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 in the Japanese series are much more real and evidently 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 eight 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 down 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 is stated in a few lines. Hence, let’s chisel it, layer by layer.
‘Alice in Borderland’ Season 1: Plot Summary – What Is The Series About?
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 visas 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 workings of the set-up. He finally cracks the last survival game, but what comes next paves the way for “Alice in Borderland” Season 2.
Game of Survival
The games inside the borderland (post-apocalyptic-like Tokyo) are timed, and each player has to sign in through a mobile phone (without a network). The players who once entered the game cannot leave it until the game finishes or they cease to exist. 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, one signifying death and the other life. If they open the wrong door, a laser beam shoots them 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 breath-taking, isn’t it?
Each game in the Borderland has a different genre, which is usually depicted through playing cards. The symbols clubs (♣), diamonds (♦), hearts (♥), and spades (♠) point out their genre. For example, the club is associated with power, while hearts are associated with emotions. Thus, a heart game will test the emotional weakness of the contestants. The number on the card depicts its difficulty, and 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 in 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 inspired by the thought that he will not let the deaths of innocent people go in vain and will 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 for 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 from 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 to another player might rule his own choices inside the game of survival, where there could be only one winner. Emotional attachments and inclinations are unavoidable in humans, and they become a looming conflict for Arisu when he meets Yuzuha Usagi, his love interest.
Fusion of Classics
“Alice in Borderland” derives its narrative from different classic works of literature and films. It highlights a survival game in a fantasy world like Jumanji. The names of the characters and their natures are influenced by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The series perfectly blends the characteristics of both in a modern setting to create an incredibly outstanding 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 from their own perspective. Though the series is heavily based on the manga series of the same name, the show could have derived a lot of inspiration from it. Whatever the source, “Alice in Borderland” sure stuns you with its 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 placing bets on games and the players that were being broadcast. Though nothing was prominently suggested, it felt like Borderland is like a human racetrack where spectators place their bets on different players. After the final game, 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 concluded; they have only completed the first stage. 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 created Borderland. The second season of “Alice in Borderland” 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 entirely without flaws. The protagonist, Arisu, is sometimes too dormant in the series, and as a result, the series focuses on other important characters, resulting in a loss of grip. The story spreads like spoiled broth, which becomes too 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. I 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.