Julien Neaves, Editor
Back in 2021 when the world was going crazy over Netflix Korean game of death series Squid Game Netflix Japanese game of death series Alice in Borderland (AIB) must have been like, “What am I? Chopped human liver?” Despite having similar setups and being of similar high quality, AIB just didn’t blow up like Squid Game. And it’s unfortunate, because the show is pretty dang good.
Based on the manga of the same name by Haro Aso, AIB follows a group of people mysteriously transported to a deserted Tokyo and forced to participate in games of death or face execution. A second season dropped late last year, and it was an improvement over the superb first season. With a blimp-sized SPOILER ALERT here’s my review in four rounds:
Round #1 The Players
Video game-obsessed slacker turned unlikely hero Ryōhei Arisu (Kento Yamazaki) may be the protagonist of the series, and he is great again in season 2, but he gets overshadowed by the other players (which is not the worst thing in an ensemble cast). Sly tactician and the epitome of cool Chishiya (Nijirō Murakami) gets a lot more screen time this season and steals every scene that he is in. His supremely laid-back attitude (during a mass shooting he runs with his hands in his pockets) and methodical planning is riveting to watch, and I loved seeing him go off on his solo games.
After Chishiya we have the awesome ladies of AIB. This is how you do strong female characters Hollywood. We have Usagi showing off her athletic prowess and enjoying a tender romance with Arisu (that hot springs bath scene was very hot), Kuina looking sexy and kicking backside, and disabled archer Heiya adding some cool to the proceedings. My only disappointment is we did not get enough of Ann, and even her team-up game with Kuina was reduced to a montage. We had returning players of the driven Aguni and vile and twisted Niragi (man that guy would just not die!), and a couple of interesting new players, like the sociopathic girl in Chishiya’s Jack of Hearts game. Overall, most of the main players got their time to shine in both action scenes and dramatic scenes in a well-balanced season.
Round #2 The Bosses
With Season 2 AIB upped the ante from the regular playing card games to face card games, with each game featuring a “boss” character. And these bosses were, well, boss. Both the philosophical and very naked King of Clubs Kyuma and the mind-game playing Queen of Hearts (more on her later) were intriguing, and the Arisu-stalking Queen of Spades was quite the physical challenge. But none of them hold a candle to the King of Spades.
This guy was a freakin’ demon! From the opening moments of him indiscriminately gunning down players to the explosive, bloody and visceral final battle with Arisu and friends, I held my breath and did not exhale until he was gone. Talk about a masterwork in tension. Kudos to Ayumi Tanida for crafting such a terrifying villain. And on a visual note, the exploding blimps when the bosses were defeated looked pretty cool, and was just one aspect of the excellent cinematography this season.
Round #3 The Games
And now we get into the games, which were well crafted this season. The King of Clubs game, “Osmosis” had some great chase and fight scenes as well as an awesome end twist (gotta give a hand to Tatta. Too soon?). Chishiya’s Jack of Hearts game had me glued to the screen and guessing up to the end, though “Balance Scale” left me a little lost but earned points from the extremely gruesome acid bath death. Easily the most horrible of the season.
The only game I was not a huge fan of was the Queen of Spades’ “Checkmate”, as the tag aspect reminded me of Osmosis and the setup was not that intuitive. And the King of Spades did not have a game per se but was just him going around murdering everything in sight. Not cool dude. Not cool. What about the final game “Croquet” with the mysterious Queen of Hearts (a mesmerising Riisa Naka)? Funny you should ask…
Round #4 Endgame
Both the players in the show and the AIB fans have long speculated on what the heck was happening in this deadly version of Tokyo. And the Queen of Hearts (and the writers by extension) had a lot of fun trolling players/fans by dropping a variety of theories as red herrings. I see you AIB. I see you. And then she mind-screwed Arisu and played on his survivor’s guilt so much that he almost gave up. But thanks to Usagi’s intervention, his love for her and his own inner strength they were able to emerge victorious. And then the big reveal that the players were victims of a meteorite that hit Tokyo and the world was a purgatory-like “borderlands” between life and death. I did not see that one coming and was quite the twist.
Also surprising was the number of characters that survived to re-enter the real world, even the awful Niragi and the presumed-dead Ann. The scenes with Heiya finding Aguni, Kuina embracing her mother and Arisu and Usagi (re-)discovering each other were delightfully touching, and if this is the end of AIB it is a fitting one. But we do get the glimpse of the joker card at the end, which is a reference to the Joker in the manga, the grim reaper-like creator of the Borderland. Could this be a winking nod or a hint at a Season 3 or even a movie? I loved Season 2, so I would definitely be game. Puns. I got ’em.
Score: 9 out of 10
Have you seen Alice in Borderland Season 2? What did you think of it? And you can check out more thrilling game of death content below:
Julien “Editor 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 tabletop games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.