A Dystopian Setting Makes For an Engaging Thriller With ‘Alice in Borderland’

‘Alice in Borderland,’ based on the Japanese manga of the same name, has become a huge hit, by presenting a thrilling dystopian world.


Moujib Aghrout / Unsplash

Post-computer production was put into use in order to recreate Shibuya City on a massive scale, where ‘Alice in Borderland’ begins.

I’m sure most of us are quite familiar with Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Alice in Wonderland, in which Alice falls down the rabbit hole into the unknown, embarking on some unusual adventures and meeting some wonderfully zany creatures ― including the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat ― along the way.

As evidenced by the allusion to this classic book in its title, the Japanese thriller series Alice in Borderland, based on the manga Alice in Borderland written by Haro Aso, has a similar premise. However, unlike the original tale, this story begins with three friends finding themselves in an abandoned version of Tokyo, after a mysterious power outage. 

The series’ protagonist Ryohei Arisu is a game addict lacking motivation for life who gets dragged into an alternate world with his friends Daikichi Karube and Chota Segawa. In this borderline ghost-town realm, its residents find themselves having to play risky, dangerous, and especially life-threatening games in order to survive. 

Each type of game in the show corresponds to a different suit: diamonds test wit, spades test physical strength, clubs test teamwork, and hearts signify games that psychologically manipulate people. (Amanda Jones / Unsplash)

Japanese actor and model Kento Yamazaki excels in his role as Arisu, embodying the character’s wit and logical intelligence in a manner that is not only awe-inspiring, but also grounded and realistic. By mapping out his thought process, the show provides viewers with a more profound understanding of Arisu’s brilliance In addition to Alice in Borderland, Yamazaki has played L Lawliet in the live-action version of the Japanese manga series Death Note and starred as protagonist Minato Shindo in the Japanese remake of medical drama The Good Doctor

Meanwhile, Keita Machida brings Karube’s impulsive and fiery spirit to life. It was quite the contrast from his role as Yuichi Kurosawa, a charming and charismatic office worker in the romantic comedy Cherry Magic. Machida will also be starring in his first lead role in the drama Three Star Bar in Nishi Ogikubo, whose first episode broadcasted on February 11th, 2021. 

Yamazaki and Machida’s outstanding performances are just two of the many indications of how the show does a phenomenal job of diversifying and giving their characters nuance. Each one is reminiscent of an eccentric creature featured in Alice in Wonderland, like the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat. 

Because of the dystopian setting shaping everyone’s distinguishable motives, the characters are morally grey, with their flaws made explicit and with consequences. 

What exactly defines the justification of the character’s actions? How far should people go in the pursuit of survival? The show also leaves these questions for the audience to ponder, as the characters confront these questions, too.

“I had never seen a show like Alice in Borderland before. The show forces the audience to consider how they would act in the games, examining the best and the worst in themselves,” Lauren Cho ’22 said, having watched the show after a friend recommended it to her. 

Each character being morally grey is also the driving force of the intense stakes of the show. Alice in Borderland always finds a way to raise these stakes, whether people have to work together to solve a riddle or whether they need to play with each other’s hearts. 

“The storyline completely developed around trust, betrayal, and person-to-person issues,” Miles Yamner ’21 said. Yamner enjoyed how the games operated in order to bring these issues to light. 

The story of Alice in Wonderland has been adapted many times (such as the 2010 Tim Burton movie), with ‘Alice in Borderland’ being a darker interpretation. (pure julia / Unsplash)

The thriller additionally discards the typical plot armor surrounding characters in other shows, proving that these stakes have a potential effect on even the fan-favorites. For this reason, the person-to-person issues that the show presents are much more resonant. This leads to looming suspense for any viewer, making them wonder what could happen next.

The show’s chaotic twists and turns subvert viewer expectations. And to bring all of this to life, the show makes use of stunning visual storytelling. Realism was highly emphasized throughout the production, and it pulls through in every cut.

Furthermore, with computer graphics and green screen compositing, Alice in Borderland was able to recreate various locations in Japan in such a way that the viewers feel as though they were with the characters themselves. This definitely was a contributing factor to the immense success that Alice in Borderland has achieved― with an audience of over 18 million watchers in the 28 days since its release, it has broken the record for the largest number of viewers for a Netflix original from Japan.

And better yet, we’ll be seeing more of this action-filled series sometime soon! Netflix confirmed on December 25th, 2020 that the science-fiction thriller would be getting a second season with a suspenseful video teaser.

Is it game on or game over for the current residents of Borderland, however? With season two of the show confirmed to be in the works, we are left wondering about what trials and tribulations the characters will face. With all of these to come, here we go down the rabbit hole with Alice in Borderland.

To watch Alice in Borderland on Netflix (subscription required), click HERE

“I had never seen a show like Alice in Borderland before. The show forces the audience to consider how they would act in the games, examining the best and the worst in themselves,” Lauren Cho ’22 said, having watched the show after a friend recommended it to her.