Netflix has been consistently making forays into Japanese television in recent years. Alice in Borderland is the latest Netflix Original to hit the streaming service from Japan.
Based off the 2010 manga series by Haro Aso, the new live-action series comes five years after the end of the series in 2015. While a three episode OVA was released in 2014, the new Netflix Original series goes much further and could potentially cover most of the story.
Alice in Borderland
Production Company: Robot Communications Inc.
Producer: Akira Morii
Director: Shinsuke Sato
Premiere: December 10, 2020
Alice in Borderland follows Ryohei Arisu and his friends as they’re forced to participate in a gauntlet of deadly games. The three friends had been goofing off in Shibuya and had to hide from the police only to emerge from their hiding place to an utterly empty Tokyo.
The three run through the city looking for anyone, only to stumble upon a lit building once night falls. Little did they know, they passed a laser sensor on their way in that will kill them if they leave, their only choice now to complete the game they’re presented with in the building or die.
Alice in Borderland features Kento Yamazaki as the protagonist Ryohei Arisu. Yamazaki is largely known for his leading roles as Josuke Higashikata in the live-action adaptation of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable and Kousei Arima in the live action adaptation of Your Lie in April.
Yamazaki is joined by costars Tao Tsuchiya as Yuzuha Usagi, Keita Machida as Karube, and Yuki Morinaga as Chota. I say this without clarifying spoilers but I want to clarify that just because a character is a star, doesn’t mean they’re given plot armor against the cruel games they face.
Arisu and all of his friends seem to have something troubling them, which is good as it provides dramatic flashbacks to fill the series while also giving context to the difficulties they face. Arisu in particular is a NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) and while his family thinks he lives a carefree life he’s in actuality paralyzed by anxiety.
Karube is a rough guy who works at a bar but he’s trying his best to live a good life. He frequently gets in fights and has a violent streak, but he’s sentimental and protective of his friends.
Chota is a man who seems the most well-adjusted of the trio. But in truth he’s had a difficult life, having to provide for his mother’s indulgences after she joined a religious cult.
Though Alice in Borderland features cruel and gratuitous deaths, the show doesn’t neglect the importance of creating characters the audience can empathize with.
The visual effects of Alice in Borderland are simple but fantastic at the same time. Players who leave the arena of a game or otherwise break the rules are slain by a beam of light coming from far up in the sky.
The series isn’t afraid to show gratuitous scenes of gore and death and detail was given even to fast deaths like those shot to death or killed by the sky laser. In the latter case, as the laser pierces the victim’s skull, you can even see the eyes of the victim grow cloudy and bloody as a side effect of their brain literally rupturing.
Players are also blown apart with bombs and shot to death. While western gore-heavy films and television will either cut away during the death for drama, or show it in dramatic detail.
A certain gravitas is given to even minor deaths in the series, it’s a weird detail to get hung up on but Alice in Borderland does an unsettlingly good job of making dead bodies look like dead bodies. This is in contrast to CGI-heavy gore and death where the dead bodies look like props, when someone gets shot to death in Alice in Borderlands their deaths have weight.
If there were any problem with the series, it’d be its slow-pace and tendency to switch scenes in the middle of the action. During episode two this happens frequently and the scene constantly shifts between an ongoing death game and two characters who aren’t participating.
Although its constant scene-shifting is annoying and harms the pace, it’s a forgivable flaw. The alternative would be to omit details and character interactions that give more drama to future scenes by humanizing the characters.
Music is used to great effect throughout the series. Somber melodies accompany depressing exposition and internal dialogues as well as the deaths of more vocal characters.
Alice in Borderland is utterly successful in portraying grief, friendship, and nostalgia through its music.
Ultimately, the Netflix Original Alice in Borderland lives up to the kind of expectations fans would expect from a live-action adaptation of a manga series. No compromises are made on gore and other questionable themes and the show balances drama with gratuitous violence.
Alice in Borderlands is a thrilling and gory mystery that both action and drama fans will love. Fans of anime series like Psycho-Pass or films like Battle Royale, will want to give Alice in Borderland a close look.
Alice in Borderland is available to watch on Netflix and a second season has already been announced.