Gritty Neflix show Arcane hooks viewers into violent world of survival



This official image from netflix features Vi, Jinx, Jayce, Caitlyn, Ekko, Viktor, Mel, and Silco.

by Alexis Simmerman, Editor

Conflict, Trauma, Identity. 

Few cartoons tear apart the viewer from the inside out.  Arcane is an animated series that appeals to so many people and handles these topics with the grace of a beat up and bloody ballerina. Season 2 has been announced, but no release date has been given. 

Season 1 of Arcane is a Netflix original show debuting in November 2021, featuring characters from Riot Games League of Legends, a popular video game played by 180 million people. It is one of the few shows to receive a 100% rating from Rotten Tomatoes and is a show one needs to experience blind in order to fully feel and experience the impact of the story and its characters.

It’s by far one of the most complex, beautiful, and tragic tales ever to be told on screen, and it more than earns all the praise it gets, taking its place alongside shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender, a high bar that most shows could only hope to reach.

Plot: A duality between two sides of the same coin

Primarily, the show begins with the two leads, Powder and Vi, as they try to survive on the streets of Zaun and navigate an increasingly hostile environment as tensions rise, but the show isn’t just about them. I’d say that the show is more of a character interaction story, as the way it’s presented has the characters placed in situations involving conflicts that change everything: hard choices with no good answers. They live in a world that requires sacrificing all for a loved one who might already be too far gone, or to sacrificing the loved one who might still be able to be saved for the many. It allows the viewer to see very different perspectives on the same events and trusts the viewer to come to their own conclusions. 

The beauty of Arcane is that you can’t assign fault to any one character for what happens in the show because the characters are the cogs of the story, and ambition is the main thing pushing them back and forth.  They are intertwined with someone else such as with Jinx and Silco or Vi and Caitlyn, and perhaps another character stands against them, such as Jayce and Heimerdinger. Arcane isn’t a show that presents us with the right side to be on. There is no hero: here is no villain. There are flawed human beings, and the choices that they make are what makes up such a compelling story.

I also love the parallels and symbolism that Arcane so frequently uses. There are so many moments that draw direct parallels between two different characters, dynamics, or concepts, and the story really benefits from this duality between Vander and Silco, Vi and Powder, Powder and Jinx. All of it leads to deeper meanings behind each of them, some tragic, and others ironic. The symbolism is also top notch as you always know what a certain symbol means. A monkey for tragedy, a firelight for hope. All of this symbolism, especially involving eye color, is woven into the story, giving that much more of an impact when it is shown, as the viewers quickly learn what those symbols mean and can become more hopeful or more afraid. Blue for Gems, purple for Shimmer, gray for Powder.

Arcane is a more adult-oriented show, with a TV-14 rating, and given what is shown, it more than earns that rating. There’s plenty of graphic imagery, disturbing scenes, and moments that will leave the viewer crying.  However, they aren’t cheap shock moments, but story beats that are the most logical plot progression based on the characters and the narrative. They jinx the story and give a drastic weight to the events that follow as nothing will be as the characters once knew again.

You don’t need to play the game to understand the story, because Arcane isn’t trying to be a spin off of a popular game. While playing the game can help you understand elements of the show; ultimately, it doesn’t matter, as the show disconnects itself from the game just enough to be recognizable but to also be its own thing.


Many of the conventional roles that one would find in a story are just not present. There is no protagonist, nor is there an antagonist. No character fits an archetype, whether they seem to at first, and every one of them is layered. There are certainly more morally upstanding characters, but we can see that they don’t always make the best choices, or are too hasty with ambition that they end up hurting millions. No character can be called a hero because they all have some blood on their hands, and that blood is often due to their virtues, not their flaws. The most heartbreaking moments stem from the purest of intentions, or pure intentions that weren’t as good the characters believe they are.

The so-called antagonist, Silco, may seem cruel, but he shows that he is a loving father to those he cares about and a man who has very realistic ideologies about his situation. He was someone who was hurt a long time ago and doesn’t want to be hurt like that again. 

The characters walk a gray line of morality, having very human flaws and personalities that makes them feel like real people. 

Another thing I like about the characters in Arcane is their motives. Even if we don’t agree with the characters’ actions, often we are shown what motivates them.

One is a scientist who was saved by magic as a little boy and wants to use science to do the same for others.

A professor has lived through an event that nearly destroyed the world. One is a man from the poor undercity who became a scientist to help those in spite of his poor health. Then, there’s a brother who was never the best at anything and was left to drown by his brother’s own hands. One is a former revolutionary who wanted what was best for his people but didn’t see the price of his revolution until he saw just a few of the orphans his war created. The list of characters is long and full of intrigue–where past influences present.

We see these characters and their lives, so we understand why they go down the paths that they do, why they make the choices that they do.

World Building

Arcane’s world building is complete.

 Arcane’s world is split into two factions, the upper city of Piltover, and the under city of Zaun. Piltover is a city of progress, innovation, and steampunk, magic, technology called Hextech. Piltover is clean, bright, organized, and refined in design. The people from Piltover often have a rich dignified look in their design. Zaun is the complete opposite, polluted, crime ridden, dirty, falling apart, drug infested. Zaun’s design is gritty, dark, and falling apart at the seams, much like its impoverished people.  Zaun’s people have this roughed up aspect to their designs, signifying both their lack of money, status, or unpolluted air, and the harsh conditions they have to live in. All of this is separated by the literal divide between the two, connected through exploitation and corruption.

There are so many different details hidden all over the show that add just that much more to the setting in general.

The politics in Arcane drive the plot. Arcane presents very different perspectives on its political climate, so it’s hardly one sided, and each point does have its fair share of pros and cons. It mirrors the conflicts in our society and comments upon rich and poor.

Credit to this beautiful writing goes to Christian Linke and Alex Yee.  Linke is a composer for Riot.  Alex Yee has written narratives for Riot, but this is his first time contributing to a project this large.


Riot has always been known for their stellar music. League of Legends has thousands of songs from K-pop, to rap, to heavy metal, to classical, to anime, and to techno, Riot has proven themselves to be legends of music, and Arcane is no different.

Arcane’s score is absolutely spell binding, so many pieces of music elevating the moments in the show. 

The soundtrack in Arcane generally consists of three different types of songs. There are setting establishing songs such as “Playground” by Bea Miller, “Dirty Little Animals” by Bones UK, and “Misfit Toys” by Pusha T and Mako. These songs are to help elevate a certain setting or establish a sense for the area the characters are in. “Playground” plays when we first see Zaun, helping to establish Zauns general vibe as the characters walk through the infested streets. “Dirty Little Animals” plays after a time shift, helping us to get an idea of how much things have changed after so much time. And finally, “Misfit Toys” properly introduces us to the Firelights, their goals, and their vibe. These songs are a few of my favorite songs out of the bunch, helping to establish information in the world.

Fight songs are songs that play in the background during a fight scene, helping the audience get pumped up during these high energy scenes. “Snakes” by PVRIS and MIYAVI and “Dynamite and Dystopia” by Bren Joy, Denzel Curry, and Glenda Proby fall into this category. They perfectly set the mood for the particular fight scene they play over, and help elevate the emotions that are behind the battle.

Finally, there are what I deem, “emotional punches to the freakin’ gut.” These songs play during emotional scenes, and they hit hard. These songs are “Goodbye” by Ramsey, “Guns for Hire” by Woodkid, and “What Could Have Been” by Sting and Ray Chen. These songs accompany the most emotionally devastating moments of the show, and provide such an emotional layer that make those moments hit just that much harder.

Of course, I want to give special attention to Arcane’s theme song “Enemy” by Imagine Dragons and J.I.D, a song that got it’s own animated music video. “Enemy” is a character song, specifically focused on Powder and her perspective. Its tune may be of a standard pop song, but if you listen to the lyrics, you really start to gain a perspective into Powder’s mind and the darker aspects that plague her. In a way, the song is a mirror of her arc in the story, telling her story through its notes.


Alongside music, Riot is also known for stellar animation. They have 3-d animated shorts, 2-d shorts, anime-like animation, and a million other things. They are legends with animation, and people have been shouting at them to make an animated series for years. With such a stellar track record, it’s no surprise that Riot went all out with animation for Arcane.

Arcane’s animation was handled by the French animation company Fortiche, starting production in 2009. They spent 11 years refining this show, and it shows as the animation is fluid, clean, and detailed.

Arcane uses a style of hybrid 3-D and 2-D animation, giving the aesthetic of an oil painting. Personally, I love animation styles like these because they can add so much to a show if done right. It allows for 3-D animations, dynamic movement, the realistic effect, and the freedom of possibility, while also giving 2-D animations more expressive and imaginative possibilities. The fight scenes, the emotional scenes, and every scene with Jinx in them, are all elevated by this animation style.

And on top of that, the animators put so much time and effort into the animation that makes the whole show such an amazing thing to rewatch.  Remember when Disney was making Tangled? To simulate Rapunzel’s hair, they hung a cloth from a balcony and studied how it moved in the wind. Well, it’s like Arcane did that with pretty much every element in the show, only 100 times more authentic. The way hair moves as its swung around, the way rain falls against stone, the way forces push and pull, everything in the show feels so realistic in the way it moves, the way the physics words. You can feel the weight, speed, and impact in every fight scene, making it all seem so tangible. Gusts of wind and touches of light give it such an anime feel. 

One of the biggest pros of Arcane’s animation is the character animation. The characters move in ways that show their personalities and make them feel real.

Oh, and by the way, none of this was motion captured, so keep that in mind.

Voice Acting

Of course, no show would be complete without its voice acting, and Arcane goes hard with this aspect. Every breath, every word, it all feels so real. You can feel the emotion behind every scream, every word, just everything. 

I especially want to commend Ella Purnell, the voice of Jinx; and Mia Sinclair Jenness, the voice of Powder for just how raw they made their characters sound. There are so many scenes where these two characters are having mental breakdowns, and you can really hear the raw emotion as they do, making the scenes feel so much more impactful.

And the dialogue between the characters never feels stale or forced. The story has a show don’t tell format, but when they do speak, their words feel raw, natural, and just all around so well executed.

Arcane is the most raw, emotional, and real story that I have ever seen. The characters, the world, and the story, all of it is so compelling, and it feels so realistic and tragic. It’s a show that will have you crying at the end after everything falls apart. It hurts in ways that shocks and stabs you all over, yet you want to see them fix everything, for things to get better, but they never do, and that hurts even more.

Who is your favorite Character in Arcane?


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