Alice in Borderland: a Caroll retelling that borders on the insane

The live-action version of Alice in Borderland doesn't let up on the tension.

by Justin Choo

If there’s one thing the Japanese love to do, it is to subvert cultural norms on a fantasy medium with a potent dose of fatalism that they’re so known for. And hey, what do you know, here’s more of that for you. Alice in Borderland mirrors its fairy tale inspiration, depicting Arisu’s (Kento Yamasaki) brutal transition from a teenager unwilling to grow up, into a battle-hardened adult, carrying all the emotional burden that one can humanly bear.

Like the Lewis Caroll classic, Haro Aso’s post-apocalyptic interpretation is also centred around the vague, incomprehensible rules of the adult world that children struggle to understand, except that in Aso’s twisted world, the difference is that failure to comprehend the game invariably results in death. Or permadeath if you want to be pedantic about it.

The games in Alice in Borderland are devilishly dangerous.

The games in Alice in Borderland are devilishly dangerous. Image: Netflix

Arisu spends his time playing video games and generally not thinking about the future. One day, after meeting up with his best friends Chota Segawa (Yuki Morinaga) and Daikichi Karube (Keira Machida) they inexplicably find themselves in an abandoned Tokyo after fireworks go off innocuously in the middle of the day. Saori Shibuki (Ayame Masaki) is the first person they meet who seems to know what is going on, but they have no time to think about it. The four find themselves launched instantly into a game of life and death, where their reward is the privilege to live for another couple of days.

If this is not an allegory for our smartphone habits I don’t know what is.

If this is not an allegory for our smartphone habits I don’t know what is. Image: Netflix

The premise for Alice in Borderland is perhaps its biggest strength as a series. But a willingness to suspend disbelief (essential when it comes to Japanese anime-inspired storytelling) will help you to discern what you should approach with logic and what you should gloss over. Otherwise, nothing makes any sense, though it doesn’t matter because you won’t have time to catch your breath. The pacing is brutal, and so are the circumstances our heroes always find themselves in. Two or three episodes in and I’m already feeling sorry for the protagonists. The tension doesn’t let up, and it makes for absolutely thrilling TV. Plot armour is reserved only for major characters, and there aren’t many.

If you are familiar with the Caroll classic, you would probably notice the parallels between these two works: Alice in Borderland is, no doubt, a loving tribute – albeit in a slightly disturbing way – to Caroll’s most iconic story. Caroll’s work is alluded to frequently, and none amused me more than one where Alice realises that the creatures in Wonderland are nothing but a pack of cards.

Needless to say, I think you might appreciate Alice in Borderland more if you do a quick reread of the classic. Don’t worry about spoilers; you’d be none the wiser. The hows and the whys will remain a mystery that will keep you guessing as you venture further down the rabbit hole of Haro Aso’s wickedly twisted tribute.


Alice in Borderland

Twisted it may be, Alice in Borderland will captivate you with its frantic pacing and non-stop tension. A thrilling ride.