Review: Alice in Borderland is a product of “clever storytelling”

Live-action manga adaptations are popular in Japan but have recently been gaining popularity among global audiences. The success of these adaptations has always been precarious because, at times, filmmakers don’t understand the nuances of the source material, especially those with complex narratives and themes. Mangaka Haro Aso’s clever storytelling is exemplified by the compelling visuals of Shinsuke Sato’s adaptation in “Alice in Borderland.”

In this sinister thriller, Ryohei Arisu, devoid of motivation and ambition, wastes his days away playing video games to his family’s dismay. His two best friends, Chota and Karube, are also idle in daily despondency. While trying to find meaning in their frivolous existences, the three are thrown into the “Borderland,” where the once populated Tokyo is now a desolate wasteland. Arisu must navigate newfound perils, try to survive and return to the normal world.

One aspect that sets the series apart from other thrillers is its ability to subvert expectations and avoid the pitfalls of its predecessors. Gone are the contrived, ill-conceived plot lines that act as only a shock factor, and in place are seamlessly conveyed story beats that further the plot and the characters. Sato and Aso’s collaboration has established “Alice in Borderland” as a forward-thinking thriller. It converges the familiar tropes of the genre with the novel and navigates concepts such as autonomy and morality in an exhilarating manner, bolstered by the experience of the games.

The games that the characters have to complete in order to survive are produced on such a grandiose scale that it becomes difficult not to become enthralled in the excitement. Gradually discovering more about the “Borderland” as the episodes unfold is thrilling and induces a bone-chilling horror once you realize how influential it is over human nature. Tensions rise as unique personalities are pushed to their limits trying to navigate the strange world.

The mysteries of the Borderland finally seem to come to light as a bright fire engulfs the sanctuary that Arisu finds himself in. When all think this is the end, deceit and facade find themselves everlasting. The grim realization that you are simply a puppet in an interminable act and no matter how hard you try you cannot cut the strings is likely to be exacerbated in the second season; however, we will just have to wait and see how the cards fall.