Review: Arcane Act One Introduces A Complex World Of Politics, Magic And Sisterhood
I can’t say enough good things about the new Netflix original series in this Arcane act one review. The brand new series from Riot Games is an adaptation to their highly successful video game franchise, League Of Legends. The series takes characters already in the game and creates a beautiful tapestry of stories that are awe-inspiring. Not to mention the gorgeous animation style, but more importantly, an insane story that makes use of dramatic storytelling in the best possible way.
Please note: the first season of Arcane takes place over three different acts, featuring three episodes per act. This will be a spoiler-filled review of Arcane act one, comprising of the first three episodes of the series.
Arcane Act One Establishes The World And Its Characters
Orphans | Image via Netflix.
The first three episodes of Arcane almost tell their own self-contained story. If this was a movie franchise, then the Arcane act one episodes are basically the Star Wars prequel trilogy. More on that later. The series begins with the dynamic between two orphaned sisters, Vi and Powder and their adoptive father, Vander. They reside in Zaun, an underground city, removed from the rich and elite, where all manner of people and creatures live together, in poverty. Their lives are in direct contrast to those above, living in Piltover, where the more affluent members of society reside.
The sisters, along with their friends, pull ‘jobs’, steal and find any way to survive in their situation. But when they rob a scientist’s lab, an explosion in Piltover puts them on the radar of those that live above. That’s when we realize just how fragile this balance is between Zaun and Piltover. Someone has to pay for the damage to property and lives. This one incident, arguably one created by Powder and her lack of care when it came to some explosive gems, kickstarts this story.
The Politics Of The Under City And The Elite Above
A Piltover soldier. | Image via Netflix.
A story is only as good as its characters and the word they inhabit. In that sense, Arcane does a wonderful job of creating and developing this world into something intriguing and fascinating. Audiences can absolutely engage with the story in a way that’s familiar, but also new and fresh. The downtrodden live below, the affluent, above, a sci-fi trope we’ve seen often in things like Alita: Battle Angel or Altered Carbon. When tensions between the two cities came to a head, we learn that Vander (JB Blanc), once upon a time led a failed rebellion against Piltover. The same one that took the lives of Vi and Powder’s parents. Since then, he’s entered into an unlikely agreement with those above, to keep the two societies separate, and maintain peace.
However, when trouble comes looking, one of Vander’s old allies, Silco (Jason Spisak) takes advantage. The politics of Arcane are interesting, for sure, but more so when they’re wrapped up in the personal tragedies of those involved. Vander’s failure made him take responsibility and become a guardian of Zaun and its inhabitants, like the sisters. Whereas Silco, betrayed by Vander, still seeks revenge on those in Piltover. In many ways Silco seeks war and is plotting to get it.
The Parallel Story Of Magic And Technology
One of the many inhabitants of Arcane. | Image via Netflix.
Amidst all this, the story then flips back up to the Piltover side, and how Vi and Powder’s actions affected the person they stole from. A scientist dabbling in magic, the gems that Powder stole belonged to Jayce (Kevin Alejandro). Once his experiments with magic came to light, Jayce received banishment from his job and station in life. However, desaparate to bring magic into the world, despite continuous warnings, he successfully develops Hextech, a blend of science and magic. One of the warnings involved allusions to a previous time of magic when the world was at war, and how it devoted at least one race of people.
These parallel story tracks are interesting, because, while the story in Zaun is more about the characters and their drama, Jayce and the story of Piltover seems to be setting up things to come. The world-building is on display here too, as the Council at the Science Academy seems to have a rich history and alludes to a lot of things I want more information on. Like that aforementioned mention of a time of mages, as well as a reference to the ‘Arcane’ title. Which made it seem like some people have natural powers or gifts.
Arcane Act One Review Is Full Of Spoilers
That deep state into nothingness. | Image via Netflix.
Last warning: major spoilers for Arcane act one forthcoming!
In many ways, the review of Arcane act one has to get into spoilers, because of what made this first act so great. Which is the turn of one of the characters. Throughout this first act, Powder (Mia Sinclair Jenness) is the little sister; small, inept, clumsy and unable to keep up with the big kids. Good thing that her older sister Vi (Hailee Steinfeld) is always there to protect, encourage and empower her. It’s a sweet dynamic between the sisters. However, when all the chips fall, and the safety and security of everyone in Zaun is threatened, things go very badly.
Silco’s plans come to fruition as he kidnaps Vander. Vi and her crew go to help, leaving Powder behind, as she could be a liability. Powder uses the powerful and dangerous gems she stole from Jayce’s lab to help her friends and save Vi. Powder’s involvement accidentally results in the death of— basically all of their friends, including Vander. What follows is the most heartbreaking thing since Anakin’s defeat by a devastated Obi-Wan.
Arcane Act One Works As An Origin Story Turned Tragedy
How the other side lives. | Image via Netflix.
Act one of Arcane is very emotional, in a way that we never see coming. The relationship between Vi and Powder is touched upon throughout the act. So the eventual rift between them is shocking and also tragic, as it also feels unavoidable, given where the story goes. And it’s hard to take two good people and showcase the tragedy of how they drift apart into their respective realms of good and evil. Act one leaves Powder, feeling betrayed and lost, in the hands of Silco, who suffered a similar betrayal from Vander years ago. It’s sad, emotional and utterly gut-wrenching. And it’s only the first three episodes of a nine-episode series!
The Themes Of Arcane Act One Go Beyond Being A Fantasy Story
Mega City One– I mean Piltover. | Image via Netflix.
At first blush, Arcane seems like an adaptation of a game franchise, for the sake of it. But if these first three episodes are any indication, it’s going to be one of the better animated series I’ve seen in a while. On top of the relationship story between the sisters, the themes are so strong in this. The story has elements of a commentary on the nature of society. The divide between the rich and poor, the desperation of the downtrodden, willing to rise up against those that keep them down.
Now add to this the impact on the story of the introduction of magic, or rather, Hextech, as Jayce calls it. What does that do to the status quo of this already imbalanced world? Even more so considering that Silco in Zaun has a potion that turns men into monsters. The combination of all these elements makes for an amazing story that I can’t wait to see unfold.
Arcane act one premieres on Netflix on November 6.
What did you think of this awesome new Netflix series? Does the magic and relationships work for you in act one so far? Let me know in the comments below.
Featured image via Netflix.
Shah Shahid is an entertainment writer, movie critic (so he thinks), host of the Split Screen Podcast (on Apple Podcasts & everywhere else) and filmy father on a mission to educate his girls on decades of film history. Armed with uncontrollable sarcasm and cautious optimism, Shah loves discussing film, television and comic book content until his wife’s eyes glaze over. So save her by engaging him on his own blog at BlankPageBeatdown.com or on Twitter @theshahshahid.