I’m not gonna lie. I initially had no interest in watching Alice in Borderland because judging by its poster, I thought it had something to do with illegal immigration. I’m big enough to admit when I’m wrong and I’m glad that I was for this series in particular.
Synopsis: Alice in Borderland is actually a Netflix live action adaptation of a manga and anime by Haro Aso. Arisu (Kento Yamazaki), Chota (Yuki Morinaga) and Karube (Keita Machida) are slackers who’ve been friends since high school. One day, the three friends find themselves alone in Tokyo after everyone disappears into thin air. They are thrust into a surreal game of death where visas are issued to survivors. Losers don’t see the light of day as they are struck down by mysterious lasers from the sky.
From the first episode, I was already hooked to the concept of Alice in Borderland. The stakes were high and the series takes it death count seriously. The puzzles were engaging and they make audiences think along with the characters. It felt like being stuck in an escape room along with the characters but the games just keep getting more and more complicated with each episode. Think about the horror franchise Saw but in series format.
Episodes 3 and 7 were particularly brutal on the emotions. It makes you wonder how Arisu was still able to function after the heart games.
Out of the characters, I was particularly impressed with Chishiya (Nijiro Murakami) and his cleverness. I liked the character and his air of mystery. He keeps viewers on their toes. Chota and Karube were excellent support characters that remained impactful throughout the series.
Bravo to Kento Yamazaki for his excellent portrayal of main character Arisu. While he is typically associated with pretty boy roles and Japanese high school love stories, he truly stepped up his game for a different approach this time. His grungy look took some getting used to but he showed a tremendous growth in terms of his acting in this series.
On the flipside, Dori Sakurada (you may know him as Daichi in Good Morning Call) really sucked in his portrayal of trigger happy Niragi. Not for the lack of trying but he really did not come across as a maniac, but rather as someone who was masquerading as a tough guy but was really a wus deep inside. It was a good effort that felt flat when it came to the actual show.
Alice in Bordeland was graphic. It was brutal but it did not simply rely on shock value. There was a method to the madness that made it far different from other sci fi or fantasy Japanese dramas. It had cinema level cinematography, a great musical score and an intensity about it that said it meant business.
It also tackled many philosophical questions like whether players will choose to go back to the real world if what awaited them was filled with misery. Or why others would protect their position in the game above others. It talks about politics and power and what lengths one would go to achieve it.
The show was fond of depicting slaughters and violence but it was equally fond of delivering lengthy dialogue to ensure that everyone was on the same page. So whether you managed to figure things out on your own or were simply waiting for the other shoe to drop, its was equally enjoyable experience.
Alice in Borderland was a game where no rainbows and unicorns awaited the winner. How could there be when so much has been lost? It was a dark and and twisted take on Alice in Wonderland. Only, it adds so many amazing layers to make it even cooler than the classic tale.
By its end, we were left with even more questions, and this makes us clamor immediately for a second season. All in all, Alice in Borderland had a lot going for it — an intelligent plot, compelling and rootable characters, mind bending twists and striking visuals, and it made use of each elements effectively. That is brilliance for you.