It is rare that I watch a show that sticks with me days after it is done.
In the deluge of modern entertainment, lasting power and rewatchability are rare properties. We can consume content at a record's pace, and sometimes its lesser folk are a blur of drawn-out content and characters that don't grow. We remember the best parts faintly, and hold fast to what we can, happy to discard the majority of the experience and move forward with little changed within.
It is rare that an art piece might grip us by the soul and pull our tethers to watch it over and over again, marveling at the subtle hues and colors and words and sparks hidden between the cracks of its foundation - that we might seek to dive deeper and deeper into its ocean, and drink every drop of the marrow within.
It is rare that a series holds weight in every episode, every scene, every carefully crafted word; not a wasted frame, nothing without intention or vibrancy. It is rare that a series might summon an endless array of discussion, documentary, analysis, and theoretical depth.
I have not felt this amount of depth since the close of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
This is high praise. Anyone who has seen Avatar to its completion understands its mantle of the "greatest animated series ever made." Subtle elements, powerful arcs, beautiful animation, and a maturity no one ever expected. Avatar made a world its viewers wanted to return to over and over again; fascinating, terrifying, exquisite, mystical.
And I tell you, from the bottom of my heart, that Arcane matches this in every aspect.
A Little Background
Arcane: League Of Legends is a 9-part animated series set in one of the game's many nations. In the industrial, stratified city of Piltover, embers of war threaten to ignite between the aristocratic "top-siders" and the undercity dwellers of Zaun, and caught between these threads resonates an emotional and driven story of two sisters driven apart and crashing back together over several years.
Fans of the game series will find a treasure trove of easter eggs and deeper content while still being taken along for the ride of the story as it sets up characters, provides context, and develops the world.
And yet, you don't need to know anything about League Of Legends to enjoy this. In fact, other than my minimal knowledge gleaned from strictly music videos, I know next to NOTHING. And I was BLOWN AWAY by this series. I've watched it three times through already.
Not New Territory
Riot (the creators of League Of Legends) are no strangers to animation, having produced dozens of animated shorts to promote and expand the opportunities of their wildly popular game franchise, but here is something very different. This isn't a commercial or some random flex - this is a deep story with outstanding writing, animation, and music (Riot is one of those production companies that, as a musician, I can really get behind - they GET it).
Released in 3-episode "acts", the entire series is now live on Netflix, and it's all the animation community can talk about in recent weeks.
If anything, this story serves as the best possible introduction to this universe as a story-scape, as anyone who knows nothing is going to get a lot out of this just as a series, and anyone who knows more is going to explode.
A Story About Relationships
As any good writer knows, the power is never in the world-building, but the relationships found within. Our main leads hold distinct threads that bind them together in the paradigms they protect, and even if or when severed, continue to mold their own development.
The writers forged their story with this in mind as characters grow and change in profound and interesting ways over the course of the season - time skips included. At no point does a character act "out" of themselves to serve a different narrative or force conflict where there isn't one; everyone's actions make sense given their circumstances, and episode to episode, each of our ensemble cast pushes beyond any hope of a trope, fulfilling fully fleshed-out characters that you are rooting for.
It is this attention to characterization and detail that stands out the most to me. There isn't a character in the main squad that I dislike - even our villains - because their depth of growth and exploration imbues something tangible in them. These are less and less cartoons, and more and more like people; they behave naturally in the world that surrounds them. Which makes it that much more powerful when the story cuts swathes in them with broad strokes.
Give It A Shot
I know I'm speaking pretty general here, and what I am saying is all praise, but this entry is just a recommendation. Will I be doing a deeper editorial analysis on characterization and psychology? The answer is a resounding YES, but for now, I don't want to spoil a single drop of this for anyone.
If you trust my judgement even a modicum, go settle in and give it a watch. Then...we'll discuss.
See you soon.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, amateur bartender, and aspiring fiction author.
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