Review: Alice In Borderland Is One Of Netflix’s Best Original Series Of The Year
Continuing on its trend of adapting popular works of other industries, Netflix’s latest is an adaptation of a manga series. Based on a Japanese graphic novel, Alice In Borderland in live-action is all sorts of amazing. The new Netflix original series is incredibly well-directed, performed, and even better written. The storytelling approach really differs from the more conventional ones that we’re used to seeing. As my first ever Japanese series, this Alice In Borderland review will be a glowing one for an incredible show that everyone should watch!
Alice In Borderland Review Comes From A Manga That’s Just As Interesting
Image via Shonen Sunday Comics.
Published in 2010, written and illustrated by Haro Aso, the Alice In Borderland manga ended in 2016. The story was about a group of characters, stuck in an alternate world where the usual civil rules of society no longer apply. The manga was immensely popular and creative, which is evident in the series as well, as I’ll go into in this Alice In Borderland review.
Alice In Borderland begins with three friends, Arisu (Kento Yamazaki), Karube (Keita Machida), and Chota (Yuki Morinaga). The three friends from varying economic backgrounds and lifestyles are the bestest of friends, always there for one another. During one goof-off session that saw them chased by cops, the friends hide in a public restroom. When they emerge, the entire city of Tokyo looks abandoned. It’s weird and they have no explanation, until parts of the city light up, directing them to a ‘game arena’.
The Premise Of Alice In Borderland Is As Intriguing As It Is Disturbing
Goofin’ off is a lifestyle | Image via Netflix.
The friends quickly realize that they are no longer in their own world, but a different one where their lives depend on winning elaborate and messed-up games. Winning a game gives them a grace period of a few days to survive. Unless they enter and win additional games before their days expire, a laser from the sky shoots them dead. The more games they win, the longer they can stay alive. It’s so utterly messed up.
The games are incredibly well thought out and vary based on different attributes. Some are physical, some intellectual while others are emotionally based. Some games are also winner-take-all, while others can have multiple winners or, rather, survivors. The games put to test the friends’ loyalties to one another, as well as their ability to survive these extraneous situations. The first episode alone is a roller coaster of anxious and frantic energy, by the end of which the series has completely reeled you in, hook, line and sinker!
Alice In Borderland Review Has Similarities To The Saw Franchise
Image via Netflix.
The most intriguing element of the Alice In Borderland series is how intricate these games are. The elaborate way the challenges are set up reminds me very much of the first instalment of the Saw franchise. However, while the subsequent sequels devolve into gore-ridden shock fests, the nuance of the first is very much here in spirit. The games challenge the player’s emotions, physical strength, and problem-solving skills. There’s also the fact that some games aren’t at all what the players think, something that leads to fatal consequences. But while these games are the hook of the show, there is so much more at play that is engaging and thoroughly entertaining.
The World Building Of The Series Allows For A Lot Of Story
Collect them all! | Image via Netflix.
The largest mystery of Alice In Borderland is in its world. Where have all the people gone, and who is administrating these games, and for what purpose? As Arisu explores the world and meets more people, these questions start becoming more and more prevalent. Some people even make it their mission, to try to solve the riddle, by going to extreme lengths. It’s also how the writers can continue the air of mystery and suspense, despite the high octane action energy that also takes center stage in some episodes.
This larger mystery also drives the motivations for many of the other characters that show up later on in the series. Getting into the details of which would be very much considered spoilers, so we’ll keep away from it. But suffice it to say that Alice In Borderland changes a lot from its first episode to its last. Characters, settings and the the status quo is ever-shifting in this mysterious new world where anonymous overseers are forcing people into life and death scenarios. All for the sake of playing their game. Or so we think.
The Smaller Moments Are Just As Significant As Lasers From The Sky
Image via Netflix.
While the hook of Alice In Borderland is these amazing action and thriller concepts, the quieter character moments are what really stand out. The initial fun and frivolity of the leading protagonists has a big payout halfway through the series. We learn of the characters’ backstories in the subtlest of ways, while they still resonate emotionally with the audience.
This also plays out with the pacing of the series. Despite the edge-of-your-seat heart attack moments of suspense and danger, there are incredibly slow moments of character development too. The pacing is not as formulaic or predictable as one action episode, and then one slow one. But rather more organic, based on what the situation calls for. It’s fairly well balanced, and further creates the need for binging as even the slow moments keep you engaged and enthralled.
The Eclectic Brand Of Characters And Their Backstory Enhances The Story
Insane action sequence! | Image via Netflix.
Arisu is undoubtedly the hero in this story. But his development into one is so gradual, and not in the typically heroic way. In the ‘real world’ Arisu was a no good unemployed gamer. But his video game mind and affinity for puzzles makes him the perfect person to survive this world of life or death gaming. While we see that right away in the first episode, they don’t treat this as his superpower, but rather a skill that has varying degrees of success. Because the story doesn’t treat Arisu like the ‘chosen one’ type of hero, the stakes are that much more believable when he’s in danger or has something to lose.
The other characters introduced in Alice In Borderland are just as interesting and unique. There’s Usagi (Tao Tsuchiya), as the mountaineer that gives Arisu a second chance. While there’s not a lot of romantic tension between them, there’s definitely a vibe of care and companionship. Along their journey, they meet Cheshire (Nijiro Murakami) a super elusive cool guy with his own methods of trying to get back into the real world. Similar to the cat in Alice In Wonderland, which is seemingly a loose basis for this series. Aiding him is Kuina (Aya Asahina) who has a tragic backstory, along with a kick-ass martial arts past that we see near the end of the series. Even the villains of the story get some humanizing, if not intriguing backstories by the end of the show.
Alice In Borderland Review Is My New Favourite Show
Flame on! | Image via Netflix.
It’s difficult to explain how much I loved Alice In Borderland. The series has everything from the clinging of hope by a few, similar to other apocalyptic stories. It’s got insane action and outrageously brutal set pieces based on the game premise that surprises at every turn. There’s enough depth of character for us to completely emotionally invest in these people and their attempts at survival. Alice In Borderland is one of those very rare new shows, that isn’t based on a superhero or other franchise that I have genuinely enjoyed so much.
Alice In Borderland is now streaming on Netflix.
How did you feel about this amazing manga come to life in Alice In Borderland? Let me know in the comments below, or on social media.
Featured image via Netflix.
Shah Shahid is an entertainment writer, movie critic (so he thinks), host of the Split Screen Podcast (on Apple Podcasts & everywhere else) and filmy father on a mission to educate his girls on decades of film history. Armed with uncontrollable sarcasm and cautious optimism, Shah loves discussing film, television and comic book content until his wife’s eyes glaze over. So save her by engaging him on his own blog at BlankPageBeatdown.com or on Twitter @theshahshahid.