The countess reboots, revivals, sequels and prequels have made the survival genre rather stale lately. Alice in Borderland comes at precisely the right time to revitalise this genre but suffers a few hiccups along the way.
Alice in Borderland is an adaptation of the manga series by the same name, written and illustrated by Haro Aso. Unlike most manga adaptations, the concept of Alice in Borderland itself is not very unique but an amalgamation of everything in the survival genre which has been given the Alice In Wonderland treatment. It has the premise of Battle Royale (2000), the gore of Saw (2004), the mechanics similar to Nerve (2016) and The Game (1997).
It follows a young college-dropout and avid gamer, Ryohei Arisu (Kento Yamazaki) and his friends, Karube (Keita Machida), a tough bartender and Chota (Yûki Morinaga), an IT engineer.
The three of them are wayward youngsters with no real aims or aspirations in life. One day, while being chased by the police, they find themselves locked inside a toilet cubicle.
When they exit the cubicle, discover that everyone in the world has apparently disappeared. Here they have to play sick, twisted games to survive in this world, which has a lot more people than they previously thought, without any rhyme or reason to this madness.
The dubbing by the voice-over artists is, once again, awful. The original Japanese audio with subtitles is far better.
Kento Yamazaki plays Arisu, a brilliant, albeit lazy, individual. He is the ‘Alice’ of this ‘wonderland’. Yamazaki is decent as Arisu. He has range but his acting lacks nuance.
Tao Tsuchiya plays Yuzuha Usagi, the second lead of the series and another person stuck in this world. She is a mysterious mountain climber and her athletic skills complement Arisu’s smarts to help them survive. Much like Yamazaki, Tsuchiya lacks refinement but does the job adequately.
Keita Machida effortlessly plays Karube who is basically Ben Affleck’s Good Will Hunting character but in a survival thriller setting. He recognises how talented and smart Arisu is and always pushes him to be better.
Alice in Borderland, true to its inspiration also has Hatter with the same name but quite a different character, played by Nobuaki Kaneko. He is a strange, charming but crazy leader of a group of people in this world. Kaneko is always unpredictable and hence a joy to watch.
The series also contains a myriad of other characters who are each more interesting than the last and are usually played by actors who do the roles justice.
The star of Alice in Borderland is its writing. Haro Aso, the original creator of the manga and Yasuko Kuramitsu, who adapted the work, do an excellent job creating an unpredictable series with understandable characters.
Everyone has certain expectations from the survivor genre – some deaths, some character archetypes etc. Alice in Borderland nearly defies all of them. By the third episode, the writers ensure that the audience is totally engrossed.
One of the best things it manages to achieve that is crucial for its success is – tension. Alice in Borderland is full of such sequences that keep you on the edge of your seat. Direction, editing, camerawork seamlessly work with the writing to create palatable tension during the game scenes
The pacing is notably great. The makers of the series understand how important change and scenes of calm and devoid of urgency are to the series.
To top it all off, the characters are nuanced and very well etched out even though there are so many of them. Alice in Borderland successfully creates a world full of intriguing characters in its first season itself, which is a very rare feat.
The series is action-heavy. The violence and gore are very well done. It doesn’t seem cheap or fake. The action has also been very well choreographed. Even though it doesn’t really use long takes, the action is edited well and is not dizzying, as is the trend nowadays.
Despite the great story structure, the writing fails when it comes to dialogues. They are very exposition-heavy and over the top. They use a lot of foreshadowing in the series but it is done in a very heavy-handed way.
Another major problem is in the use of flashbacks. There are plenty of flashbacks which are rather unnecessary. It seems that the director did not trust the audience enough to pay attention to the series.
Alice in Borderland, unfortunately, resorts to cliches in quite a few of the games. There are several instances of dei ex machina during the game. Quite a few games are solved by the characters using some random piece of information that the characters happen to know. Such writing prevents the audience from taking the series seriously at times.
Although the execution and acting are rather routine, the story is quite unpredictable. The series ends of a cliffhanger and leaves you wanting more.
Alice in Borderland is at least a one time watch for fans of the survival genre.