“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”– Colossians 4:6 (ESV)
I have to begin by sharing that I’ve never played League of Legends and am unfamiliar with the general lore and huge mass of characters I know make up that universe. I went into Arcane blind with no expectations, and I honestly think I enjoyed the show all the more because of that. Arcane is probably one of the most engaging adaptations of a video game property I’ve ever seen, and I wanted to share my thoughts on the show. It is difficult reviewing this show from a Christian perspective, however, because there weren’t that many clear values that could be observed.
The protagonists in Arcane are deeply flawed, and in many instances can be difficult to root for. I found myself enjoying scenes featuring the antagonists more, who can be seen as sympathetic and human, even if their actions are more extreme and overtly harmful toward others. As entertaining as this series is, and as imaginative as the world and characters are, I found there weren’t many morals or lessons that can be obviously construed. However, there is one recurring theme I noticed that I think is worth discussing…as subtle as it is.
Arcane is a nine-episode series that takes place between the rich, innovative world of Piltover and the polluted and poverty-stricken underground City of Zaun. The two locations and respective peoples have been at odds for years, brewing up civil war and animosity between the two. The story focuses on two orphan sisters from Zaun, Violet and Powder, who find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict due to unforeseen and tragic circumstances.
Despite its animated medium, Arcane is a show that is definitely not for children. Course language, brutal fights, blood, and sexual themes are shown liberally throughout, making this show definitely more appropriate for adults and perhaps older, more mature children. There is a reason why Arcane has been greatly acclaimed and has become one of Netflix’s most popular shows, and that really comes from its presentation. The animation is spectacular and so fluid – you can feel each punch that lands and the intricate movements characters make that could just make your jaw drop. This was definitely a project where a lot of time and care was spent to make the best possible show, and the results speak for themselves.
The voice acting is also remarkable. I was happy to note the cast was a mix of veteran voice and screen actors taking the helm, and all knocked their respective roles out of the park. I knew I was in for something special early on when I saw a scene of young Powder just messily sobbing in one scene. Actress Mia Sinclair Jenness is practically hyperventilating as the animation shows Powder coughing as she cries, snot and tears running down her face. We’ve all had experiences of deep crying fits like that at one point or another in our lives, and it just mesmerized me. That’s only one small taste of what wonderful performances are shown in Arcane.
Just as the animation is fluid and the voice acting brings the story to life, what really impressed me was the worldbuilding. I had no idea what I was getting into watching Arcane for the first time, but I fell in love with the city of Piltover with its gleaming, aristocratic architecture, and its contrast with the dark underbelly that is Zaun. The colors and lighting are absolutely top-notch, and my hopes are that in the future there will be an art book released depicting the behind-the-scenes designs of these locations. It was jarring booting up Leagues of Legends afterward to try it out for the first time, just as a taste to see what I was missing, and I was disappointed that it wasn’t set up like Arcane had created it to be. Perhaps for longtime fans, Arcane is a well-deserved reward; it’s an amazing show that has the potential to grow and include a multitude of characters. I’m not familiar with the backstories of most of the characters of League of Legends, but if they’re as interesting as they’re portrayed on Arcane, then fans may be right to whet their appetite for future seasons. For newcomers like myself, I’m grateful just to enjoy a wonderful show based on a video game, albeit one I’m not familiar with. Perhaps that speaks more of Arcane’s quality and Riot Games’ storytelling abilities.
I have to admit that I struggled to glean any obvious Christian or positive themes while watching Arcane. There are no obvious themes of good and evil; the protagonists are just as flawed as the perceived villains are. Jinx and Silco are coincidentally my favorite characters; they’re more interesting than most of the heroes when it comes to their personal struggles and their unique pseudo-father-daughter relationship. It isn’t often you see villains genuinely care for one another, so this was a nice surprise.
Another complex theme is the relationship between sisters Vi and Powder (who changes her name to Jinx as an adult). Due to their circumstances, the sisters leave each other on less than positive terms and are soon set on their own paths. A big part of this is the result of poor communication. Vi, as the older sister, means well when looking out for her younger sister and their friends. However, she is headstrong and doesn’t think before acting. This leads to her language as well, which is also biting and rash. Young Powder naturally looks up to Vi and wants to be more like her. Being the youngest out of their foster family, though, she is seen as more of a nuisance and not helpful during missions. Vi knows Powder means well and will often stand up for her, but will sometimes take her frustrations out on her vulnerable sibling. We see the cracks begin to form in the relationship early on when they’re young children who have witnessed so much trauma in their young lives, and neither has learned how to grow from that in a healthy manner.
A lot of irreparable harm in their relationship with one another has to do with that poor communication. In Colossians 4:6, Paul urges us to speak with wisdom to one another, not in a rash and harsh manner, but by being uplifting. Our words reflect the state of our hearts; if we speak gently and patiently, that is a sign of a gentle heart that wants to help others. If we speak boldly and truthfully, that shows signs of wisdom and courage in our thoughts and minds. If we speak harshly and cruelly, however, that reflects the state of our heart as well and can break relationships beyond repair.
My thoughts while watching Arcane were that a lot of the characters’ strife and anguish may have been mitigated if they had taken the time to listen to one another, and not react blindly in a given situation, no matter how intense or hopeless it may be. If there’s anything we want to take away from this, it’s that words do matter. How we say those words to others matters. They reflect what’s really going on in our hearts, and whether or not we are acting in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. As you interact with others, take notice of how you speak with them. You may find your words making a stronger impact than you realize.