East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Steampunk shenanigans: Arcane (2021)

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I have never played League of Legends, and I have no idea what it’s all about. I have seen a lot of game artwork around, and I have been duly impressed by the look of the thing, but I am not that much of a gamer anymore – if I ever was. On the other hand, I am a sucker for good animation, and for steampunk, so when the trailer of Arcane, the new Netflix series, was posted, it got my attention.

Now the first three episodes are here – and clocking at 40 minutes each, they are just what the doctor ordered for a break and a cup of tea between writing sessions.
And I am duly impressed.

Set in a steampunk city in which the separation between haves and have-nots is painfully evident and ruthlessly enforced, the story focuses on a band of street urchins that stumble on something big and dangerous. And I am really curious to see where this is going.

The art and the character design is quite good, the animation is excellent, the voice cast is top-notch – that’s Shohreh Aghdashloo voicing the chief of police.
I have heard the setting being criticized as unoriginal, a hodgepodge of Western and Eastern tropes designed to hook the widest audience possible. And honestly, I do not see what’s wrong for a creator to look for the widest audience possible – especially when developing a side project inside a hugely popular IP. And the world is not that ugly or trite, at least from what I’ve been able to see so far.

And yes, there are goblins in this, of the short and funny sort, and cat and fox girls are likely to pop up too in the future; and that’s one of the things that might raise a few eyebrows among the fantasy elites, but again – it’s a colourful, fast-paced romp through a strange city, with lots of explosions, fights and chases, and a side of possibly naive but much welcome revolution. Crying because this is no Gormenghast or Lord of the Rings is silly, and probably in bad faith.

So yes, I am hooked, and while I seriously doubt I will ever play the game, I will look forward to the next episodes. I am not looking for the Truth, I am only looking for high-quality entertainment, and Arcane so far has delivered as promised.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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