Now this is a bit of a departure from my normal reviews. Usually I’m only concerned with book reviews as it’s the medium I have the most experience in as both a reader and a writer. However, I have to admit, I was blown away with how well Riot adapted their in-game lore for League of Legends to an animated series. The way the characters, the world and the story is such a delight that those not familiar with the game’s lore can still enjoy it to the fullest extent.
I was genuinely surprised how well the characters were developed in the first set of episodes. Arcane focuses primarily on a large cast of characters which, in some cases, can be daunting and confusing for an audience. It can be especially difficult in an adaptation where the lore is derived from an external medium that most might not be familiar with. However the most development is focused on Violet and Powder which, for the most part, was the best choice to get the audience invested. The two girls’ dynamic is both endearing and tragic as the story progresses and, while it’s not complete, it’s genuinely easy to care about them from episode to episode.
While the series derives most of its major characters from the game, there’s a plethora of side characters to fill the roster. These characters are given enough screentime and development that it’s easy to care about them as much as the original cast of established characters. While they are well written and designed, they never steal the spotlight from the central characters the show focuses on.
The central story of Arcane is practically entirely character driven and serves as an excellent example of how to do it well. Everything that occurs is directly connected to the actions and ambitions of the characters in the story. What makes this great is that each character’s motivations and goals are never betrayed in order to further the plot. It’s intriguing to watch as the machinations of one character end up turning the worlds of other characters upside down. The reactions are just as fantastic and serve to create a wonderfully intertwined story of ambition and folly.
The world of Runeterra comes alive in Arcane and, as someone whose been a fan of the world but no longer plays the game, I loved seeing it come to life and explored far more than the paltry scraps the game provided. The steampunk land of Piltover and it’s dark reflection of Zaun come alive in ways never seen before. The closest we’d ever seen was Legends of Runeterra but in Arcane, the world and how it came to be is given far more breadth and realization.
While this is fantastic to see for someone familiar with the world, it’s hard not to critique that some things are left a bit ambiguous for those who are unfamiliar with the IP. Though most of the worldbuilding can be inferred, certain elements feel a bit undeveloped and leave an air of mystery that can threaten confusion. However, since only the first six episodes have been released, there’s still plenty of time and opportunity to expand upon the world and fully explain some of the more fantastical elements.
What Writers can learn
Purely character driven stories can be a nightmare to write and plan out. During the planning process, it’s easy to create set piece moments and climaxes that would be exciting and thrilling to an audience. But the challenge comes in making it a believable scenario. Would this be something the characters would do? Is it really believable they would put themselves in this situation? And potentially most damning of all, is this something that would only happen if the characters acted out of character? It’s very easy as a write for any medium to struggle to lead the characters to important moments and Arcane does a masterful job in keeping the characters true to who they are without compromising them. It’s especially commendable with just how many dynamic and rounded characters are in the series, making it all the more exciting and enrapturing in it’s tragedy and heroics.