Julien Neaves, Editor
I’m the kinda guy that likes to give Jack his jacket and Jane her blouse. So I must give kudos to streaming giant Netflix for making a concerted effort to diversify its content away from the shores of the US and Hollywood. I love my Hollywood movies but there is a lot of great stuff from other countries too, and I highly recommend expanding your cinematic horizons. Which brings me to Japanese dark fantasy thriller series Alice in Borderland, based on the manga and OVA of the same name. The title is a play on Lewis Carroll’s iconic children’s story Alice in Wonderland, though this is no fairytale.
Alice in Borderland tells the story of a video game-obsessed slacker named Arisu who gets transported to a parallel, practically-deserted Tokyo where the few, mostly young residents are forced to compete in lethal games to win playing cards to extend their life. If your time runs out a laser zaps you from somewhere in the stratosphere and you are as dead as a door nail. Good times. Here’s my Season 1 review with some mild spoilers.
I thought this world was pretty cool, in a bleak and desolate sort of the way. The large, empty cityscape feels very post-apocalyptic, though there was no actual apocalypse, as far as the characters know. Were all the people in Tokyo taken away or were the players taken and placed somewhere else? Who is running this macabre world? And how does one escape? The overall mystery is a compelling one and remains so throughout the season.
The main rules are simple — play or die, and win to survive. And the games aka complex death traps are inventive, brutal and just plain messed up. Each game has some clever twist that will keep both the players on their toes and the viewers on the edge of their seats. They’re not exactly playing Snakes and Ladders here. And from the first episode things get very dark and very intense very quickly, and then it just continues burrowing further down that rabbit hole.
Alice in Borderland is a show where characters’ lives are on the line on a constant basis. Heck, everyone has a ticking clock before they get zapped. And the series is written so well that the characters (who I would recommend not getting overly attached to) are fleshed out enough where they don’t feel like random canon fodder. And because you are invested in them (to varying degrees, of course) you give a crap about whether they live or die, and that amps up the tension tenfold. Also adding to the tension is some shocking and surprising deaths, which lets you know that anyone is fair game. Well, probably not the star, but you know what I mean.
Of the main players I liked the driven but tortured Arisu, capable climber Usagi, calculating Chishiya, flambouyant Hatter, intelligent Ann, and the psychopathic, katana-wielding Last Boss.
The series gets ticks in the win column for some captivating visuals, a twist-filled plot and an extremely dark tone. But in the midst of all the death and bloodshed (and boy, there is a lot of it) there is also a message of hope and never giving up. And even when there are characters displaying the absolute worst of humanity, there is always someone who displays the best. And being a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, I appreciated that.
In terms of series, Alice in Borderland is definitely a tick in the win column for Netflix. And I for one am ready to journey through the looking glass when the Season 2 game begins.
Editor Jules’ Score: 8 out of 10
For a not-so-good Netflix live-action manga adaptation (whew, what a mouthful) you can check out my review of Death Note here.
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”.
I can also be found posting on Instagram as redmanwriter and talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.