When Riot Games’ first animated show Arcane premiered, it was like watching a scintillating display of fireworks that caught the eyes of League of Legends players and casual, non-gaming viewers alike, marking the start of an epic and explosive journey of self-discovery and worth.
Some people might have been originally drawn to the show because it was made by their favorite game studio or because the cast looked exciting. But after dipping their toes in the water, it became clear that viewers were throwing themselves on a beautifully animated roller coaster headed straight into the mirrored worlds of Zaun and Piltover to experience two thrilling—yet heartbreaking—stories within these cities.
In Arcane’s second act, however, we expected the show to move away from the scene-setting and were ready to jump into the drama and action that was introduced to us in the first chapter of this saga. And although we did dive into more action, it felt like the newest act was an oddly paced buildup for the big drop at the top of the wild ride.
(Spoilers for Arcane act two ahead.)
Inches away from true chaos
In act two, we’re thrown several years into the future after the events of act one. The characters we know have grown up quite a bit. On the topside, Jayce and Viktor have unveiled the power of Hextech to Piltover by creating Hexgates that allow their traders and people to travel massive distances, while their new Hextech Gemstones can power almost any machine you can think of. Caitlyn has become a junior enforcer, much to the dismay of her parents. But she’s determined to prove herself and not be judged off her family name alone.
In Zaun, Jinx has grown to be a teen genius with a penchant for chaos and destruction. She doesn’t seem to be completely stable after accidentally killing Vander and watching her sister abandon her, especially after being taken under the wing of the underworld’s new leader, Silco.
Caitlyn’s quest to stop Jinx’s mayhem leads her right to a prison-hardened Vi, who’s been an inmate of Piltover since her capture at the hands of Marcus. The unlikely duo join forces to find Jinx. They explore more of the Silco-controlled Zaun and the two sisters eventually have a tearful reunion that’s cut short by both Caitlyn’s presence spooking our favorite blue-haired bomber and a Firelight attack.
The end of the second act brings us full circle when Marcus and the rest of the enforcers begin to block off bridges and streets as they prepare for war, similar to the one Vander and the Zaunite rebels fought in during the opening moments of episode one.
In terms of characters and environments, Arcane continues to hit the nail on the head. With our beloved heroes now growing up, many League players will start to recognize the champions that they are slated to become, while newcomers get to witness how these people have evolved as adults in this fantastical universe.
Zaun and Piltover are beautifully portrayed by the animators and the characters are charming like always. For example, Jinx’s voice actor, Ella Purnell, was able to evoke those moments of inner chaos so well during her character’s monologues, while also reflecting the Jinx that League players know and love.
The fight scenes were heart-pounding and the key, emotion-filled moments were perfectly punctuated by incredible editing and music choices. The biggest thing, though, is that the pacing for these moments felt a bit too rushed for its own good.
So close, and yet…
In a series with only nine episodes to work with, it’ll be a hard task to fit enough storytelling into such a small amount of time. Many shows usually slow down within the middle of their arc since they’re also looking to ramp things up toward a dramatic and exciting end. But Arcane‘s shortcomings in act two were much more noticeable, especially after such a strong start.
There were multiple aspects of the story that could have used a bit more time to grow instead of things just falling into place. Caitlyn and Vi’s relationship is a great example of this.
The whole reason why Vi agreed to the escape plan was because she wanted to find her sister. But instead of ditching Caitlyn the moment she stepped out of prison like so many others expected her to do, she just stuck with her. It also took a jarringly small amount of time for Vi to trust Caitlyn, even though she’s had an intense hatred for Piltover and its enforcers since she was a child. This hatred should have been reinforced after she was imprisoned for so long, too.
Powder’s transformation into Jinx was great to finally see as a League player, but again, her tearful reunion with Vi should have been a lot more confrontational, if we’re going by past events. Remember, our favorite loose cannon had so much hatred and distrust for Vi after her “betrayal” at the end of act one. But as soon as she sees her again, that major driving force is forgotten.
Even though Jinx does get a bit angry, they don’t really have a big clash after such a splintering separation at the end of act one. Instead, things fall into place as needed and a new problem is introduced with the Firelights.
It feels like these major points were sped through so that the show could leave off on a cliffhanger to entice people for the third and final act. This left a shaky narrative in its wake that lessened the impact of some of the big moments that were supposed to leave us breathless. But Riot can still pull things back together and bring the multiple stories to their finale in Arcane act three.
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