Alice in Borderland
Directed by: Shinsuke Sato
Written by: Yasuko Kuramitsu, Shinsuke Sato, Yoshiki Watabe
Starring: Kento Yamazaki, Tao Tsuchiya, Keita Machida, Yûki Morinaga, Nijirô Murakami, Shô Aoyagi, Yûtarô Watanabe, Nobuaki Kaneko, Ayame Misaki, Tsuyoshi Abe, Aya Asahina, Ayaka Miyoshi, Riisa Naka, Dôri Sakurada, Kina Yazaki
Reviewed by: Brad Williamson
Genre: Science-Fiction / Mystery
I wasn’t sure what “Alice in Borderland” was going to be, but it surprised me, exceeding even the loftiest of expectations in a variety of ways. I started the first episode expecting to see, based on what I’d read, a Japanese take on Ready Player One; what I got, however, was a rapidly evolving story in both tone and plot with a large cast of diverse and enjoyable characters.
I’ve read some reviews that didn’t like the show because they felt it wasn’t original enough, and I’ll admit that there are clear influences everywhere. At one point or another I was distinctly reminded of: Battle Royale, Maze Runner, “Lost”, the aforementioned Ready Player One, “The Matrix”, Red Rising, and The Song of Ice and Fire. Still, even drawing so much inspiration from a variety of source material, the show stays fresh, laser focused, and very entertaining. Its strength rests in the showrunners’ abilities to be influenced by something, then employ that influence without copying. To me, these recollections of previous stories and characters were pleasant vectors of lore, prompting me to enjoy Alice in Borderland while also remembering how much I enjoyed other, previous tales. It was beautiful, fun, and joyful, not repetitive and unoriginal.
The acting wasn’t good as something you’d see on an HBO or Showtime production, or even something like “Mindhunter”, but it was solid. Furthermore, almost every role — and there are a lot of characters — was solid. No single character felt lacking, boring, or unsatisfactory. Although no single actor or actress will likely win awards for this show, the cast is cohesive and almost all the characters are powerful and if not likable, they’re at least relatable.
But the plot and setting is where this really entraps you. It’s plot structure is simultaneously episodic and arc-based; each episode is self-contained, but the whole season also forms one giant episode. It’s not just this structure that is great either, as the mystery and action unfolds at breathtaking speeds. The plot remains deep throughout the story, and as you think they’ve revealed the big secret, more questions arise.
The palette and cinematography was phenomenal, the sets and scenery inviting, and the original music interesting. All these aspects layered atop an already fun cast and intriguing plot completes a vision of raw violence and intense psychological terror rarely seen on the small screen or the big.
Is it perfect? No, but not much is. Is it one of Netflix’s best shows? Yes. Is it one of the best science-fiction shows to come around in the last several years? Yes. Is it powerful? Yes. Is it recommended? Absolutely.