It’s not always easy to predict which shows will instantly become appointment television. A dark fantasy series based on a half-completed run of novels? Yup! A profane but sardonically humorous soap inspired partially by Rupert Murdoch? Okay, sure! How about an animated prequel for a multiplayer game with more than 140 distinct playable characters? Uh...
Yes, in the event you haven’t heard, a Netflix series based on Riot’s immensely popular MOBA, League of Legends, is all the rage these days. It’s called Arcane, and it’s tearing up the charts.
But you possibly already knew that. Arcane, after all, is the first show to dethrone Squid Game from Netflix’s most-watched list since that show’s buzzy fall debut. It’s also currently sitting at a coveted 100 percent on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes (audience score: 98 percent), making it the platform’s best-rated show, according to International Business Times. Everyone loves this one, and rightfully so.
Arcane mostly focuses on the story of two young, orphaned sisters—the pink-haired Vi and the blue-haired Powder—and their surrogate family, all of whom live in the downtrodden Undercity. In the premiere, they stage a heist on an apartment in the well-heeled upper quarter, Piltover. Obviously, it does not go as planned. The resulting plot spirals quickly out of control, roping in several other League mainstays, including the inventors Jayce and Viktor and the well-heeled heiress Caitlyn. (Fun fact: In the wake of Arcane’s sudden surge of popularity, more people are playing as characters from the show in League matches.)
It doesn’t hurt that Arcane is quite nice to look at, not just the result of its truly inspired visual style. Produced by the Parisian studio Fortiche, Arcane goes all in on time-tested film techniques, with dramatic wide shots, shaky cams for action scenes, a liberal use of slow mo for the fights (eat your heart out, Zak Snyder), and dramatic depth of field in nine out of ten shots.
In terms of pacing, Arcane is both a marathon and sprint, packing episodes with so many plot beats there’s never a slow moment. And it’s relentlessly tense. At least once per episode, I’ve found myself holding my breath for an entire scene without even realizing it.
Lest you worry that you need familiarity with League lore, I’ll note, with a confession, that you’ll get by just fine without it. I don’t know anything about the source material, haven’t ever played the game, couldn’t even name any of its characters before watching Arcane. In fact, I think my knowledge gap has only enhanced my enjoyment. One twist in the fourth episode caught me totally off-guard. After reading up a bit on the lore since, as it turns out, had I played the game, I’d have seen it coming a mile away.
Arcane has also no doubt found some of its success the result of a hybridized distribution model. Netflix isn’t releasing episodes singularly, in that once-airtight model known as “old-school television.” Nor is the streaming giant dropping them in a one-off dump, then ignoring the show for a year or two, as it has with so many tentpole shows. Rather, Netflix is releasing episodes in three-episode dumps, each broken into an “act.” The second batch went live this past weekend, and it’s just as thrilling—if not more so—than the first. Can’t wait to see if the third, planned to debut on November 20, holds up.