Arcane: League of Legends: The Monster You Created
November 23, 2021 3:35 PM - Season 1, Episode 9 - Subscribe

Perilously close to war, the leaders of Piltover and Zaun reach an ultimatum. But a fateful standoff changes both cities forever.
posted by KaizenSoze (20 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
After episode 1, I thought... this show is okay, I'm interested enough to keep watching.

After episode 3, I thought: this is definitely a good show.

After 4, I thought: they're really cranking up the intensity here aren't they?

After 6, I thought: do I really want to stick to my plan of only watching 3 episodes per day? Because DAMN.

After 9: the show started off pretty good and every single episode was better, more intense and with better animation than the previous. --- or is it? Do I need to go back and watch again with new appreciation? Anyway, I very much want to know what happens next.

(I could live without that Imagine Dragons song though... as the opening credits song it's skippable after the first go, but then they had to put it in the show itself.)
posted by Foosnark at 6:04 PM on November 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Foosnark, did you have any previous experience with League of Legends before watching this? I'm curious to know if it was received differently, kind of like Game of Thrones book readers / non book readers, or even for Dune, in fact, a more recent example.

I always wonder how the directors are able to "test" out how much time to spend on world building and it feels like an unhappy compromise between too little for people who aren't familiar with the world, and too much for people who are.
posted by xdvesper at 6:40 PM on November 23, 2021

This show is great but the music is godawful. I cannot fathom how much money they probably spent licensing stuff from people like Imagine Dragons when they could've put that money towards a great OST that won't make the show sound dated in 1.5 years.
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 8:06 PM on November 23, 2021 [5 favorites]

I've actually been underselling how good I think Arcane is to my friends. I don't want to get their expectations up too high to where they'll be disappointed, but I've been stewing on it and it keeps on rising in my internal rankings. I think this is in contention to be one of the best Western animation series of all time, right up there with Avatar: The Last Airbender. This is coming from someone who is completely unfamiliar with League of Legends, by the way.

The plot isn't anything too special, but the character work and the visual storytelling here are both top notch. While the setup and plot are both fairly simple, they also legitimately surprised me at a few points with how they subverted tropes in some scenes.

I thought Violet Evergarden was going to be best animated thing I've seen all year, but this gives VE a run for its money. I think it easily takes the video game adaptation crown from the Castlevania animated show at the very least, and though it's too early to call it part of the Western animation canon it has that kind of feel to it. ABSOLUTELY RECOMMENDED even if you know nothing about League of Legends, this rave review is written by someone with zero knowledge of the game or its spin-offs.
posted by C^3 at 10:11 PM on November 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

Just to be a mild dissenting voice, I thought the show was good, but I found that a lot of characters sort of lost their consistency by the end... their decisions felt like they were in service to stage setting and plot rather than a clear personality. Bryce and Vi in particular being characters who I thought were really strong at the beginning, and kind of become shapeless by the end. I also found Jinx's stylized mental health struggles trope-y and frustrating.

Still, there's a lot to like, and a lot of touching character moments too. And also it's very pretty. A solid B- from me.
posted by Alex404 at 4:11 AM on November 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Foosnark, did you have any previous experience with League of Legends before watching this?

Nope! I knew almost nothing about the game and absolutely nothing about its lore before watching.

I also found Jinx's stylized mental health struggles trope-y and frustrating.

I kept thinking "she's Harley Quinn." But then I am not all that familiar with that character either except by cultural osmosis, so maybe that's not quite fair.

I thought for sure that Mel had ulterior motives and was totally manipulating Jayce in a bit to take over leadership of the council, or at least profit from his research. It wasn't just that she wanted in his pants, because I think that would have been a lot simpler. Maybe that was her plan to start with, but things went off the rails.
posted by Foosnark at 9:41 AM on November 24, 2021

Very little experience with the game also. I knew it existed, never played. I have heard the community is rather toxic.

I actually think they did a great job with Jinx's mental issues. She didn't seem kooky ditsy crazy like Harley, she seemed severely mentally damaged. For reasons, I thought they explained well.
posted by KaizenSoze at 11:02 AM on November 24, 2021

In the past, Jinx has been portrayed as a lot more kooky Harley-style comically destructive. This show took her in a much, much darker and more tragic direction, and it'll be interesting to me to see how it influences her portrayals in the various games, going forwards. In some ways there's still a parallel to be made with Harley Quinn, who also started life as a purely comic sidekick and has only fairly recently gotten more fleshed out as a character, and had her relationship with the Joker explored as the deeply abusive relationship it essentially always was. Jinx is, by comparison, doing a speedrun from comic-relief to tragedy. In both cases it's done a lot to improve the character.

Heimerdinger's the other one most-changed from his original self; in this he was sort of the wise old sage, whereas he tends to have a much more wacky mad scientist vibe normally. (Viktor is also a lot different in the games, but we're also still clearly mid-Viktor-origin-story and...not to be spoilery, but it seems likely he'll still end up in the expected place, whereas Heimerdinger, here, doesn't really seem headed in a much-less-responsible mad-scientist direction.)

I certainly don't object to any of the changes; I think it was a very smart move to use the existing lore as more of a jumping-off point than a strict blueprint. It allowed them to take what are, essentially, a lot of very trope-y ingredients and mix them together into something that managed to be much more than the sum of its parts. Certainly helped by absolutely gorgeous animation that was the biggest star the whole way through.

If anyone who isn't familiar with the Runeterra lore is curious about any of it (maybe you want to know more about Noxus for example - the place Mel's mom is from - cuz that's a detail that I expect landed differently to those of us who know something about Noxus), there's a pretty extensive official lore website.
posted by mstokes650 at 7:36 PM on November 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Been playing LoL for about a decade, and TFT since it came out a few years ago. I still watch Worlds every year and have also attended Worlds live, participated in tournaments, etc. I think - for the LoL community, this series was about seeing well-known characters come to life after being familiar with these characters and world for years. Harry Potter fans had to wait... 4 years for their stories to be made into films - the LoL community has been waiting for over 10 years lol. (And this animated series took 6-7 years to make...) There are also many Easter eggs all over the series for people who are familiar with the games/lore.

Riot's lore has had tons of problems and rewrites over the years (so many stories have been retconned, rewritten; features of the world have been significantly changed etc) so in a way it's nice to have an animated series canonize some things. Riot has also emphasized that this series was produced with the LoL community in mind (and LoL community feedback on lore/characters), and it shows.

I personally thought that Jinx and Silco needed better voice actors (and that Jinx has always seemed more like the Joker than Harley Quinn, even just based on scenes from her first music video release).

This show is great but the music is godawful. I cannot fathom how much money they probably spent licensing stuff from people like Imagine Dragons when they could've put that money towards a great OST that won't make the show sound dated in 1.5 years.

Imagine Dragons has been a longtime Riot collaborator - they worked with Riot as the featured band on the Worlds 2014 theme song and have appeared at a bunch of Riot events over the years. The band members are LoL gamers as well. The LoL community/demographic seems to like that kind of music, so...

In the past, Jinx has been portrayed as a lot more kooky Harley-style comically destructive. This show took her in a much, much darker and more tragic direction, and it'll be interesting to me to see how it influences her portrayals in the various games, going forwards.

The showrunners for Arcane are also the people who worked on game character design/development for Jinx and Vi specifically, from the beginning. Development on this animated series also seems to have commenced around the same time Jinx and Vi were developed and released (or not long after) - it's just that Arcane took a really long time to make (because Riot wanted to keep production in-house and/or with longtime trusted collaborators like Fortiche). Fans have speculated on Jinx and Vi's relationship as sisters for many years (e.g. from 7 years ago).
Personally I found the character arcs, and character portrayals in Arcane faithful to what has been implied about these characters for years (including Jinx and Heimerdinger). In-game character interactions have also hinted at Jinx having some kind of traumatic/tragic event in her backstory. Other characters/worlds in League lore have been retconned and re-patched over the years, but the main characters in Arcane do feel true to how they have been since the beginning (probably because their character designers became the showrunners).

There are some details in Arcane that do point towards more minor retconning for other characters or future show characters (e.g. Stanwick Padidly / Blitz stuff) but it's difficult to say for sure at this point. Some people are also speculating that Vander = Warwick.
posted by aielen at 4:17 AM on November 26, 2021

I'm glad I'm not the only person to get "Joker" vibes from the last ep.
posted by ®@ at 7:43 PM on November 27, 2021

Really like the aesthetics (Edwardian magicpunk?). The worldbuilding is nothing special, but I love that flavour.

I'm perhaps being uncharacteristically charitable, but I saw this as a retelling of archetypal stories, and retelling them well through the visual art. At a fairly tight pace, too, but being seduced by the superficial helps.

From very limited experience, I could see MMO roots to some of the combat, but it didn't detract. Cool combo and power up moves.

As a Jynx apologist, I can see how someone could start believing their survival camouflage-persona and have all the hallmarks of "going mad" (especially when they started out eccentric, then had the gift of minimal accountability) and then have all that shatter when forced to examine what they've been running from most of their life.
posted by porpoise at 8:50 PM on November 29, 2021

Oh, and they cast Shohreh Aghdashloo (notably, recently, as Chrisjen Avasarala in 'The Expanse') as the voice actor for Grayson.

That earns a ton of points from me.
posted by porpoise at 10:01 PM on November 29, 2021

Honestly, that casting choice was jarring to me -- it was like hearing Ellen McClain as GlaDOS as Gipsy Danger, it immediately jolted my thoughts into a different fictional universe.
posted by Foosnark at 11:39 AM on November 30, 2021

Well, after ranting on on the Blue for a while, I am at the end of season 1, so:

Stuff I liked:

1. The animation style is really interesting, although it sometimes breaks down (special effects like bubbles often don't look like the same style) and some characters' attributes (e.g. Heimerdinger's fur in close ups) looks weird. Still, very pleasant to look at.

2. The visuals make the world look very lived in, and the character designs

3. The show does a decent job balancing the large cast and giving them something to do, although there are notable exceptions (what is up with the robot Councilor? Why doesn't the Councilor with the clockwork neck-thing get some

4. The music wasn't particularly to my taste, but it seemed to suit the material. I didn't find it particularly jarring or anything.

5. The action scenes were generally well-paced and blocked out.

Stuff I didn't like:

1. Jinx is a terrible character. The whole "abused child becomes mentally ill villain" needs to die in a fire. She's also weirdly sexualized and the whole relationship between Silco and Jinx is gross.

2. The world-building, outside of the visuals, makes no sense. Nothing stands up to more than a few minutes' thought. What is the economy of Piltover? Why are there two cities next to each other without any apparent economic or social connections? This may seem nitpicky, but it really cuts into the suspension of disbelief.

3. The whole project reminds me a bit of RWBY -- a lot of time and energy spent on the fight scenes with the connecting bits sort of left on their own.

4. The pacing of episodes is terrible. We spend the first 10 minutes on a scene that almost completely fails to communicate any information, then we rush past critical information (why exactly did Vander and Silco have a falling out? Because!). Similarly, there is way too much cruft (there are monsters living in the river! Nobody knows about them! Do they do anything? Nope!) Even high priority things like the final fight between Vi and Sevika lose momentum, and it's hard to tell where characters are supposed to be.

Overall, the visuals are mostly sharp and interesting, the writing is flat out bad, full of clichés and fan service.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:35 PM on November 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

Just curious, why would you say the pacing of the episodes is terrible? I really liked the pacing, it was quick, snappy, with gorgeous set pieces contrasting with slower contemplative moments, and the scenes felt really effective at doing the whole "show don't tell" thing that used body language to convey a surprising amount of information in a short time.

Are there some specific scenes you don't like?

If you're talking about the first scene of the series (what I assume by the first ten minutes you mean right after the title screen) my friends and I were just discussing how brilliant it was.

1. The four of them are climbing from a dark, dirty place, and emerge on the rooftops and stare awestruck at the gleaming, amazing looking city - which visually sets the stage for the rest of the show, Zaun vs Piltover, and instantly tells us they don't belong there. Also makes it clear Powder has never been there before, and that Vi is the leader.

2. The jump scene immediately paints Mylo as the brash, overconfident one (his hand gesture) and paints Powder as unconfident and fearful. This was also Fortiche showing off their animation chops - no other studio has done animation like this, as far as I've seen, and serves as a "show off" moment at the start to tell audience the kind of quality you can expect from the rest of the series. You often see studios do this with big impressive shots at the start of a series to signal the amount of budget they have, which is useful information to some subset of audience.

3. Again with the next scene, Mylo just jumps down while Clagger helps Powder get into the balcony - showing that Mylo thinks Powder is a waste of time, but Clagger has a soft spot for Powder. Vi just kicking the door in while Mylo is trying to pick the lock and Clagger hitting him in the head as he walks past is a great way to show that they're both tired of his arrogance. Vi telling Powder to look out for anything valuable shows us where Powder's talents lies (gadgets) and that Vi trusts in Powder's instincts.

The group dynamic is instantly apparent in the first few minutes, and will continue to pay off in the next few episodes.

4. The thing Powder finds most joy in? The sandwich, which is a hard hitting way to show that people in Zaun have a pretty desperate existence.

5. They accidentally blow up the lab.

This is a pretty effective use of the first 8 minutes of a TV series, contrasting to most things I've seen. It does a tonne of worldbuilding and naturally yet effectively shows us the complex group dynamic of the 4 main characters. The main question is "do you care about what happens to these four characters" - that's the bar the creators of the show have to clear, since this is the point where viewers either stop watching, or continue. See, it's not plot related - at this point, I couldn't care less what this blue crystal thing was, or what the economy of Piltover is based on. What people care about is, will Vi tell Mylo to tone it down? Will Powder grow more confident, will she get something to eat?

I've seen many hamfisted attempts to do the same thing through explicit dialogue which ends up feeling a lot more unnatural.
posted by xdvesper at 8:49 PM on November 30, 2021 [8 favorites]

While 'siblings forced to fight on opposite sides of a war' is a respectable traditional plot device, I felt like there were a lot better options for motivating that conflict than what they went with. Like, "Vi wants revenge against Silco while Jinx wants revenge against Piltover" wouldn't even change individual story beats all that much and would give Jinx more interesting motivations than "here I go murdering again because someone reminded me about my traumatic past".
posted by Pyry at 11:17 PM on November 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

Jinx more interesting motivations than "here I go murdering again because someone reminded me about my traumatic past".

Which murdering bit are you referring to?

In Episode 4 I she blows up 6 enforcers, though, I suppose if Zaun and Piltover are in a state of conflict, attacking their military could be a legitimate target, depending on your point of view.

In Episode 9, she fires her rocket at the council - again, the leadership could be a legitimate target. I interpreted it as Jinx taking up Silco's mantle after his death.

Vander couldn't maintain control of the Lanes because he was unwilling to give up his daughter, so Silco took over.

In the end, Silco was also unable to achieve his goal of an independent nation of Zaun because he was unwilling to up his daughter.

So Jinx takes over in her own sense: in reference to the "base violence necessary for change" in episode 3, she's going to send a message to Piltover to keep their enforcers out of Zaun in response to their latest incursion where they destroy the shimmer manufacturing facilities.
posted by xdvesper at 2:48 AM on December 1, 2021

If you're talking about the first scene of the series

No, I meant the pre-title scene, which was 3.5 minutes (nearly 10% of the episode) which did all-but-nothing to advance any parts of the plot, which is a pity, because that time could have been used, for example, to lay out why these towns are divided or why Silco and Vanderbilt had a falling out, both central concepts that they never get around to really establishing.

The burglary scene could have been shortened by 20-30%. There’s a lot of useless noodling around that furthers neither plot nor characterization. Contrast this with the Vi tells Milo off scene, which is pretty compact, although it deploys the lazy cliché of “character overheard part of a conversation and misunderstands,” which… was old when Friends overused it? That wasn’t clever writing, that was lazy writing.

Really, since the set up from the first3 episodes is mostly going to be swept off the board, it’s sort of like the tedious first 45 minutes or so of every superhero movie where we go through their origin. Compare with the more effective flashback approach in Shang-Chi, where the main story isn’t on hold for half the movie.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:18 AM on December 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

GenjiandProust, I've seen you commenting on how much you dislike the show, and that's ok -- it might not be for you. Like you, I also truly dislike the "mentally ill woman-child destroys everything" trope, though I think it's done less offensively and more sensitively here than I've seen it elsewhere (*cough*HARLEY*cough*). But I do want to dig into the opening scene, which you say is a waste of time plot-wise. I couldn't disagree more, and thinking about it has helped me understand why I like the show despite the fact that it's built around a trope I dislike. I find that Arcane uses all the tools of cinema to tell a story with great depth and Shakespearean stakes.

That prologue scene starts with the sound of a little girl singing. The lyrics begin as follows: "Dear friend across the river / My hands are cold and bare / Dear friend across the river / I'll take what you can spare." We already know this is a little girl -- powerless, vulnerable -- and her song is begging for help from a better-off "friend across the river." Right here we've already established the two poles of the battery that will power the whole plot: on one side of river the poor, on the other side the rich.

From there, we get an establishing shot of the bridge across that very river -- the bridge that connects the poor with the rich. (Later, we will see this bridge again and again as the two cities meet, for better and for worse.) We see shots of the massive stone faces sculpted into the bridge; they are stern and unforgiving, suggestive of hierarchy and power wielded with cruelty. We see sparks, red haze, flames, the sounds of artillery and screaming, and finally an explosion and a terrifying armored soldier who mercilessly kills a fallen foe. We understand that this is war.

But wait -- these terrifying soldiers aren't killing other soldiers, but civilians. This is not a war; this is an uprising of poor people who are being brutally put down by a richer power. The image glitches and scratches to emphasize the nightmare (later, we will understand that this is Powder/Jinx's perspective, and that the horrors she glimpsed have traumatized her deeply).

Now we see Vi and Powder as children, and realize that Powder is the one singing the song (the non-diagetic becomes diagetic -- a clever surprise!). Vi has taken on a protector role, and has plainly instructed Powder to cover her eyes and sing a song to try to block out the horrors around her (later, we will understand this as the first of many ineffective coping mechanisms that Powder is taught by the traumatized people around her). Vi's face betrays shock and numbness, and yet she clasps Powder's hand -- trying her best to protect and reassure her, an abandoned child trying her best to be a caretaker for another abandoned child. Meanwhile, Powder is walking into the most terrifying place she's ever been, with total trust in Vi to take care of her.

There in the haze, they glimpse a huge figure beating the shit out of a soldier. At first they are afraid, and Vi instinctively pushes Powder behind her and puts up a fist -- still the protector. You see Vander, breathing hard and full of adrenaline, suddenly notice them. It's as though he's been on autopilot, fighting his way through the battle, and the incongruous presence of these children suddenly shocks him into understanding what has happened here. As they approach, the children recognize him, and Vi begins desperately looking for someone, who she expects to be there with him. In sorrow, he looks over at their mother, who lies dead in the rubble.

Vi begins to totally fall apart. Her facade, the effort she's been making to be Powder's protector, cracks and crumbles as she gives way to despair. (Later we will see this again and again, as Vi, herself a child, traumatized and without anyone to help her, finds herself unable to mantain a steady and comforting presence for Powder in their worst moments.) You see Powder's desperation, too, as her sister, her rock, her protector, falls apart. Powder tries desperately to comfort Vi, the positions suddenly reversed. This is heartbreaking -- two children being asked to bear what no child should ever experience.

Vander looks at them, fully taking in their sorrow. He looks at his weapons, which have brought him and his people nothing but grief. And he makes a choice to put down his hopes of rebellion and turn away from violence. His dream is broken. He has failed. There is nothing before him but death or dignity in defeat, and he chooses dignity in defeat. He decides to give up his hopes for Zaun and instead to take care of these girls, and his people, as best he can. You see all of this in his face. (Later, we will understand how important this turning point is for him, and how it must have broken his bond with Silco, who at this point in his life would have seen Vander's giving up as the worst kind of betrayal.)

Under the unforgiving gaze of those statues, Vander carries the children back across the bridge to the undercity. As Vi looks back, she sees the beauty of Piltover floating high up above the smoke, seemingly untouched by this tragedy. She looks at it with rage, hatred, and hope -- she has not given up the dream.

All of that in under 3.5 minutes. All of that with not a single line of dialogue. All of that -- and even if you don't get every single detail in the first watch (I didn't), you still get the broad strokes -- the relationships between Vi, Powder, and Vander; the relationship between the rich city and the poor one. All the critical information you need to begin the story. I think it's astonishingly good.
posted by ourobouros at 7:29 AM on December 9, 2021 [12 favorites]

Thanks for explaining that scene, ourobouros, I didn't get a lot of that when I saw that scene.

I was confused about it initially because it seemed to me that Vander had killed the girls' mother, so I didn't understand why they were so sanguine as he carried them off.

I think the show suffers from a similar thing that the LOL game and most MOBAs in general do- where there is so much visual information at once that it's hard to pick up on what's important unless you know the source material. At least for me anyway.

All those details that you picked out in your explanation were lost on me because I was trying to process the many details of the next scene in front of me.

I spent a lot of the beginning of the show confused about motivations- and like GenjiandProust, not really satisfied with the logic and motivations for the overarching conflict for the run of the show.

My initial confusion undermined confidence in the rest of the series, and so questions of motivation kept distracting me while I watched the show.
posted by ishmael at 10:57 AM on December 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

« Older Movie: King Richard...   |  Cowboy Bebop (2021): Season 1... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments