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Arcane: A Successful Video Game Adaptation (For Once)


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Arcane: League of Legends (2021 - )  Respect the craft and you can get away with anything!

That's right, I'm mixing it up a bit today to talk about Netflix's latest hit show, a 9-episode animated series created by League of Legends to promote their new game. Even writing that, I can imagine the eye-rolls. A video game adaptation? Really? How good could it possibly be?

Reader, let me tell you: really f-ing good.

Arcane's story centers around the tragic tale of two sisters from the rough, poor Undercity split up and then reunited years later as adults. The sisters are the (apparently) iconic League characters, Vi and Jinx. There are multiple other plots about magic, technology, politics, and rival gangs, but the double-helix spine of the story is the relationship between these two important characters and the trauma they share.

And here is where Arcane stands out from other video game adaptations, because I, coming into the show with next to no knowledge about the game its based on, was completely absorbed. There was no feeling of having to know backstory or that the show was leaning on pre-existing lore that only game fans would know about. Vi and Jinx/Powder were fully fleshed out characters with their own motivations, characteristics, and unique, sympathetic backstories. I fell in love with both of them (and many of the minor characters) because of the strength of the writing, not because of whatever cool powers they have or game references the writers made. They were people first and game characters second, allowing the uninitiated (like me) into this dense, complex world through the strength of the show's plot.

In short, the show writers respected the craft of storytelling and took no shortcuts, even though they absolutely could have. They were working with a huge and rabid fanbase who was guaranteed to watch the show. They could have phoned it in. But they didn't, and their work has gone viral because of that choice.

What can we, who don't have massive, hungry fanbases, learn from Arcane? Well first of all, I'd recommend watching it as a storyteller, because the show has so much going for it in that department. There are evocative character arcs, incredible relationship complexity, cool fight scenes with actual weight and drama, and heartbreaking choices. The show pulls you in from the first beautifully animated panorama and doesn't ever loosen its grip, including its final cliffhanger moment.

However, there's a lesson to be learned here even if you choose not to binge-watch this latest phenomenon of nerd culture. It is, as always, the value of good craft. You can have the best (or worst!) idea in the world and so much of its success boils down to proper execution. It's obviously better to have a killer high concept idea to work with. But even if you don't, even if you're wading into some muddy mess of lore or backstory (as most video game adaptations are), Arcane shows that almost any story can be excellently told with the proper balance of skill and training. Hone your writing muscles and, from what I've seen, you can do just about anything with them.

Have you watched Arcane? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments!

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