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Home > How ‘Arcane’ Tells its Story by Rewriting Canon

How ‘Arcane’ Tells its Story by Rewriting Canon

Image courtesy of ‘The Harvard Crimson’ | ‘Arcane’ Courtesy of Netflix and Riot Games

An Adaptation that Replaces the Magic of the Original

In recent years, adult animation has gained more respect from superhero shows such as Invincible to dark dramas like Bojack Horseman. One more in the pantheon is the animated adaptation of Riot’s League of Legends, Arcane. The show received praise for its worldbuilding, characters, and escalating story. However, for as successful as the series was, it came at the cost of upending almost the entirety of the original lore of League of Legends, to the point of the latter being nearly unrecognizable. 

World (Re)Building 

The first change Arcane makes to the world of Runeterra is the core of any fantasy world, it’s magic. Worldbuilding is a key ingredient to any good sci-fi or fantasy world and has been the downfall of many other franchises. In the lore of League of Legends, magic is an omnipresent element in Runeterra. From the war mages of Noxus, to the divine magic of Shurima, to the lands of Ionia being made of magic to virtually every other faction on the map, magic is impossible to avoid. As for Zaun and Piltover, their use of magitek/hextech was long established before the cast’s time and is the foundation for the setting.

However, despite its title, magic is a far more obtuse subject within Arcane. As established by the early parts of Jayce’s storyline, magic is rare and far enough away to be shrouded in mystery. The very sight of a wizard is enough to fill him with a sense of wonder. Furthermore, the series takes place at the dawn of “hextech” which transpires over the course of the show. This itself is not just a minor retcon, but an irreconcilable divide between the two settings. 

Perhaps this is most disappointing given just how much energy Riot puts into the worldbuilding of League of Legends. Book-length codexes are written explaining the world with professional artwork depicting them. As such, it’s fairly disappointing to see so little of Runeterra transferred to the screen.

Characterization 

The next major wave of changes to Arcane from the original story of League of Legends is the characters. Arcane was praised for its dynamic, human cast that even shed light on various social issues. Within League of Legends, many of the members of the cast are virtually nothing alike. 

Where better to start than with the de facto main character of the show, Jinx/Powder? While she was by no means a shallow character in the original game, she was by all accounts a lighthearted character. She was built from the ground up as a whacky, free-spirited mascot for the game, as shown through her hyperactive dialogue and flashy attacks. In the show, however, the writers go the Joker (2019) route. Her mental instability is played entirely seriously as she now has a far darker backstory and somber characterization.

Image courtesy of ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ | ‘Arcane’ Courtesy of Netflix and Riot Games

The next major example is with the other major duo, Jayce and Viktor. In the original game, the two were an homage to classic rivals of a strong hero and a mad scientist, such as Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer. In this show, however, both of them are far more serious characters with a strained relationship and even romantic subtext. Furthermore, in the game, Viktor is still a cyborg with a heavy Russian accent. One minor example is Ekko, who loses his character’s entire gimmick of being a chronokinetic. Apart from Caitlyn, none of the champions have had their artwork or voice lines upgraded in-game, making this disparity more apparent. 

A Recurring Problem with Riot 

Despite these massive retcons, Riot promised that the show would be for “those familiar with the lore.” The show, however, carries over virtually nothing but the bare bones of the original characters and world. Because of this, Arcane is stuck in a limbo between being a prequel and being a separate timeline entirely. 

This is far from the first time that League of Legends has dealt with this. Before Arcane, however, League of Legends has gone through many lore updates and retcons, turning the world into a Ship of Theseus. Originally the League was an in-universe arena where political disputes were settled. Now, the battles themselves are non-canon and completely separate from the lore. Despite this, retcons continue to happen from character to setting in a highly uneven manner. Popular champions get entire novel texts written with spinoff games while others are forgotten with only a blurb of lore as they get completely forgotten. Story progression either happens through flavor text or million-dollar cutscenes that only give viewers snapshots of a much larger story. 

As one can guess from the characterization of Arcane, League of Legends has abandoned much of its earlier campiness. The exaggerated models and cheesy dialogue were exchanged for dour, realistic art reminiscent of Game of Thrones and pretentious speeches from characters.  As a bittersweet note, Riot recently declared Arcane to be “canon” and that the lore would eventually smooth out. Hopefully, they will take responsibility for the massive retcons needed to create the show. 

Conclusion 

While Arcane may go down as one of the better adult cartoons released in recent years, it tells its story by betraying its source material. In today’s world of massive IPs, lore retcons and separate timelines have become commonplace. Revered works such as Arcane show the benefits and pitfalls of ignoring the lore bible in writing a story.

Image courtesy of ‘Cinemablend’ | ‘Arcane’ Courtesy of Netflix and Riot Games

Arcane Season 2 First Look | Netflix

Source: Dead Talk Live

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