Kento Yamazaki (centre) as Arisu in a still
  • Release Date: 10/12/2020
  • Platform: Netflix
  • Cast: Kento Yamazaki, Tao Tsuchiya, Nijirô Murakami
  • Creator: Shinsuke Sato

“Alice in Borderland” is refreshing, shocking and much better than “Squid Game”

— Ambar Chatterjee

While the world is going crazy for a certain Korean series called Squid Game, atleast a year earlier, Netflix churned out a series that was in every way better than Squid Game. While I constantly got notifications and recommendations for this series, I never really dwelled on it until recently. Quirkily named Alice in Borderland, the series is based on a manga of the same name written and illustrated by Haro Aso and has already had an anime adaptation of it. However, the live-action rendition of it takes it to a whole new level.

The story revolves around three friends, Arisu (Kento Yamazaki), Karube (Keita Machida), and Chota (Yuki Morinaga) who can be classified as delinquents going by the way they choose to live their respective lives. While navigating through Tokyo one day, they find themselves in a unique predicament when the entire population of the city vanishes into thin air and the three are forced to participate in sadistic games that involve physical strength, intelligence, and the ability to influence with a handful of other people left in the city.

As the three friends try to understand what exactly was happening and how best they could survive the games and get back to their lives, they are faced with increasingly difficult circumstances and predicaments that test their bond and also force them to choose between their own existence and that of their friends. As the story progresses Arisu meets others who not only influence his life and make him realize why it is important for him to survive the game but also fills him with renewed enthusiasm and vigor to somehow crack the games and find out who is behind the sadistic idea.  

While Alice in Borderland follows the basic tenets of a story of this nature, many things about it set it apart from most others. The games designed here are novel, intricate and they form the core of the entire series. The series starts with a simple game wherein 5 players have to choose between two doors in each room of a building with the time to choose reducing with every iteration until they find their way out of the building. This simple yet thrilling game sets the mood for what is to follow next. The very next game tests the players on both physical prowess and intelligence as they try to locate something know as the safe zone in a building. They must also save themselves from being shot down by something known as the “tagger” as they look for the safe zone. The three friends then find themselves in a game from which only one of them could make his way out alive. However, who that person will be can be decided by the others who are willing to sacrifice their lives for their friends.

Tao Tsuchiya as Usagi in a still

The third episode of the series ends on an emotional high and I felt exasperated after witnessing an episode that ended in a manner that I least expected it to. Suffice is to say that it gave me a similar feel to what I got when Marion Crane was murdered within the first 30 minutes of Psycho. The series does shift to a lower gear from here for a while but that never spoils the fun of it. It is also the time when a new partnership is forged between Arisu and the character of Usagi (Tao Tsuchiya) that would hold its own until the very end of the series and hence it leaves no room for any complaints.  

Director Shinsuke Sato and Haro Aso (writer of the original Manga) are able to create characters that are emotionally investing and, thanks to their traits, either completely detestable or very loveable. Kento Yamazaki plays Arisu with conviction. While he is smart enough to understand and decipher the various games, he is unable to save himself from the repercussions and emotional payload of his action that sometimes results in the death of near and dear ones and sometimes points to the trauma and tragedy of others that he has experienced himself before. He is always in harm’s way and yet never loses his focus on the target that he sets his eyes on by the 3rd episode of the series.

Tao Tsuchiya as Usagi was my favorite character in the series. She is breathtaking to look at playing out a character that seems to be inspired by the character of the rabbit in Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland. There is even a scene where we see her hunt a rabbit for food. She not only looks like someone capable of pulling the stunts and physical feats that she is shown pulling off but also ensures that we are transfixed to her character by oozing charm and giving out the right expressions that make her character vulnerable when she has to be and strong when that is the need of the hour. The fact that she is so charismatic and alluring ensures that we are transfixed to her essay ignoring some of the deficiencies in the writing.

Nijirô Murakami plays the smartest and most interesting character, Chishiya in the series. The character is interesting because we never know for sure if he is good or bad. The fact that Nijirô Murakami plays the character with almost non-existent human emotions and keeps an icy-cool demeanor all the way through the series also makes the character the most imposing and dangerous. Kudos must be given to Murakami for never for once going overboard with his rendition.  

Kento Yamazaki (centre) as Arisu in a still

One of the fortes of the series is its ability to interweave the emotional state of the character and their past lives into the version of the character that they have become in the games. As the story progresses and we see different characters pitted against one another, we understand their inspirations and reasons for being in a certain way. This is explained through some of the most well-timed and perfectly edited flashbacks that not only work well in doing what they were aimed at but also add an added layer of quality to the narrative. It must be reiterated that the character and story of the series worked so well for me because I was emotionally invested in the story.

It is needless to mention that the series is stunning to look at as that is something that we come to expect from Japanese series and films. How the game’s mechanics are explained and how the series takes us into its fold by using less expository sequences and more visual storytelling made it that much more effective and impactful. We learn about the game and the typography as we move along with the characters and the situations that they land up in. There are moments when we have more knowledge about the game and the surroundings than a certain character and it was interesting to be in such a position of power.

I am pretty sure that the series will be renewed for at least one more season as we still didn’t get answers to some of the most glaring questions that the series raised. By the end of the first season, the characters were gearing up for what appeared to be some of the toughest games that they could hope to participate in. They also now had a face to associate with who was otherwise an elusive adversary. Whenever the next season comes, I will be up in arms to give it a try since I enjoyed the first season so much.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


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