Review: Alice In Borderland Season 1 (2020)
Based on the manga series by Haro Aso, Alice In Borderland is a well paced and engaging blend of suspense, mystery, and emotional as well as existential dread. It's a healthy mash-up of Battle Royale, the Cube, Saw, and The Belko Experiment, giving you a pretty bloody dose of sadism and emotional torture. That should be enough to forewarn you against checking this out if that type of story isn't exactly your jam.
The series follows Arisu, a young shut-in with no real goals or idea of what to do with his life. While hanging out with his two friends Chōta and Karube, the trio find themselves shunted into a sort of reflection of Tokyo that seems entirely abandoned.
As night falls they are directed by lights to the only building with power on. There they meet other displaced people and discover that they must play a series of deadly games to survive and earn visas that allow them time to rest before they play another game.
The initial death trap has a very 'Cube' feel to it, and as the series progresses there's an interesting variety of traps and games that are divided up by the different suites of cards in a poker deck. The mystery element of the series has that same level of intrigue that drew people in to the first season of say a show like Lost, but unlike Lost it feels like there's a very clear execution of the world building. The abandoned world follows a strict set of rules and logic, and within that landscape the drama and suspense unfold at a great pace.
I found all the characters to be pretty engaging as well. Considering some characters don't have too much time to make an impact, all of the actors do a stellar job at imparting enough of what we need to feel some level of empathy or concern about their fates. And while Arisu is center stage, other characters really start to fill their own spotlights and we get a pretty rich cast of protagonists and antagonists to follow.
One of the elements I really enjoy is the ambiguous mystery of whether or not this is a supernatural threat or a more grounded yet still bizarre force. As the series progresses the stress of constant life-or-death situations and betrayals and the focus of 'the will to survive' do impart a more existential feeling, but the show does offer a few feints and twists that can lead you in either direction. While I was half dreading a more disappointing twist at the end of the season, they flipped it into a new escalation that really has me interested in the next season.
If you're looking for a solid suspense show with some great production and direction then I would definitely check this out. Fair warning though, if you're not really in the mood for the dehumanizing aspects of people being forced to murder each other to survive you may want to sit this one out. We've got enough stuff to be depressed about this year, and this show does a great job of making you depressed about other people's fates.