Showing posts with label Alice in Borderland 1 & 2 (Jdrama) 4 || 4. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alice in Borderland 1 & 2 (Jdrama) 4 || 4. Show all posts

06 February 2023

Japanese Drama Review: Alice in Borderland 1 and 2 (2020 and 2022) 4 || 4

We've just unlocked an achievement by watching our first ever Japanese drama. I admit, however, that this was not voluntary on our part. Our nephew prodded us to watch this show by claiming that it was like or even better than Squid Game. And while we don't totally agree with his description and we probably need to get a bit more used to J dramas, the show had good parts that made it worth watching. 


Alice in Borderland tells the story of Arisu (Kento Yamazaki), a gamer who seems so disinterested in life. After being scolded by his dad and his brother for missing a job interview, Arisu runs away from home to meet with his friends Karube (Keita Machida) and Chota (Yuki Morinaga). The three friends were playing around the Shibuya Crossing when the police started running after them. They hid in a toilet but when they came out, they were surprised to find the entire place deserted. As they wander around, they find themselves part of a series of games that they needed to clear in order for them to live. Karube and Chota die early on in the games and Arisu is left to fend for himself. He meets new people along the way, including the mountaineer Usagi (Tao Tsuchiya), who help him clear various stages of the game. The first season ends with the players clearing all the number cards in the playing cards. The second season begins with games involving the face cards. The show takes us through how Arisu and Usagi help each other survive the crazy games in their quest to go back to their former world. 


There were a number of lovable and endearing characters in this show (I'll talk about some of them later). But my favorites would have to be Usagi and Arisu, of course. As I watched the show, and when everything seemed hopeless, I kept on telling myself that I couldn't care less about the others as long as Arisu and Usagi survived. 

I loved their team. They've both been through similar things, with Usagi losing her dad and Arisu losing his mom (and his friends more recently). Because of these shared experiences, they knew how to push each other to try harder so they can further advance in the game. 

Even their personalities perfectly matched each other - Arisu's kindness, compassion, and his "experience" living in the online world vis-a-vis Usagi's fierceness, competitiveness, and experience in facing real life battles. 

While I loved Arisu and Usagi, there were some things in the show that didn't quite make sense to me. Foremost of which would be how some characters just never died despite the crazy things they went through like being shot or burnt (like Niragi (Dori Sakurada), Aguni (Sho Aoyagi), Ann (Ayaka Miyoshi), and Heiya (Yuri Tsunematsu)). I get that this probably had something to do with the show's fantasy/mythical aspect but it still felt odd watching them re-spawn numerous times. 

Some pre-game stuff could have been shortened too and the show could have jumped into the action-packed games right away. Same goes for the stories in between games. The show is at its best during the games and the huge dip in the excitement level for the non-game stuff tended to make other parts seem boring. 

The show featured a storyline where a group of players banded together, hoping to defeat the game masters. They stayed in what they called The Beach. I was not so fond of this part of the story. It felt so cult-like and I would have personally preferred watching more games than wasting my time following the happenings at The Beach. It was as if the players had to survive a different game apart from the card games they had to clear. At times it even felt that the craziness inside The Beach was sicker and wilder than what the players had to contend with outside. The betrayals and drama at The Beach felt unnecessary most of the time. I would have to concede though that Usagi and Arisu met some of the best people there. 

I was also unhappy with the show's tendency to be overly dramatic especially during important moments like the end of the first season and the final game. It felt as though the characters had no sense of urgency that they could afford to waste their time on dramatic speeches. 

Having said all of that and while the show does not really match Squid Game, in our opinion, it was still worth watching because of the clever, crazy, violent, and thrilling mind and physical games the players had to clear. Some of these games were very ruthless, like the one that killed Karube and Chota. The only good thing about the games was that it was possible for many people to survive. Yes, many died but there was no limit on the number of survivors. 

I liked how the earlier games were fast-paced. I initially thought there would be one game per episode, although I realize that that would not have been sustainable. The only downside of the games being played fast was that there were times when we couldn't keep up with the logic behind solving the puzzles in the games.

As I mentioned earlier, there were endearing characters, most of whom Usagi and Arisu met at The Beach. I loved the little back stories of these characters which were presented with the perfect length, just long enough for us to get to know important parts of their lives without boring us. I loved Kuina's (Aya Asahina) story as a transgender. I loved the straightforward way her story was presented - no judgments, etc. 

I also loved Ann, a forensic police, who seemed so polished and elegant but also fierce and feisty at the same time. I basically loved how this show was oozing with girl power (although their outfits could feel quite exploitative at times). And how it was breaking stereotypes. The girls were physically stronger than the boys who tended to be more analytical and geeky. 

Aside from the girls, I also loved Chishiya (Nijiro Murakami), a doctor. He was a very keen observer which proved to be very helpful when he played the games. 

Now, let's talk about some of the notable games (from the second season, which we found snappier than the first). I enjoyed the King of Clubs game because it was a team game. I just wished there was a shorter way of explaining the rules. Oppa dozed off when the show started explaining them. And they were still at it when he woke up. :D And just like the other team games or multi-winner games that involved Usagi and Arisu, part of the excitement is lost knowing that they can't possibly be defeated as the show's main characters. The only thing left for us to find out is how they'll survive the game. And the ending was quite dramatic again with the King's team just giving up. If that were me, I would be running around trying to battle others until the last second of the game. I guess these things could also be said about the Queen of Spades game that Usagi and Arisu played together. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Chishiya's face card games too like the solitary confinement game where he smartly figured things out right away and the King of Diamonds game where he successfully appealed to the King's sense of fairness and equality to win the game. I loved them because Chishiya's proof that you don't have to be physically strong to survive. 

The King of Spades game was the most tragic one for me because it had many casualties. But I loved the main characters' teamwork to bring the King down, even if it meant sacrificing their lives. I just remained hopeful that they'll survive knowing the show's penchant for bringing people back from the dead. 

The final game (Queen of Hearts) was quite anti-climactic for me. Yes, it was probably perfect because Arisu and Usagi were the final players but it would have been boring if other players were there. And for all of the game masters' ruthlessness, it was quite surprising that they yielded to the power of Arisu and Usagi's love for each other. I also found it unfair that only Arisu and Usagi had to play the final game but everyone else alive at that point could go back if Arisu and Usagi clear the game. But I enjoyed the montage showing Arisu in the different games that he cleared in the past. It was a nostalgic way to recall everything he's gone through. 

I found the show's concept clever - that the players were all victims of a meteorite crash in Shibuya and they were battling between life and death at some point (which they called borderland) because of that incident. 

I have to admit, however, that up until the very end, I was not so sure if I understood everything correctly. But I was just glad that all of my favorites were alive. 

In the end, I guess the show managed to deliver its message of not losing hope regardless of the situation, even if you're on the verge of death and that love (and good) will always conquer all. 

Yes, there were times when we doubted if we should continue watching the show and I'm sure we reached a point when we were just watching because we've watched way too many episodes already. It would have probably helped if the drama were more consistent and if it could sustain the excitement all throughout the show. But I guess the good parts were still enough to carry us through the end. The ending seemed to have hinted that there could be a Joker season. Hopefully, they would have perfected the formula by then. 

Oppa says...4.

Noona says...4.