Alice in Borderland is a Japanese show about an alternative reality, where one must take part in violent games in order to stay alive.
The story starts with introducing a 24-year-old Ryōhei Arisu who has dropped out of university and spends his days by playing videogames and spending time with his two best friends. The three of them get into trouble and end up running from police and hiding in a public bathroom stall. Suddenly all the lights go out and their phones die. They come out to find that the busy streets of Tokyo are suddenly empty and quiet. Confused, but also excited they roam around, trying to find anyone else.
The first sign of any kind of life appears when a building lights up, inviting them to play a game. And this is how they slowly start to realise they have somehow ended up in an alternative universe that is in Tokyo, but with a lot less people who have to fight for their lives playing different games.
Each game has a different game area: when a person steps into the area, crossing a border between the area and its surroundings, they must take part in the game. Each player gets a phone to use during the game. The phones don’t work outside of the games and even then, there’s no signal, they just offer info about the game – the rules, how much time there is left and so on. At the beginning, the phones show a different playing card, which determines the category and the difficulty of the game. Each suit stands for a different category and the higher the number, the more difficult the game will be.
By making it out alive, they get to extend their visa for a few days which means during those days, they don’t have to play the games. If there are no more days left on the visa and the player does not participate to another game, they are killed by a laser that shoots from the sky. Trying to escape a game you have already registered in also leads to the same fate.
Alice in Wonderland seems like a common theme when it comes to creating some sort of a remake or an alternative universe based on it. Sometimes it feels superimposed, sometimes even cringy.
I do think that Alice in Borderland is a fresh and a nice way to connect Alice in Wonderland to something completely new. The influence of Alice in Wonderland in present especially when it comes to the characters: the main character’s name is literally Alice, just a Japanese version of it – Arisu. He has a companion, Usagi – the name translates to “rabbit”, she’s fast and becomes important to Arisu. There is a character called Hatter with his own version of madness that fits into the Borderland.
And of course, the playing cards have a big role in this weird world and the whole idea about ending up in an alternative reality where everything is a little twisted and you just want to go back home definitely links to Alice in Wonderland nicely. There are also these little bits and pieces that are not that obvious, which makes it fun for the viewer to spot them out and wonder how they relate to Alice in Wonderland.
The show is based on a manga which shows when some of the more eccentric characters pop up, which do seem like they would fit very well into an anime. Then again, the eccentricity is also a part of Alice in Wonderland and its characters.
There is always some doubt whenever there is a show based on a manga, book or whatever, especially when it’s live action. Double that doubt, with the Alice in Wonderland-part to it as well. Fortunately, Alice in Borderland is nicely done despite it not originally being made as a show. Then again, maybe people who have actually read the manga wouldn’t agree?
I like Alice in Borderland a lot. The characters are fascinating, the plot keeps the viewer on their toes and the combat scenes are awesome. It’s definitely not feel-good, as it involves a lot of death, violence and pain so I can’t suggest it to anyone who doesn’t want to watch something with those themes.
It has been compared to Squid Game and I understand the comparison even though they both are very different, despite similar plots. Alice in Borderland has more of sci-fi/fantasy themes to it, with the alternative reality and all that and with the eccentric, anime-like characters it has. But I do think that anyone who enjoyed Squid Game, might enjoy Alice in Borderland.
There are some minor plot holes that bothered me a bit, but not so much that it would affect my viewing. The biggest problem for me personally is Arisu as a character. I think he is in a way a one-dimensional character who is always the moral compass to others. That can be a bit boring, especially when it comes to the main character. Luckily, the other characters are not like that and instead are very fascinating. Hopefully, there will be some shades of grey to Arisu later on, with the upcoming seasons.
And of course, the show has only one season with 8 episodes, which at least I can binge a bit too quickly… The second season is coming, however, but due to covid, it has been postponed. For now, the new season should be coming in December, hope it will, since I’m dying to know how the show will continue!
Then again, I just watched the first season for the second time, and it was just as good, maybe even better, than when I first saw it.
I am a bit bummed that it doesn’t seem like a lot of people know about Alice in Borderland. It’s such great show that is definitely worthwhile.
The show: Alice in Borderland (2020)
Director: Shinsuke Sato
Available on: Netflix
The header image: taken by the author
The image: pixabay.com (https://pixabay.com/fi/photos/%c3%a4ss%c3%a4-kortit-hupullinen-huppu-mies-1869825/)