Warning: Spoilers ahead for Season 1 of Arcane
League of Legends newbies and enthusiasts were blown away by Arcane when it hit Netflix in late 2021. Six years in the making, the critically and popularly acclaimed 9-episode Season 1 is rightfully considered one of the best videogame TV adaptations ever produced. Brought to life by the immensely talented French studio Fortiche under the creative direction of Riot Games, the animated series gifts us with meticulously crafted storytelling and worldbuilding, paired with beautifully distinct animation, sound design, editing, and, of course, incredible voice-acting performances.
What makes Arcane such a fantastic adaptation is that it isn’t narratively constricted by the game it is based on. Naturally, there were elements to include and abide by, but overall, the freedom was immense, and the creators utilized it masterfully. One of the most memorable aspects of the world the series presents in all its glory and decadence, are the characters that inhabit it. Whether they are legends in Riot’s MOBA or original creations for the animated TV show, the characters are rich in personality and depth, flawed in the most human ways, affected by change, and conditioned by the environment that surrounds them. Admittedly, it isn’t easy to qualify them, their specific nuances might appeal to some more than others, and there will always be subjectivity to it, but we shall try to place them in ranks according to matters such as complexity, growth, empathetic appeal, thematic pertinence, and, of course, contribution to the overarching storyline.
The revered inventor makes it to our list in the number 10 spot. Likely the smallest as well as the wisest in the room, Heimerdinger plays an undeniably important role in the story as one of Piltover’s founders and a sort of mentor figure to some of the other characters, Jayce and Viktor particularly. What is most interesting about this position he’s first introduced in is how he falls from grace — or rather, is pushed off his pedestal precisely because he’s been there too long and grown blind to the realities that his position hides from him. When we reach the last episodes, Heimerdinger is on his way to learning about the undercity, the people that inhabit it, their struggles, and what can be done to help. The way this will impact the part the yordle plays in Season 2, and how he intends to act on his newfound, first-hand knowledge, may well make him worth a higher spot on this list.
Also, his first name is Cecil. I’ll let that sink in.
The hound of the underground plays the role of the parent figure who tries to set the example and impart some hard-won knowledge of the consequences of revolt and violence to the people he has under his wing, Vi especially. As a parent figure, and in accordance the overdone trope, Vander has to die in order to force his chicks out of the nest. That does not mean they are ready to fly or will fly in the right direction, but it makes for emotionally provocative storytelling and creates attrition between surviving characters. Despite only having lived up until the end of Episode 3, Vander’s spirit continues to weigh on the story and, hence, he conquers a place on this list. He even makes a deserved comeback in Vi’s consciousness in Episode 9 to prove to us how much he has contributed to shaping her character and strengthen the adherence to the morals that Powder strayed from.
It has been speculated by numerous fans that Vander may return to the story in Season 2. The arguments that support this theory are pretty solid too. But, for now, that remains to be seen. As we left him in Season 1, Vander’s our number 9 spot.
Mel Medarda appears as a charismatic and pleasant, albeit shrewd and manipulative woman for most of the series, but it is her past as part of the Noxian aristocracy and how that influences her in the present that makes her that much more multifaceted as a character. We only get to witness this side of her when her mother, Ambessa, comes to Piltover to pressure her into making the kind of decision she is not willing to make. A woman of presence through and through, there’s no denying the influence this powerful woman holds over Jayce – granted, that her attachment seemingly grows larger than she might’ve first anticipated. Either way, she can easily have the newest council member, and pretty much anybody that’s not her mother, wrapped around her little finger.
Speaking of the most recently appointed councilor…
Jayce Tallis, defender of tomorrow, and man of progress. He’s like Hercules, going zero to hero but thanks to his brainpower instead of his muscles — although, he’s not that behind the demi-god in terms of his physique, thanks to the “delicate art” of hammer work. He feels like he could fall into the “himbo” character archetype, only he’s too intelligent… for the most part. But it’s not necessarily his extraordinary gift as an inventor that makes Jayce earn this spot on the list, but the way he changes in the face of obstacles, struggling to make the right decisions in a political game he seemed ill-suited to play at first. Seeing him being hit right in the face with dilemma after dilemma is one of the most interesting parts about his character. It will surely be fascinating to see how the recently-appointed head of the Council will react in the face of the aftermath of Season 1’s impactful closing scene.
The next spot on our list belongs to Ekko, the boy savior who has yet to shatter time. It almost pains me not to place him higher, but let’s say his overall screentime does not allow for that, which is certainly subject to change once Season 2 rolls around. Without a doubt, he’s the star of one of the top 3 best sequences in the whole of Season 1 – you know what I’m referring to. Although his intelligence is not as paraded or publicly acclaimed as Jayce’s, Ekko is an amazing inventor in his own right with the street smarts to boot. The growth “Little Man” has undergone during the time skip is incredible to witness, as is the contribution he’s made to the livelihoods of many of his fellow Zaunites as the leader of the Firelights. At the same time, there are moments in which we can see glimpses of the young easygoing boy he used to be, which bring to the surface how nuanced his character truly is and how he embodies some of the larger narrative’s themes.
Arcane is a tale of two cities and two sisters. Vi is the oldest sibling, who loses contact with her little sister after one particularly bad day when everything goes horribly wrong. Despite the way life has tried to beat her down again and again, Vi comes out of Stillwater prison with her moral compass mostly intact, despite her readiness to engage in talks with her fists. She’s got a “good heart,” as Vander says, a sentiment which echoes even after his death. The way she feels responsible for her sister and what happened to her is at the forefront of the story, coming out beautifully in scenes like in Episode 8 when she is lying next to Caitlyn on her bed. Her growing bond with the Piltover enforcer is also one of the most fascinating relationships to see develop on screen.
Speaking of a certain Piltover enforcer…
Without a tragic past like Vi, Caitlyn has lived a mostly sheltered life as a part of the aristocratic Kiramman family. With her upbringing, she could’ve become a daughter of nepotism but she’s anything but. “What are you shooting for?” Grayson, the previous Sheriff before Marcus, had asked her during a flashback sequence, a question Caitlyn took to heart. Her empathy for those with a background completely distinct from hers is admirable, and we can only imagine how much simpler the tense relations between topside and bottom would be if everyone shared half of her sympathetic disposition and the willingness to understand a disparate reality. She may be no inventor like many of the other characters but her intellect nevertheless shines as she dedicates herself to pursuing the truth while growing to be aware of the lies. She could indulge in a life of luxury but Caitlyn would rather play an active part in the betterment of her society. She’s Piltover’s finest for a reason that goes way beyond her excellent marksmanship skills.
Now, let’s move to an almost diametrically opposed side of the morality spectrum. Without a doubt, Silco is Season 1’s main bad guy who wholly believes there’s a base violence necessary for change. To him the ends justify the means… to an extent which becomes clear in the very last episode. This same episode also brings to light just how complex the Zaunite is, and how his dreams of independence are not the endgame if for that he must sacrifice his daughter. He is evil but that’s not all there is to him, otherwise, he would not have reached the podium with a symbolic bronze medal.
Silco is not absolutely devoid of empathy; He once had a brother who betrayed him, so when he comes across a little girl who was also seemingly abandoned by the one she trusted the most, his heart becomes set on raising her, and that’s what he does, for better or worse. He finds Powder, and paves a path for her to become Jinx. If there weren’t a fatherly side to Silco, he would not be as well-rounded as a character. What’s fascinating about him is that there’s more to him than his vicious nature as the boss of what is essentially a mafia-like organization. In the end, he gives Jinx the confidence to remain Jinx, a broken but perfectly unique girl who will “show them all.”
Viktor is the underdog from the underground who managed to climb his way up with dedication, determination, and great intellect, only to be pushed back down due to forces outside his control. Viktor has ambitions, stronger than most, and he helplessly watches them slip between his fingers as his body betrays him and time begins to run out. This character draws a parallel with his science partner, Jayce, someone who becomes the “golden boy,” the favored face to the discoveries they both contributed to. Viktor is not moved by fame, money, status, or public admiration, but by something innate that no one can take away from him nor is he willing to give up. Seeing Viktor slowly be sucked into a black hole he won’t be able to escape from is one of the most intriguing plotlines of the show. This is because the foreboding path he’s following makes multiple promises of payoffs to come later on, making it unlikely that we saw the last of him when Jinx took it upon herself to obliterate any possibility of reconciliation between Piltover and Zaun.
1. Powder / Jinx
If Silco’s placement on this list is a testament to something, it’s that being a great character can be separable from being morally upstanding. Jinx is no heroine by any means – who is in this series? She is, however, the best embodiment of the themes the series explores, a direct consequence of the animosity between topside and bottom. She’s the result of a system scarred by inequality and injustice, a monster society’s poison fed until it became too large to be controlled. Jinx is not only entertaining to watch on screen, like a blue-haired Harley Quinn, but she’s also undeniably tragic. The constant contention and friction between Piltover and Zaun produced a loose canon that will fire first and ask questions later (if at all). Powder “fell down a well”, and Jinx crawled out to “show them all” the hell they caused.