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The surprising magic of Netflix’s ‘Arcane’

| Thursday, December 2, 2021

Claire Kirner | The Observer

I instinctively avoid animated Netflix Originals. They often follow one of the two art styles they can afford, and their stories are constantly moody. For me, I see no point in starting one when an identical one comes out a week later. Dropping entire seasons of similar shows, one after the other, clutters the catalogue, leaving me in an expanding void of exchangeable conflicts and characters.

But “Arcane” is different.

Not like a “Oh, this one has good characters, though!” but more of a complete revival of animated streaming shows. All aspects of the production are executed with full dedication: the scale is an exponential leap, both in technique and potential; the 3D animation is jaw dropping in its fluid energy, committing to multiple aesthetics and rhythms without hesitation; and the world constantly grows, bringing new color and light to each scene with boundless opportunities for future installments.

The choice to release weekly was smart, but it was the evolution of the story in act-structures with the episodes that really shined. There’s a lot of pros to episodic releases, mainly that it keeps the show in conversation much longer than a full-season dump, but “Arcane” attempts a middle ground, which I think falls short in its season finale. I think Netflix is still skittish when it comes to the weekly releases, them being the only streaming service that doesn’t do it, which I think is wasted potential.

“Arcane” splits its story into three acts. The first takes place when the main characters are kids, and the later two take place after a time jump of several years. The transition from Act 1 to Act 2 was fantastic; the beginning culminates in a tragic ending that catapults into the start of the real story. The transition from Act 2 to Act 3 was less of an impact, though. It just continues with the same conflict, with only a few shifts in character focuses. One character in particular suddenly asks for empathy, and I just didn’t buy it at all. His quick humanization crippled Act 3, but the emotional wake was still decent.

Everything revolves around the characters and how they stand against each other. The dynamic shifts in each episode as more is uncovered, leaving a winding path of big dramatic reveals to enjoy. Most of these lead into a fight scene, all of which are the highlight of every episode. Each one has its own stylistic twist that affects the visuals and choreography. Driven by the characters, their individual arcs clash into each other, making the energy pop as the story twists in new directions.

The most surprising part of the show is definitely the music. It’s a unique collection of artists and styles to say the least. At the very beginning is the Imagine Dragons opening title sequence that is both catchy and edgy in a charming way. Then there’s a long list of punk and techno in the soundtrack to match the Undercity tone, which helps flesh out the neon punk world efficiently. But the strangest musical appearance is Sting, out of nowhere. His original song — for this show — creates the most emotional and climactic scene in the whole season. I keep listening to it on repeat. That’s how good it is.

I know nothing about “League of Legends” lore, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the characters and world. Will it inspire me to play the game or delve deeper into its characters? No. But I’ll get excited when the next season releases. This show is more than just a video game adaptation, it exists on its own. There are probably references tucked into the corners that I missed, but they never elbow themselves into the story. Anyone can go in blind and experience the same excitement as a lifelong fan, which is the smartest choice the creators made in crafting this show. As a beginning point of established heroes and villains, I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Title: “Arcane”

Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Kevin Alejandro, Jason Spisak

Directors: Pascal Cherrue, Arnaud Delord, Jérôme Combe

If you like: “Love, Death, and Robots,” “Game of Thrones”

Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5

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