“Hey have you watched Arcane yet?” - “Me: Not yet, heard about it on Reddit. It’s based on League of Legends right? I’ve never played the game.” - “Just watch it NOW.”

If someone had told me that there was going to be something better than Squid Game to watch on TV in 2021, I’d have laughed. Now I would have the admit they were right. The best TV show of the year 2021, in my opinion, is most certainly Arcane, developed as a collaboration between Riot Games (characters and story) the French studio Fortiche (for the production itself. By the way, Fortiche is a casual word to mean strong in French, and they clearly deserve that name). You may be aware that Riot Games’ reputation is not so hot lately, but do not let that detract you from checking out Arcane.

First, I have absolutely no idea what League of Legends was about, so I took a nose dive in the world of Arcane with absolutely no reference. Turns out you don’t need it to appreciate it at all - everything is well introduced and takes you for the ride progressively.

It’s an animated series. Or should I say, it’s THE animated series. I can’t recall when 3D or 2D animation looked that good in recent history. It’s absolutely ground-breaking and makes the best Pixar and Disney productions look boring and generic. I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of talent they were able to gather to work on this piece of art. Fortiche shows how it’s done, mixing in a seamless way of painted 2D backgrounds with 3D characters as if they were one, blending them with such subtlety your eyes won’t catch the trick until another viewing.

It’s just beautiful no matter how look at it, in a way that’s breathtaking. The five-minute introduction scene is in itself an absolute marvel to look at: a tragedy in the making, without voice-over, only carried by a soft and sad music, setting the scene for the intertwined destiny of two sisters, Vi and Powder.

Watching Arcane would be absolutely worth it if even for the visuals alone. Never before have 3D characters managed to be that expressive and life-like on screen. They adjusted the frame rate to help make the 3D models look more hand-drawn than they would if everything were too smooth.

But the creators managed to craft a great story on top of it! They took the world and characters of LoL as a reference and added a real narrative on top of it. It starts as a bunch of kids from the undercity make it to the rich quarters of Piltover (the city off-limits to them) and end up stealing some precious artifacts they had no knowledge about. Things turn sour, and they get to grasp with the consequences of their actions. The second episodes turns the camera around, and focuses on what happens to the guy whose goods were stolen. Despite a victim, he too will face deep troubles from this unfortunate event. Time will pass and this single event will have deep repercussions for the fate of the Undercity and Piltover, for better and for worse.

Someone there took some notes from Game of Thrones, with no character being either good or bad like in so many poorly written stories out there. They spend a great deal of time to show why everyone is a result of their past actions and traumas and current incentives at play, without casting judgment. Someone you may imagine as being a good leader has in fact a secret arrangement with their enemies to avoid the escalation of violence: something that would enrage their own followers if they found out. Everyone has complex issues they are trying to deal with, giving rise to serious confrontations throughout the 9 episodes of the first season (a follow-up season is in the works, probably for 2023).

I enjoyed it so much that it sounds right to share the words I heard before: “Just watch it NOW.”