and Jinx. The show has received overwhelming and universal acclaim, with praise for its animation, world-building, characters, voice-acting, and emotional weight. Without a doubt, it is the most beautiful show I’ve ever seen.
Any discussion of Arcane must begin with the art, which is a drop-your-jaw, blow-you-away, show-stopping kind of stunning. The show seems to run on 30 wallpapers per second. What makes it so compelling; the extreme detail, and Fortiche’s seamless combination of 2D and 3D elements. Characters are modeled in three dimensions, but unlike typical productions of the style, all of Arcane’s backgrounds are digitally hand-painted. On top of that, the visual effects for aspects like fire and tears are all animated in 2D.
From the shining steampunk of Piltover to the smoky green chaos of Zaun, each shot is painstakingly precise. You’ll spy shimmering parapets in the city, plumes of hazy smog in the Lanes, fading concealer on Silco’s face, a withering flower in the greenhouse lair, and countless other subtleties that make me want to sign my soul over to the artists.
Another thing to fall entirely in love with are the character designs (and redesigns). League champions who looked like exaggerated pin-up girls are, in Arcane, characters with nuanced designs and incredible voice acting. The characters are not only diverse and interesting to watch, but also immediately engaging. How am I supposed to return to Disney-dominated animation, stuffed to the brim with same-face syndrome and air-brushed characters? It’s impossible.
Now onto the story. I expected a show that, while animated wonderfully, would be riddled with unfortunate clichés—Arcane is so beautiful that I probably wouldn’t have faulted it for that anyhow. But the show knows that it shines in all things visual, and uses this sledgehammer of an ability to craft a remarkable plot. We see, once again, just how much of an all-around juggernaut the art team is.
When you see Jinx’s monkey motif — on the ship at the Hexgates, at the explosion on the lab, on the wings of the metal firelights, and drawn on Caitlyn’s bathroom mirror—you’re filled with terror. These kinds of visual prompts extend throughout the entirety of Arcane—Jayce’s wristband, Mel’s painting, Jinx’s dolls—all contributing a layer of meaning to the story that would’ve fallen flat with verbal explanations.
So many character details and plot movements are explained visually too. Some genres are especially susceptible to spelling everything out for the viewer, shonen anime for one, but Arcane does away with these dramatic speeches and internal monologs. Emotion rests, first and foremost, on the visuals. One gut-wrenching example: a young Viktor struggles to keep up with his toy boat.
As it enters the sewers—cue a real Pennywise moment of fear—Viktor falls. Two episodes later, an adult Viktor repairs his leg with the Hexcore. He stands on the pier at night, drops his cane, and takes off. This time, he outpaces even the real boats in the water. It’s a gorgeous, chilling parallel, and speaks volumes for the character’s journey without saying a single word.
Forget resetting the bar—Arcane has flung it up into the sky. More than that, the show proves the kind of masterpiece that can be made if we invest in animation. Already it has circumvented so many traditional limitations. Artists have long been barred from creating projects like this due to a lack of time, budget, and resources. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a barrage of mediocre, cash-motivated outputs which has fed into the unjustly dismissive view of animation in the industry. But animation is a medium, not a genre, and I hope that Arcane is a precursor to a much-needed revolution.