From the very first episode, Arcane has consistently exceeded my expectations. I've long felt that the world of Runeterra (originally a half-baked backdrop for League of Legends which has slowly been developed, retconned, and improved over the years) was ripe for deeper storytelling, and have already spent hours pouring over character bios, short stories, and comics. On top of which, the creative team behind the game(s) have a solid history of delivering compelling, interesting short narratives for their promotional projects. So the idea of giving that same team, along with the lore writers, a proper budget to flesh out a proper TV series had me excited.
Well, they did not disappoint. Not only is Arcane one of the most visually stunning shows I've seen in quite some time, with an art style which is perfect for the atmosphere and mood of the show, whilst also being just beautiful to watch, but the story and characters they've created are enthralling. Focusing on the "twin cities" (though at this point, effectively one city + attached slums) of Piltover and Zaun allows for a fairly narrow focus, providing plenty of screen time for character development, emotional connection, and world-building, all of which is done extremely well.
I love that we get to see the rise of Hextech, and learn more about the wider influences of Viktor and Jayce. I found the politics of the Piltover Council surprisingly compelling. And, of course, the Zaun story – the Chem barons, the rise of Shimmer, the deep divide with the over city – all works together to create a rich and nuanced backdrop to the central story around Jinx and Vi. In particular, the way the show presents its villains lends it such a greater level of depth. No one here is purely evil or purely good, there are always areas of grey, and you can understand the way each person's lives have moulded them into the people they are now. Silco, in particular, is a wonderful creation, utterly malevolent and deeply flawed, but somehow still understandable. His relationship with Jinx ties the whole show together extremely neatly and I found it utterly captivating.
Even the side characters are deftly done, with the likes of Viktor and Ekko really evolving throughout the season, coming into their own and, particularly with Ekko, providing some jaw-dropping animation opportunities. The introduction of the Fireflies is one of the most visually entertaining fight sequences I've seen for a while, and Ekko's entire surrounding score is perfection., making that entire episode a real standout in an already exceptional run.
The result is a world with a captivating and unique personality, a cast of extremely entertaining characters, and an overall quality of production that I struggle to think of ways to improve. It may be a little nebulous or hard to fully understand if you aren't already at least a little aware of the wider lore, but I think Arcane does a generally solid job of standing apart from the games and therefore being accessible to a whole new audience. You might not quite pick up on the importance of the person who saves Jayce and his mother at the start, but at the same time, you would discover and experience the fall of Viktor or the burgeoning relationship between Caitlyn and Vi organically, rather than considering a foregone conclusion from the start. Indeed, I think the show cleverly balances the story and characters in a way that means everyone can enjoy themselves, regardless of how much you already know about Runeterra and its inhabitants.
I cannot wait to see where the story goes next, and I sincerely hope that we get more shows in a similar vein from the team behind Runeterra in the future, focusing on other characters and other nations. There's a lot of this world left to explore and I'm excited to get to do so in a medium more conducive to detailed storytelling!