The manner in which the second season of “Alice in Borderland” ended raised a lot of questions regarding whether all that was happening with the characters was real or not. Arisu, Usagi, and others had come back to life in the mortal realm, and to make matters even more confusing, their memories had been wiped out. They had declined the offer to reside in the Borderland, and the next thing they knew, they were the survivors of a meteor crash. So, let’s analyze the narrative and understand if the Borderland was an actual place or merely a figment of imagination of those who had that particular near-death experience.
What Did The Borderlands Symbolize? Did It Exist In Reality?
At the end of “Alice in Borderland” Season 2, we saw that when Arisu, Usagi, Chishiya, and others woke up in the hospital, only a minute had passed in the real world. In that one earthly minute, a lot of things transpired in the metaphysical realm, which was called the Borderland. It felt like the characters were in a state of delirium, as no one had any recollection of what had happened to them. Still, the events of Borderland had made an indentation on the subconscious minds of the players, and though they didn’t remember the exact events, they did feel like they had gone through an excruciating experience. All the players, after waking up, were looking for a plausible explanation that would justify what they were feeling, but whatever was told to them did not quench their curiosity. After witnessing the turn of events, one might feel that the characters had one of those visions that a person gets just before dying. The meteor hit, and every other detail that they were being told joined the dots perfectly well and accounted for a very sensible and rational explanation of what they had been feeling. Though this explanation seemed rational, there were a lot of inconsistencies that make us inclined to believe that Borderland was not merely a figment of the people’s imagination. It wouldn’t have been possible for the characters to have a similar aftertaste if the place had existed only in their imaginations. Then possibly, one person could have had a sense of deja vu, but the other would have been perfectly fine.
We saw in the 8th episode of “Alice in Borderland” season 2 that Arisu woke up and went to get something to eat from the vending machine. He met Usagi there and got an eerie feeling that he had seen her before. Usagi also felt that there was an unexplainable tension between them. Chishiya woke up next to Niragi, and he told him that, of late, he had been thinking about his life way too much. We saw Chishiya facing the same dilemma inside Borderland as well. All his life, Chishiya had selfishly looked out for only his interests. Niragi, on the other hand, accepted that he was a bad man and had no qualms about it. The world had not been nice to him, and it had filled him with a lot of anger and hatred for mankind in general. Akane still wanted Aguni to wake up from his slumber, though she couldn’t decipher why she felt so attached to a patient with whom she didn’t share a past. All these emotions point towards a single fact: that the characters were not hallucinating an unreal scenario but had actually visited Borderland and come out of it alive.
It could be said that Borderland was a sort of Purgatory: a transit area where the souls entered and went through a process that made them privy to their own shortcomings and failures. It was a place where a very crucial choice had to be made by each and every individual, and they had to acknowledge the kind of person they were and what they wanted to be. In Borderland, one couldn’t survive by being hypocritical. It made a person shed all their pretentiousness and expose their bare core, which at times, they weren’t ready to embrace. The kind of person we think we are, is often in contrast to who we really are in reality. We tend to camouflage our fears, insecurities, and tainted consciences. What we present in front of others is a fabrication, and often we become so accustomed to it that we forget to peel off the layers and, for once, witness our imperfect selves. Borderland entangled the players in such conflicts that they didn’t have a choice but to expose their real selves and accept who they truly were. It gave them clarity, and from there, they could actually work towards becoming what they really wanted to be. For example, Arisu had, over the years, believed that he is a selfless person who could do anything for his friends. Though he did love his friends, he realized that when he hid in the gaming arena while playing hide and seek in the first season of “Alice in Borderland,” there was a part of him that felt relieved because he had the tag, and he knew he wasn’t going to die. Embedded deep inside his core was an individual who was not ready to die in that instance. In the second season, too, we saw that though Arisu felt bad for Tatta sacrificing his limb, a part of him was also thankful and felt lucky that he did so. Be it Arisu or any other individual, nobody would want to learn about the existence of such dark emotions within themselves.
It could also be possible that, just like Mira Kano had said, Borderland was created by extraterrestrial beings and didn’t serve any higher purpose. Maybe the aliens were running behavioral tests to understand the potential of mankind and what they are capable of. A very unique facet of mortal life is our survival instinct, and maybe the aliens were fascinated by that concept. It could be possible that they would have found a way to transport one’s consciousness inside Borderland and make them participate in games. Maybe that is why a lot of times, it felt like nothing existed in reality and everything was happening inside the person’s head. Time worked differently inside Borderland. A few moments in the actual world accounted for an entire lifetime inside the gaming arena. Now, if the alien theory is believed to be true, then it could be possible that unlike Earth, time was a dimension from where they were operating. Be it aliens or any other mortals, whoever was running the show might have found a way to blur the boundaries that existed between the inner and outer worlds. Borderland was an embodiment of that liminality between two worlds that made the characters stand at such a juncture where they were coerced to understand the essence of morality and, at times, go against it. The place was quite purgatorial in nature, and we believe that whoever created it had a purpose behind it.
Another theory purported by Mira Kano was that Borderland was merely a simulated reality, and that Arisu and others were playing because they felt a craving to experience that adrenaline rush once again. Though it could be possible that Borderland was a simulated reality, we don’t want to entertain that theory because it feels too far-fetched and convenient. We also don’t believe that the Usagi, Arisu and others were androids who were being controlled by the rich and the privileged. Showing such AIs, who were able to understand such complex emotions would rather seem too idealistic and make the narrative look impractical. Though we discredit the simulated reality concept, we believe that there could be some merit to the theory of the rich and wealthy running the show. Maybe the real operator of the entire setup would be a wealthy megalomaniac who enjoyed holding the reins and having the power to determine the destiny of the players. Now another question that arises is whether the people who had decided to not come back to the real world and had chosen to become citizens were alive or dead. Well, according to our understanding, they were dead in the mortal world, but they would still be alive in the Borderlands, where they would be given some position of power, like that of a gamekeeper.
Probably in the third season, we would get to witness who exactly was running Borderland, who created it, and what the reason was behind making the participants go through such nerve-wracking and moral conflicts. It would be interesting to see the direction in which Shinsuke Sato and his team of writers take the show. For now, the field is wide open, and there are infinite possibilities. Maybe Arisu and others get their memory back and realize that Borderland existed for real. Maybe they also find a way to exit and enter the place of their own will. The joker card that we saw at the end of the second season of “Alice in Borderland” pointed towards the fact that the show isn’t over yet. Hopefully, we will see Arisu, Usagi, and others once again competing, fighting for their lives, and demystifying the phantasmal concepts in “Alice in Borderland” season 3.