REVIEW: ‘Arcane,’ Act 1 – Episodes 1-4

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Arcane Episodes 1-4

Arcane Episodes 1-4 is an action/fantasy series from Netflix that takes place in the world of the popular League of Legends video game from Riot Games. Since its inception in 2009, League of Legends has become one of the most profitable video games in the industry’s history. In recent years, Riot Games has begun to expand the world of Runeterra with a rapidly growing number of side projects. Having released two video game spin-offs in the digital card game Legends of Runeterra and the mobile version of its original game, League of Legends: Wild Rift, Riot Games is now growing its fantasy brand with its first foray into television.

Since Arcane Episodes 1-4 is introducing viewers to a fantasy world that has ten years of development to its setting, characters, and story, the first thing viewers unfamiliar with the show’s source material will undoubtedly be asking is, “How tough is it to pick up this show?” As someone whose understanding of the setting’s larger lore is relatively limited, I can say with confidence you will be fine coming into this show with a clean slate. The show keeps its perspective focused on a small group of individuals in the opening episodes, allowing the viewer to acclimate to the world. The relevant aspects of characters and their histories provided get the viewer up to speed easily.

At its heart, Arcane Episodes 1-4 tells the story of two sisters who are caught in the ongoing struggles of the haves and the have nots—between the affluence of the upper city of Piltover and its sister, the poverty-stricken lower city of Zaun. The show opens with the young woman Vi leading a group of young street kids, her little sister Powder among them, on a foray into the upper city to raid a workshop of valuables they can pawn for cash. While it was intended to be nothing more than an attempt to provide for those who have nothing at the expense of those who wouldn’t even notice the loss, this misadventure spirals out of control. It soon leads the cities into a rapidly escalating confrontation.

While these opening episodes focus mainly on the ramifications to the sisters and their home in Zaun, Arcane Episodes 1-4 also introduces viewers to several key characters in the upper city of Piltover. The massive gulf between the bright splendor of Piltover and the dark, grim of Zaun perfectly highlights just how different the two cities are, despite there being nothing more than a bridge between them.

While the show manages to deliver fun action, easy-to-digest world-building, and some light commentary about social inequality, where Arcane Episodes 1-4 truly shines are its characters. In particular, Vi and Powder. The sisters who stand at the heart of this series’ story manage to fit into their obvious archetypes so snuggly they are instantly recognizable while still bringing enough unique personality to allow them to feel fresh and new. While Vi is the strong, competent leader, Powder struggles as the little sister that is always failing, despite her best intentions. Powder’s feelings of inadequacy and her dependency on her big sister to keep her on her feet is the central theme that surrounds most of these episodes’ most heartfelt moments.

The visual presentation delivers something stylish and unique to Arcane Episodes 1-4. Rather than striving for the most realistic visuals available, the show embraces the semi-comical style of its source material. This allows the visuals to bring all of the larger-than-life elements of the world of Runeterra to life while never hurting the weight and emotion of the story.

Another noticeable thing about the visuals is how many smoke and energy effects are used, especially in a different style than the rest of the show. These effects eschew the CGI of the show for a more purely animated look. This choice makes these elements genuinely stand out against the already impressive visuals of the show’s world.

When all is said and done, Arcane Episodes 1-4 does a fantastic job of introducing new fans to Runeterra while letting old ones get to experience a deeper dive into the world they have spent so much time with.

Arcane is releasing in three-episode chunks on Netflix with episodes 1-3 out now, episodes 4-6 dropping on November 13, and 7-9 dropping on November 20th.


Arcane Episodes 1-4
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

Arcane Episodes 1-4 does a fantastic job of introducing new fans to Runeterra while letting old ones get to experience a deeper dive into the world they have spent so much time with.