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Arcane

Entry updated 6 December 2021. Tagged: TV.

French/US animated tv series (2021-current; vt Arcane: League of Legends). Riot Games, Fortiche Production. Created by Christian Linke and Alex Yee, based on the League of Legends multiplayer Online World Videogame. Directed by Pascal Charrue and Arnaud Delord. Written by Christian Linke and Alex Yee. Voice cast includes Kevin Alejandro, JB Blanc, Katie Leung, Harry Lloyd, Ella Purnell, Jason Spisak, Hailee Steinfeld and Mick Wingert. Nine circa 40-minute episodes. Colour.

Beneath the privileged and Technologically advanced City of Piltover is another, Zaun. In the past its oppressed inhabitants rose up, but were crushed: several ensuing orphans are cared for by Vander (Blanc), who had led the rebellion. He now tries to maintain the peace, not wishing to witness another slaughter. However, when four of his wards raid a Piltover Scientist's flat, they disturb some equipment, resulting in a large explosion: they survive but are now hunted by the authorities. The scientist, Jayce (Alejandro), had been performing illegal experiments on Magic crystals, aiming to be the first to control arcane Magic with science – "Hextech" as he calls it; he is assisted by the talented Viktor (Lloyd), whose Zaun childhood has left him sickly. Despite temporarily being expelled from his academy, Jayce succeeds, acclaimed by those who had doubted him. Meanwhile, in Zaun a new rebellion is brewing: Silco (Spisak) – a criminal boss seeking independence for his city – has a Drug created, called Shimmer, that transforms people into Monsters.

The raid was led by teenager Vi (Steinfeld), who is good with her fists; her younger sister, Powder (Purnell), later called Jinx, is a shy, self-taught gadgeteer (see Inventions). When Silco captures Vander, Powder clumsily interferes in Vi's rescue attempt, resulting in Vander's death: Vi impulsively disowns Powder, who falls in with Silco – a father/daughter relationship develops between them. A few years later, Piltover has prospered with Hextech: Jinx, now somewhat unhinged, steals one of Jayce's gemstones, intending to weaponize it; whilst Jayce finds himself made one of the city's ruling council – pragmatism temporarily corrupts his idealism. Vi, currently in prison, is freed by Caitlyn Kiramman (Leung), an idealistic police officer who hopes to use her to capture Silco: this fails, but the pair grow close. Jayce brokers a peace with Silco, promising to persuade the council to grant Zaun independence in return for Jinx. However, Jinx overhears, kidnapping Silco, Vi and Caitlyn; then demands Vi choose between her and Caitlyn. Vi refuses, Silco is accidentally killed and – after acknowledging she and Vi cannot be reconciled – Jinx departs, to fire her gemstone-powered weapon at the council chamber at the moment the council agrees to grant Zaun's sovereignty. At which point the first season ends.

Both cities have strong Steampunk elements: Piltover, particularly after Hextech, is an upbeat incarnation of the trope; Zaun a grimmer, decaying – though still vibrant – version. Because Piltover had rejected magic we only occasionally see it in its traditional forms: here the Hextech crystals are primarily a Power Source for technology. There are also Cyborgs and Airships.

The series is set shortly before the events of the League of Legends videogame, revealing the origin story of several characters. Aside from being darker, its lore also differs in some respects from the source: for example, Yordles (a spirit race in diminutive, bipedal form) are openly in society, with one – the respected and cautious scientist Heimerdinger (Wingert) – even being a city councillor. Though the set-up is a little Clichéd, a consequence of its source material, this is an exciting new Science Fantasy show; with reasonable characterization, lively action, melodrama and frequently stunning CGI-dominated animation. A second season has been commissioned. [SP]

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