The show details friction between the privileged innovators of a steampunk city and the impoverished slums underneath it.


The Netflix animated series Arcane stars characters from and is set in the world of popular video game League of Legends, but nonplayers needn't care: Almost nothing about the show attempts to mimic the game. That's its genius.

Rather than just gamer fan service, the show offers a gripping, lush nine-part epic tragic drama about the painful friction between the privileged innovators of steampunk city Piltover and the impoverished, alchemy-fueled slums underneath it. Heroes and villains abound on both sides, and a core subplot involves attempts by the underdwellers to liberate themselves from the rule of a city that doesn't seem terribly interested in their needs.

The series strives not to take sides; it focuses instead on who is harmed by the value judgments that feed this struggle, how the trauma affects them, and how irreconcilable attitudes draw to an inescapably violent climax.

The animation, meanwhile, is jaw-droppingly high-quality, mixing strong, stylized storytelling with surprisingly realistic movement and expression. Hollywood studio execs should study Arcane before attempting any more game adaptations.