Arcane: the disparity between two cities


Graphic created by Amy Park

Arcane, an animated action series streaming on Netflix, shows the clashing twin cities of Zaun and Piltover. Produced by Riot Games, the show is set in the fictional League of Legends universe.

DISCLAIMER: This article includes spoilers. Please do not read this story if you plan to watch this show.

The screen pans over the silhouetted ruins of a city, showing a disarray of broken bodies and buildings alike. Two lone figures walking amid the chaos: a red-haired teenager holding her younger, blue-haired sister’s hand. She anxiously scans the destruction surrounding her and spots two familiar bodies on the devastated terrain, rushing to them and sobbing — her parents, two victims of war started by a system of corruption.

Act I

While viewers may not realize, the two sisters are already very familiar to fans of the video game League of Legends. Arcane is a video game-based Netflix show based on the backstory of specific characters in the game like Vi and Powder, the children introduced in Act I. With over 150 million players, League of Legends is a popular video game that even comes with its own extensive universe. Arcane chooses to specifically look at the history of a thriving, tech-based city named Piltover and its conflicts with Zaun, an undercity district separated from its higher class counterpart.

Although Zaun and Piltover had once been a united nation, prejudices and corruption drove the two societies apart, resulting in a hostile tension between the two border-sharing regions. After showing the aftermath of a war between the two areas, the show takes a look at the independent and headstrong Vi, who aspires to end Piltover’s discriminations and restrictive policies on Zaun. Powder, viewed as unlucky and useless by her peers, is riddled with insecurities as she looks up to her sister to guide her. However, we see the forcible separation of Vi and Powder due to an incident Powder accidentally caused that resulted in the death of their family.

While Act I only foreshadows the approaching conflict between the corrupt high classes of Piltover and the riled low classes of Zaun, the audience is able to clearly see Vi and Powder’s characters as children: Vi, burdened with heavy responsibility even as a young teenager and Powder, running in the face of conflict and unconfident in her own abilities.

Act II

Flash-forward 10 years, and Arcane introduces us to a closer look inside Piltover. While all the scenes of Act I took place in Zaun, we now see Piltover through the eyes of Jayce, an ambitious researcher who yearns to control magic through science and technology, even though it was banned for its dangerous purposes. He leads the city into a new era of prosperity and advancement, but Zaun has only worsened after the absence of Vi and the mysterious disappearances of Powder. Act II’s portrayals of the characters as adults become a labyrinth of plot twists meant to shock the audience: Powder, who now goes by the name of Jinx, is now obliviously working under the same man who killed her family, separated from Vi, and is almost an entirely different person. Bursting with confidence and wielding her trademark semi-automatic machine gun, Jinx is now recognizable as the cocky, crazy video game character most League of Legend players are familiar with. Vi, on the other hand, is the same strong-willed person she’s always been, but like Jinx, her on-screen appearance is now identical to her character in-game.

Act II completely alters the two provinces, highlighting the worsening disparities and tensions between the declining Zaun and the flourishing Piltover. Bringing us up to speed on the relationship between Vi and Jinx, we’re able to see how Vi’s abandonment has traumatized Jinx, essentially creating a need for her to establish a relationship with someone — that someone turned out to be Silco, otherwise known as the main villain and the person responsible for the death of Jinx’s family. Jinx’s father-daughter relationship with Silco becomes complicated as Silco’s true intentions become unclear — while their relationship is based on deceit and malicious intent, Silco seems to have established a genuine connection with her, leaving questions about his sincerity. After being separated for 10 years and Jinx believing Vi was dead, we finally see their reunion as Jinx realizes Silco’s deception; however, this long-awaited reunion is abruptly interrupted when the conflict between Zaun and Piltover worsens.


The series finale, Act III, focuses on the impending war between the citizens of Zaun and the Piltover’s army. The show continues to depict Jinx’s loss of identity and self as she struggles to choose between “Powder” and “Jinx”, a life with Vi or with Silco. Along with the interpersonal conflicts of Arcane, Act III continues the political and class confrontations of Piltover and Zaun. Jayce is now a councilman, meaning he is one of the eight figureheads of Piltover that decide how to rule and protect the nation. After Jayce proposes a bargain to Silco to grant Zaun its independence in return for Jinx’s arrest, Silco’s genuine feelings toward Jinx are put to the test: he could either spare the bloodshed caused by the war for Zaun’s independence or choose Jinx, his adopted daughter. Eventually, we see that Silco picks his love for Jinx over his lifelong goal of independence.

Act III ends in a pure cliffhanger; Jinx can be seen firing a deadly weapon straight into the council meeting Jayce had called to grant Zaun their independence in slow motion, and the screen goes black. Until Season 2 of Arcane, we’ll never know if Zaun and Pilitover ever go to war or if negotiations are called off. With a dozen side stories and character developments, Arcane wonderfully blends social and economical struggles that can be seen in today’s society with the conflict of personal relationships. While the show may have been somewhat catered to League of Legend players, Arcane is viewable for all audiences and requires no previous knowledge of the videogame. However, you will be warned — this emotional rollercoaster of a show requires a box of tissues to be kept near you while watching.