Column: Netflix’s “Arcane” breaks the video game to television barrier


Courtesy Collider

Holly Bihlman, Sports Editor

One of the recent contenders for Netflix’s prestigious spots on the top ten most-watched list was the nine-episode “League of Legends” adaptation, “Arcane.” While this list is often ruled by shows and movies that take the world by storm, this particular TV series flew a little more under the radar at number nine to start off. Despite this, the show has received incredible rave from fans since.

A noticeably different animation style falls into a pool of up-and-coming genre play in the film world, instantly reminding viewers that they’re watching a video game adaptation, not just any regular adult animated series. The set design and fight scenes are a pleasing visual twist on what animation usually looks like, with the shows added boost of a star-studded cast and a soundtrack worth adding to your playlists.

Originally released on Nov. 6, 2021, the nine-episode series was broken up into three acts, releasing three episodes each week on Nov. 13 and 20 respectively. The historically disappointing video game to film pipeline seems to have missed this outlier series, causing critics and reviewers to pay special attention to the deservingly successful show.

In the eight weeks since its initial release date, Rotten Tomatoes still holds a 100% rating from the surprisingly low 22 critics that have reviewed the show so far, and a 97% audience score from just under 4,000 fans. What’s so intriguing about these numbers is that even Netflix’s most popular shows — which are sometimes planted in the top ten list — can’t compete with the internet hype that “Arcane” has gotten. Even the dominating series “Squid Game” only received a 94% from critics and an 83% from fans, despite the show topping Netflix’s charts for weeks.

Working with Riot Games and Fortiche, creators Christian Linke and Alex Yee wrote and produced the outstanding series based on a few of the 150 League of Legends characters. The fictional dystopian city of Piltover, nicknamed the City of Progress, sees the invention of HexTech, a combination of magic and science that allows incredible technological advancements in their society.

Simultaneously, the “undercity” of Piltover, a bazaar of nightmares and crime, sees the creation of Shimmer, a highly addictive drug that allows users to harness incredible strength. These two evolutions of each city set the scene for an all-out war between HexTech and Shimmer once the economic divide becomes too much to bear.

Sisters Vi (Hailee Steinfeld) and Powder (Ella Purnell) begin the story on a job robbing an apartment in Piltover, where Powder, the younger more naive sister, picks up a few blue crystals from the inventor of HexTech’s apartment that ultimately cause the building to explode when they botch the job.

As the story progresses, unthinkable tragedy caused by Powder’s magic blue crystals leads to the creation of Powder’s new character, Jinx, the popular League of Legends villain. This cataclysmic event causes Vi to be thrown into prison for a number of years, separated from her younger sister and unable to help her community survive the burgeoning Shimmer epidemic.

At the end of the pivotal first act where these events change the course of the story completely, the war between Piltover and the undercity, or Zaun, meddles with Vi and Jinx’s relationship after years of corruption and the decimation of the undercity that they once knew.

Steinfeld and Purnell’s performances in “Arcane” are absolutely gripping throughout the course of their character’s intense emotional experiences; Purnell especially, often portraying the mental anguish and sick traumatization of Jinx.

On top of no bad voice actors that the show features — which is a miracle in the age of dubbing and experimental animation — the message that “Arcane” is able to convey with Jinx’s character alone delivers an intense wakeup call about the poverty to mental health pipeline.

One of the characteristics of the show that makes it so easy to get sucked into is the animator’s deviation from the same style throughout all nine episodes; often drawing out Jinx’s trauma and animating it to take the form of haunting memories. Reminiscent of the huge hit “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” the comic-style and blending of 2D and 3D animation makes an appearance during Jinx’s panic attacks and outbursts, adding the eerie undertone of untamed rage.

While commentary on these issues seems to be more important to me than some other popular shows and movies, Forbes seemed to be just as stunned by the steady numbers that “Arcane” saw from the beginning. Having peaked to the number one spot on Netflix in plenty of other countries, the show made it up to the second spot in the U.S. the week before the final act was released.

“It stands to reason that if Arcane can stick its landing and keep these scores, it will stand a long while as the highest user-reviewed show the service has seen, which is something Netflix no doubt has an eye on,” said Paul Tassi.

“Stuck the landing” was an understatement.

Good video game adaptations are just so hard to find nowadays for reasons that critics contribute to directors and writers failing to create easy to understand or interesting enough backgrounds for characters and plot lines in video games. “Acrane,” perhaps as the first of its kind, or at least one of the very few, seems to have dispelled these curses surrounding video game adaptations in Hollywood. If not for the character arcs alone, but for the importance of the storyline itself.

“Unrestricted by the narrative constraints of an individual game’s tedious lore, these films are free to tackle what is most interesting about video games: how they intersect with real life,” said Keza MacDonald from the Guardian.

With new shows coming out every day it seems, “Arcane” may have slipped behind the shadow of “Squid Game,” but that’s not to say that the series is at all worth skipping over. Regardless of your familiarity with “League of Legends” or any video game for that matter, the story is easy to get addicted to. The good news is that now that all three acts have been released, it’s perfectly acceptable to binge watch all nine episodes in one night.

With the conclusion of the first season, the creators announced the promise for another season to celebrate the game’s ten-year anniversary. Considering how unbelievably well the first season went, it’ll either be a miracle or a stroke of genius if it’s as good as the first season.

As shows often hit the marks for their inaugural season, sometimes the sequential seasons fail to meet the expectations of fans. However, “Arcane’s” final episode sets up the story for another few seasons at least, leaving the audience hanging on the edge of their seats grasping for more as the best song in the series closes out to black; if not for the amazing series itself, watch it for the Sting song at the end.

With the perfect balance between a wrap up and an open ending, I’ll be there for the first release date of season two to find out what happened along with thousands of other fans that have welcomed the best video game adaptation we’ve seen yet.