Japanese Netflix Drama review: “Alice in Borderland” (1st Season)

By | January 27, 2021

If you’ve been following this blog, you probably know that I’ve been struggling to find some entertaining stuff on Netflix in the last few months. The ones I have enjoyed enough to reach to the end are this anime series, this anime series,  and this drama.

But in the last few weeks I found a really entertaining series that I watched to the end of Season one in record time: “Alice in Borderland”, which is based on a Manga with the same English name (the original Japanese name is 今際の国のアリス) written by Haro Aso (麻生羽呂).

This series starts out very dramatically, with a handful of characters who happen to be in a bathroom stall during a certain special event in the middle of the day, and when they leave the bathroom they are surprised to see the area around them is completely devoid of people. This part was especially interesting to me since it made me wonder whether they actually paid the city to somehow reserve a massive area of Tokyo (that is usually totally packed with people), or instead used CG to erase the people out (or created a fake city). Regardless of what technique they used, it was pretty impressive.

As usual, I don’t want to give out too many details about the story, but I will say there are “games” that the characters are forced to play, an element that really reminded me of the first episode of Gantz (I never ended up watching the rest of that series, though).

Story aside, there were a few things about this drama that really made it great. One was the gripping sense of drama and action that kept up through the entire season––the equivalent of a “page turner”, I guess. While I personally do not “binge watch”, if I did this would be a top candidate.

Another thing related to the action and drama is that “Alice in Borderland” felt like it really had a big budget and was skillfully produced. Some of the more dramatic action scenes are still vivid in my mind, and had me thinking I was watching a long movie instead of a multi-part TV series. In some cases computer graphics helped things out, but in others it was just a combination of good cinematography, choreography, and lighting.

The characters were also quite memorable, although perhaps ironically I think the side-characters actually left a bigger impression with me than the main characters. In some places there is interesting background history about side-characters, and sometimes the main characters will take a break to focus on other characters. Perhaps the director/mangaka purposefully made the main characters less interesting for this reason, but I can’t say for sure.

One thing that I must mention at this point is that the action scenes are often accompanied by severe violence or gore. In some cases it is quite extreme, for example when a few characters’ heads literally explode. In other cases it’s more the suddenness of the violence that is shocking. In any case, a majority of the violence involves people getting killed or injured, often by some form of weapon. While I used to be a bit more sensitive to such violence, it looks like I’ve grown used to it, enough that it didn’t bother me too much (but I will admit I did consider stopping early on the series, mostly for this reason). This series is definitely not for kids or those sensitive to violence.

And along with violence usually comes…yes, sex. Fortunately, there is not that much explicit sexual activity (only one scene comes to mind, and it’s maybe R if not PG-13), but due to an extremely odd plot twist, at one point bikinis suddenly become the main character. There is a reason for the excessive skin, but it’s a pretty artifical one. I can see this dividing watchers of the show.

In terms of Japanese, while in the beginning the lines were pretty easy to follow, midway through they got a bit harder to catch everything (for example, there are some political-sounding terms that you may be unfamiliar with). Personally, due to the somewhat frequent gun sounds and screams I had to watch this with low volume and put on Japanese subtitles, so it was fairly easy for me to follow. (My reading skills are above my listening skills, though I realize for some people this may not be the case.)

While I did appreciate the story, to be honest it did jump around somewhat unnaturally, something that may be unavoidable due to the fact it is based on a manga series. I am considering checking out the manga someday to see what was omitted or changed.

Finally, if it’s not already clear, this series is pretty unrealistic, and to be honest the lines are extremely cheesy and over-dramatic at times. But I didn’t mind this much, and just sat back and enjoyed myself.

The bad news is that, while this show has been renewed for a second season on Netflix, it looks like we have a long way to wait. Having said that, I think the first season of Alice in Borderland is fun enough (if you can stand the bikinis and the violence) to watch on it’s own. 

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