To say I’m a gaymer would be stretching it: I’m an inconsistent dabbler at best.
But I do play League of Legends every now and then, and have for the past few years with a group of LGBTs.
I am objectively terrible at it (bronze trash, formally speaking) – largely because I do not try to learn things, like what the items do, or who’s good against whomst. I just like to mash keys and hope for the best. Just like my strategy for life, now that I think about it.
However! Playing League for so long has made me at least vaguely aware of the lore that comes with the massively popular battle game.
Riot Games, the parent company of League of Legends, smartly began expanding the IP beyond the main game, including spinoff games, and an impressively successful entry into the virtual idol world in the form of the now legendary K/DA, which may have even inspired groups like aespa. (Look, the metaverse, virtual reality, it’s all happening, so you might as well get used to it.)
Earlier this month, Riot made another big move with their first-ever animated series, called Arcane, which traces the origin stories of a handful of the League characters, including Vi, Jinx and Caitlyn – all League Queens of Pop – and the increasing tensions between the once-unified cities of Piltover and Zaun.
The series was helmed by French animation studio Fortiche, which also animated K/DA’s “POP/STARS” music video, as well as providing work for Gorillaz, Imagine Dragons (more on them in a moment) and Marvel’s Rocket & Groot.
The 40-ish minute episodes are entirely binge-friendly, and while they’re all available to watch as of Saturday (November 20), they were originally released in groups of three early on Saturday mornings, providing plenty of cliffhangers to keep fans eager for more from week to week.
Visually, it’s as stunning and dynamic and fresh as one would expect from that animation company’s credits, and feels ambitiously next-level in its animation style. It’s also gritty in moments – rarely have I winced while watching anything animated, but this packs a pretty realistic punch, literally.
Arcane is a smartly told story that shows instead of tells, down to the animation style, which alternates between human-like realism and more artistic, abstract depictions of the violence, grief and trauma that consume these characters. (This is a show about traw-ma.) And yes, there are cool battle scenes too, and some horny moments – and even (heavily implied) queer representation. We won!
Another reason it’s so impressive? You don’t need to know a damn thing about League of Legends, and it would still be a totally engrossing experience.
The characters are all complicated and flawed in this tale of inequity and classism and corruption and power and innovation that could appeal to everyone from fans of Star Wars to Game of Thrones.
And if you do play League, there are a ton of wink-wink references, familiar imagery and hints at characters’ abilities as they go through the series and become who we now know them to be in-game.
Plus, there’s added context, so when you get Jayce in ARAM, you’ll really appreciate the craftsmanship that went into making that hammer.
Also, yordle sex workers. Are you not sold yet? (Also, as this review is clearly glowing, and I don’t normally do TV reviews, let me be clear: I’m not being sponsored to say any of this – I’m just genuinely so proud of everyone involved.)
Oh, and did I mention “Love Myself” chanteuse Hailee Steinfeld voices Vi in the show? The Hailegend herself?! I mean…
Speaking of music: much of the soundtrack is very good and new!
The main theme is called “Enemy” by Imagine Dragons, which is, you know, men doing pop-rock music, so…they are allies, at least. It does get stuck in your head.
But there are also some great picks from some faves deeper within the series, including “Playground” with Bea Miller, a super sexy, slinky ominous dark-pop banger, which honestly could have been a theme song contender, too.
There’s also the soulful, Temptations-like “Our Love” by Curtis Harding and Jazmine Sullivan, Ramsey‘s genuinely chills-inducing “Goodbye,” the orchestral, James Bond theme-esque drama of “Guns for Hire” by Woodkid, as well as “Snakes,” an absolute banger with Pvris and Japanese legend Miyavi placed perfectly in a fight scene during the show’s third act, which all but demands a Season 2 order by its final few frames. It feels inevitable. (Update: and there it is – confirmed.)
Really, the show’s creators ticked the boxes all around: style, story, songs – it’s all really well executed. If only more gaming companies were this considerate about telling their characters’ stories in such a gorgeous way. (Please, no live-action movie starring Chris Pratt as Vi.)
Good job, Riot. GG EZ, if you will.