Pride Month Picks: If You Think Arcane Is Straight You Watched It Wrong
This article is part of Pride Month Picks, a collection of pieces that aim to highlight queer representation across games, television, film, books, and more throughout June.
A few weeks ago I met up with some friends from school for the first time in years and our mutual love for games, animation, and just being massive nerds around each other returned in a matter of moments. It was nostalgic bliss, and with two of our group massively into League of Legends, the conversation inevitably fell onto Arcane.
I told them how much I adored the show’s queer representation, and how the relationship between Cait and Vi was a slow building example of sapphic brilliance that felt strangely real despite the fantastical setting. Suddenly, both of them looked at me and said, “I dunno, I guess it was a little gay but I didn’t really see it.” I apologise profusely to these two friends if they happen to be reading this, but what the fuck are you on about?
For years, I thought lesbians were meant to be oblivious when it came to romance or noticing signs of love and flirtation, but it turns out my straight friends couldn’t catch a gay girl unless she’s screaming about eating pussy from the rooftops. Arcane doesn’t cement Cait and Vi’s relationship with a vocal confession or a kiss in the first season, but the dialogue and body language between them was so ripe with queer intention that it never once needed to. It is abundantly clear that their relationship is a core focus of the show that will only be built upon in the years to come. If you don’t see that, I’m sorry but you absolutely watched Arcane wrong.
Arcane caught the attention of queer audiences everywhere because it took a ship from League of Legends that in the past was only hinted at through pieces of art and small pieces of dialogue and turned it into something entirely new as part of this new universe. No longer was their relationship a subject of concept art and small snippets of dialogue, it was a narrative pillar in one of Netflix’s biggest animated shows ever. Cait and Vi are polar opposites, but it’s their disparate backgrounds that inevitably bring them closer together.
Caitlyn is a rich, proper, and an often strict enforcer who wants the best for everyone, and soon comes to realise that the powers she once admired must now be questioned and fought against. She decides to free Vi from prison to not only further her own mission, but because it’s the right thing to do. For years this orphan has been rotting inside a prison cell for a crime she didn’t even commit, hardened by trauma and neglect that would break most people. But Vi isn’t most people, she’s a crimson-haired lesbian with a love for teasing stuck-up pretty girls who think they’re too good for her. Or Cupcake, as she’s colloquially known once their relationship begins to take on a more concrete form. They’re not gay though, just gals being pals with endearing pet names and so much pining.
Opposites attract, with Caitlyn and Vi rarely leaving one another’s side throughout the first season as they work to warn the council of dark threats waiting beneath the surface. When they do it is after a moment which is absolutely framed as an emotional break-up. Only gays would tearfully neglect someone in the rain with a poetic piece of dialogue when they aren’t even officially going out yet. It’s so dramatic and so brilliant and so gay. You see why I’m vocally disgusted that my straight school friends seemingly didn’t notice any of this?
I was fortunate enough to watch Arcane ahead of its release, with each act being fed to us over the course of three weeks, so we were able to digest the narrative much like the public would. After the first act I nudged a couple of friends and colleagues, excited about the distant possibility of Arcane actually committing itself to a queer relationship instead of tip-toeing around it. With each passing episode the picture became clearer, and Riot was clearly seeking to double down on Caitlyn and Vi’s romance as a core pillar for the show.
It wasn’t meant to be missed or seen as a subtle piece of distant body language. Entire scenes are built around the two girls embracing one another, or touching bodies in intimate yet necessary ways as their bond grows both emotionally and physically. The caressing of cheeks, the brushing of fingertips, the support of bodies through injury and hardship. It goes beyond being unintended allies from completely different backgrounds, but is actively seeking to depict them as two women in love. Fans embraced them, expressing hope for the future while giving this pairing a life of their own far beyond the show with art and fics.
Arcane is so unapologetically queer, but it doesn’t commit to establishing a relationship through clear terms in the first season that I suppose casual viewers or those who aren’t as enamoured by queer representation as I am might have missed more subtle moments, but the chemistry between them is so ferocious and the intention so clear that I’m still left bamboozled at a complete ignorance to it. I bet they didn’t miss the straight sex scene though, which I still regard as a personal attack.
Whenever I’ve poked Riot to talk with me about Arcane it has said that Caitlyn and Vi’s relationship will be a big part of the coming season and explored even further, so interpret that however you like. To me it feels like a statement of intent, and that this sapphic romance is only going to keep progressing until it becomes something truly memorable. Maybe once they’re smooching on screen the penny will finally drop for my painfully straight school friends. I love them dearly, but goodness me why are they like this?
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