Welcome to the Playground
Episode 1 of Arcane Season 1 begins with haunting singing; background against a flurry of blood-red scenes. Explosions ring out as we open to two children, Vi and Powder, walking through this battlefield. As they’re taken away by Vander, their guardian, they look in horror as their mother lies dead on the floor.
This sows the seeds for what’s to follow as we cut forward through time. Powder and Vi climb up onto the rooftops and make their way across to a workshop. These kids marvel at the riches in the utopian city of Piltover, with food just left outside and the sun shining down on them. It’s a direct contrast to their hometown; the oppressed, seedy undercity, known as Zaun.
The two kids are joined by fellow miscreants Claggor and Mylo, who remain intent on trying to find valuables to sell on. Despite the worries of Vander catching them, the kids head inside the workshop.
Powder finds strange glowing blue orbs inside and decides to take them with her. Only, there’s a problem. Rapping at the door sees Powder drop one in surprise. It rolls across the bedroom, letting out brilliant blue crackles of lightning before exploding. The kids’ cover is blown. Horns sound across the city as our four characters are forced to run.
Although they manage to get away, the foursome run into even bigger trouble when confronted by a guy called Deckard and his gang. It’s here we get our first look at the action in this series, with a slew of slow-motion shots that accentuate each stiff punch or kick. For Powder, it’s all too much and she runs away while the others are fighting.
Powder finds herself corned down on the docks with nowhere to go. With little other choice, she throws her bag of trinkets into the water. Mylo is not happy when he finds out, claiming she jinxes every job they’re on.
With the mission a dud and Deckard and co. dealt with, the kids head back to the underbelly of this world emptyhanded. Neon lights, rusty metal and a much more chaotic hierarchy is on offer here, all of which beautifully rendered and coloured.
Vander is the barkeep in these parts and oversees proceedings in the Lanes. When he notices the kids trudging in, he quizzes them about the explosion.
Vander continues on, imploring them to stay away from the Northside and talking to Vi in confidence. He reminds her that stealing from Piltover isn’t going to solve their problems – it’ll just cause more of them. After the explosion, he tells them all to lay low, counting it as a blessing in disguise that the bag has been dropped in the water.
When he leaves the kids, Vander heads over to Benzo’s. It’s here where the kids received the tip-off about the workshop, courtesy of a guy known as Little Man. More concerned than anything, Vander warns that there’s someone playing dirty in their ranks, reiterating the story about Vi and Powder being cornered in the alley. “There’s worse things than Enforcers out there,” He says gravely.
Speaking of which, Enforcers from Piltover appear at Benzo’s and begin questioning the pair. One of them, Grayson, is well-acquainted with the guys down in the under city. Now, it turns out the workshop the kids attacked belonged to the Kirammans, powerful people.
The Council in Piltover need someone to blame and the only way out for them is to name someone to take the fall. The alternative is that Grayson return with a whole army of enforcers.
In the wake of this, we cut across to Powder, who happens to have one of these blue orbs in her pocket. Vi gives her some encouraging words of wisdom, telling her she’s stronger than she thinks and promising that the city will respect them in the future.
Deckard, the man beaten in the streets earlier on, is brought before his superiors. He breaks the news that the kids are responsible for the explosion, as this strange man prepares for his next move, especially when he learns Vander is in trouble. This man seems to be a scientist, and after a strange experiment, decides to use Deckard as his next subject.
The Episode Review
As someone who’s never played League of Legends, Arcane is actually a really accessible series. I’d imagine those who have played the games will grasp the lore and ideas a lot faster than those who haven’t but that’s a moot point given what Arcane serves up.
The animation is beautifully presented and the world, divided into rich and poor, is a nice way to echo and exaggerate our current climate in the western world. The first episode gets things off to a great start too, with a simple but effective introduction to our characters, lots of drama and plenty of intriguing history and lore. Little touches, like the plate of cupcakes left outside in the sun, work well to give the show a sense of visual thematic relevance, and hopefully that will continue through the rest of the series.
This isn’t the first time French animation studios have excelled with videogame content though, with Wakfu doing a similarly great job with its material.
The ending of this episode does hint that we’ve got a much darker set of episodes ahead, so we’ll have to wait and see what this one has in store for us. Either way, Arcane gets off to a brilliant start.