Arcane: The First Great Video Game Adaptation

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Netflix

Arcane premiered on Netflix in November to extreme amounts of praise, which is shocking considering the negative reputation that League Of Legends, the game that acts as the show’s source material, has.

League Of Legends is not a good game. The unbelievably toxic community is a major contributing factor, though Riot Games’ consistently questionable handling of the game can also cause frustration. The majority of the time, the game ends up being more painful than fun. But despite this, players come back to the game because they remember that rare moment of fun or positivity that they had, hoping to recapture the brief joy they felt in that moment. The game is like a black hole from which there is no escape, trapping its players in a painful cycle of enjoyment and hatred for the game. 

Likewise, attempts to adapt video games into movies and TV shows have almost never gone well. Whether it be the infamous Super Mario Bros movie, or the horrendous Resident Evil series of films, which for some god-forsaken reason got 6 installments, video games on the silver screen have almost never gone well. But despite how terribly the majority of these endeavors have gone in the past, there have been some successful stabs at translating video games into other mediums in the past few years. But Arcane is a completely different beast in comparison to every other video game adaptation: not only is it fantastic, it may be the BEST video game adaptation ever made.

In comparison to most video games, the world of League Of Legends is remarkably complex, full of interesting places and characters that could all serve as the protagonist of their own series. In Arcane, the viewer is brought to the twin cities of Piltover and Zaun. Piltover is home to the upper class, a city of glamorous mansions and high-tech innovations basking in the sunlight, while Zaun exists in the darkness below, full of slums, poisonous gas, and merciless gangs around every corner.

 The show introduces and fills in this complex, literally multi-layered society remarkably well through the animation’s gorgeous mix of 2D and 3D, which makes every frame look like it could be a desktop background, and helps to give a sense of just how massive these cities are. And through the juxtaposition of Zaun, a dim, steampunk-esque hellscape where poison gas floats through the air and innocents are kidnapped and experimented on by maniacal crime lords, being just below the ultra-rich Piltovans, who live in massive mansions and decide everything for both cities, the viewer quickly understands that there is extreme injustice occurring between these two societies. If a Zaunite tries to steal from Piltover, they are ruthlessly tracked down and arrested. But when Piltover soldiers march into the underground city and cause immense damage, they suffer no consequences. It is this clear discrimination that fuels the entire plot of Arcane and is what kickstarts everything when main characters Vi and Powder attempt to steal from a Piltover lab. They end up taking something extremely valuable and dangerous, and their sloppiness in stealing said object ignites a war between the two cities. A major flaw of most video game adaptations is that they base themselves around the original game, and not off of it. The plot is always treated as means to cram in constant references and fan service, while the story always tries too hard to stick to that of the game and ends up feeling awkward and forced instead. But Arcane gets it right by using the world of League as a starting point, and doing whatever it wants to from there. It doesn’t try too hard to appeal to fans of the source material and actually takes itself seriously, unlike most of its contemporaries. Arcane treats itself as an original story and not one based off of a game, a philosophy which led to the creation of an incredibly stylish, remarkably intricate show with some of the best writing and visuals of anything last year. It really makes one wonder how something as good as Arcane came out of something as mediocre as League Of Legends, though it also shows that there is still incredible potential in video games in other mediums if they were to focus on style and substance in equal measure, instead of just the former.