How are you going to react if your source of entertainment becomes your only means of Survival? In Alice in Borderland, an obsessed gamer finds himself in a barren and distant reality where the players have to play a game and win in order to survive. Sounds like Jumanji? Well, Alice in Borderland could be stated as a modern-day Jumanji, however, the human relations and emotions depicted are much more complex.
Created by Yoshiki Watabe and Yasuko Kuramitsu, Alice in Borderland is a Japanese thriller sci-fi drama based on the graphic novel (manga) of the same name, by Haro Aso. Season 1 includes 8 episodes of approximately 40 minutes each, in the Japanese language. The title of the series is symbolic of Lewis Carroll’s novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where the center character Alice falls in a rabbit hole and travels to a fantasy world. In Alice in Borderland, the characters emerge in a distant fantasy land called Borderland where the only way to survive is to play games and earn lives. However, there is much more happening in the narrative than stated in a few lines. Hence, let’s chisel it, layer by layer.
‘Alice in Borderland’ Season 1 Summary
A jobless young man, Ryohei Arisu/Alice (Kento Yamazaki) is rebuked by his father and brother for skipping job interviews and playing video games instead. Arisu leaves the house in anger and texts his licentious friends, Chota and Karube. While on a city stroll, the three friends enjoy moments of happiness on the road, unaware of their chaotic surroundings. As the moment ends, they find themselves surrounded by traffic honing. Arisu, Chota and Karube create chaos on the signal and thus to avoid police, they hide inside a public toilet. Though, when they come out, everything is silent as death. Arisu, Chota and Karube travel into a new fantasy world where they have to play survival games to earn Visa or life until it ends and the next game awaits. Arisu who is an ardent obsessed gamer easily cracks the algorithm of the game and trickery of the game master, however, sometimes in a survival game, the winner could be only one. Arisu is deemed to make certain hard choices which leads to a situation where he has to sacrifice his friends and loved ones. His constant struggle is to learn about this new world and quickly come out of it before the game ends his own life.
After the initial premise builds up, the consecutive episodes explore other characters trapped inside Borderland where Arisu interacts with them and understands the working of the set-up. He finally cracks the last survival game but what comes further paves way for the next season.
Game of Survival
The games inside the borderland (post-apocalyptic-like Tokyo) are timed where each player has to sign in through a mobile phone (without network). The players who once entered the game cannot leave it, until the game finishes or their existence. When Arisu and his friends enter the borderland, their fast game is “Dead or Alive” where the contestants have to choose between the two gates, once signifying death and other life. If they open the wrong door, a laser beam shoots their dead and kills them instantly. They have to make a choice in a defined time period (2 minutes or less) or flames from the floor will turn them into ashes. Sounds Breathtaking isn’t?
Each game in the Borderland has a different genre which is usually depicted through playing cards. The symbol, clubs (♣), diamonds (♦), hearts (♥), and spades (♠), denote their genre. For example, the club is associated with power and hearts is associated with emotions. Thus, a heart game will test the emotional weakness of the contestants. The number on the card depicts their difficulty and hence the players have to approach the game accordingly.
Arisu later learns that when one finishes the game, he is awarded the card that was shown at the beginning of the game and a player has to collect all the cards of the deck (except the face cards) to travel back to the normal world. However, this means a total of 36 cards and 36 survival games.
A Test of Friendship
A common conflict that every character in Alice in Borderland goes through, is a test of their accord. The first signs of the presence of this layer are witnessed when in a “heart” game, Arisu is faced with the choice to sacrifice his friends for survival, as there can only be one winner. Chota and Karube resign themselves so that Arisu, an underdog character can shine brighter. They are confident that only Arisu can find a way out of this high-tech labyrinth. Arisu is then motivated by the feeling that he will not let the loss of innocent lives go in vain and find a way out.
A similar complexity of friendship is seen in further episodes between two prominent antagonists, Hatter and Kuzuryu. They were once best friends who ended up in Borderland and now rule over a secluded beach island called “The Beach.” Hatter is the master of this self-created kingdom where he has arranged a team to collect the cards so that he can become the first player to go out of the game. Each member of “the beach” is Hatter’s minion who plays survival games and collects cards. At the end, when the struggle for power turns Hatter mad (ref. Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland), Kuzuryu makes a hard choice to free his friend of the chaos and struggle.
Arisu in his journey, thus, learns why each player in the game is inclined to play alone or under a leader rather than a companion, because an emotional attachment with another player might rule his own choices inside the game of survival where there could be only one winner. Emotional attachment and inclinations are unavoidable for a human being and the same becomes a hovering conflict for Arisu himself when he meets Yuzuha Usagi, the love interest.
Fusion of Classics
Alice in Borderland derives its narrative from different classic literature and films. It highlights a survival game in a fantasy world like Jumanji. The name of the characters and their nature are influenced by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The series perfectly blends the characteristics of both in a modern set up to create an incredibly outstanding and the new world. The visual effects and technical add-ons supplement the narrative and promise a new Alice in Wonderland.
Both visually and narratively, it is interesting to watch how creators have adapted the already made film and presented it through their own perspective. Though the series is heavily based on the manga series of the same name, and the show could have derived a lot of inspiration from it.
Whatever the source is, Alice in Borderland sure stuns you with it’s visual treatment and choice of in-game threats.
‘Alice in Borderland’ Season 1 Ending Explained
During the final game, Arisu learns that two girls prepared this survival game as instructed by their superiors. The video recording inside the dead girl’s phone unveils the mystery. Inside a hidden chamber, deep inside the subway, a group of people were putting bets on games and the players which were being broadcasted. Though nothing was prominently suggested, it felt like Borderland is like a human horse track where spectators place their bets on different players. After the final game, when Arisu visits the hidden chamber and finds that all these middlemen are now dead as the players have finished the said game.
However, a sudden emergency broadcast surprises Arisu and the remaining players. The game has not yet ended, only they have surpassed the first stage of it. The players now have to compete for the Face Cards of different symbols to finally go to the real world. Mira, a member of the Hatter’s board, delivers the news. She is in fact, the original game master who has created Borderland. The second season will bring about new interesting survival games where players will struggle for their survival and collect the remaining cards of the deck to finally leave this post-apocalyptic-like parallel world.
Alice in Borderland grabs you visually. It sometimes even stuns you. It is a marvelous adaptation. However, it is not totally devoid of any flaws. Arisu, the protagonist, is sometimes too dormant in the series and thus the series focuses on other important characters that lead to a loss of grip. The story spreads like a spoiled broth which becomes chaotic to even grasp at times. It is engrossing till the narrative follows Arisu and his friends but after that, the drama gradually starts hitting rock bottom. Hope to see something interesting and more gripping in the second season or it will be the death of the series with not much left to explore.
Alice in Borderland is streaming on Netflix.
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