Arcane Review: Alternative Canon Done Right

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Two months ago, ‘Arcane’ dropped and took the world by force. The animated steampunk series is a League of Legends adaptation that debuts a few show-exclusive characters, most notably the villainous kingpin Silco.

For people who don’t play League, ‘Arcane’ sets itself apart as an alternative canon to its video game predecessor – and it does it right, something that isn’t always the case for TV and film adaptations.

‘Arcane’ catches the viewer’s undivided attention within the first few minutes of the pilot episode and consistently maintains it throughout the course of the tumultuous, action-packed storyline. Beloved League legends roam the streets of the undercity and maneuver testy politics in the edifices of Piltover as the two worlds collide with explosive consequences.

Viktor, a chronically ill Hextech inventor with a progressive disability, straddles both as undercity stock working far above the poisoned squalor of his original home. He and his research partner Jayce face various moral dilemmas as they make the push for progress, at great cost to themselves, particularly Viktor. An aged-up Ekko, a far cry from the young boy introduced at the start of the series, takes the helm of the Firelights, an undercity rebel group, with unabashed swagger and style.

Caitlyn, the posh rifle-wielding daughter of a prominent council member in Piltover, finds her bearings in the undercity as Vi, tattooed and grisled from her formative years in the undercity and subsequently in prison, shows her the ropes. While the two women initially find each other at odds, they soon form a strong sapphic bond that defies the strictures of their respective differences in social status and upbringing. Korra and Asami from ‘Legend of Korra’ and Adora and Catra (and many more) from ‘She-Ra’ walked so Caitlyn and Vi could run.

The unique art style, bombastic musical score, and thorough character development flourish the compact plot, which largely centers around the estrangement of Vi and her younger sister Powder, aka Jinx. The tragedy of Jinx lies in her inability to reconcile her younger self, Powder, with her present self. The inclusion of Silco is necessary to piece together Jinx’s elusive backstory while still maintaining congruence with the original canon of League, a feat that Arcane managed to pull off seamlessly.

Jinx’s mental health issues are spurred on by Silco, who took on the role of her adoptive father at the end of the third episode and psychologically groomed her to become an explosive human weapon as a means to meet his nefarious ends. In the backdrop of this central conflict, mounting tensions between the elites of Piltover and the vagabonds of the undercity rise to a dramatic crescendo and abruptly halt with a jaw-dropping cliffhanger that leaves the viewer teetering on the razor thin edge of Jinx’s deteriorating mental health.

When done right, TV and film adaptations embellish the canon of the original source material, not detract from it or contradict it. In the span of only nine episodes, Arcane succeeded and kept its viewers braced for the second season.

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