A video-game-obsessed young man and his two best friends find themselves in a strange version of Tokyo where they must compete in dangerous games to survive in Alice in Borderland, a new live-action original series from Netflix. Based on the Japanese manga by Haro Aso, it looks like a hybrid of Alice in Wonderland and Ready Player One, with a dash of the 1997 sci-fi horror film, Cube, thrown in for good measure. The series is directed by Shinsuke Sato, best known for 2001’s The Princess Blade and last year’s Kingdom, and co-written by Haro Aso and Yasuko Kuramitsu.
First serialized in 2010, the manga series ended its run in 2016. It tells the story of Ryōhei Arisu and his pals Karube and Segawa, a group of bored high schoolers who long for more exciting lives. Arisu’s wish is granted during a fireworks celebration: he and his friends find themselves in a post-apocalyptic parallel world known as Borderland, where they must play a series of dangerous games to survive.
The Netflix adaptation follows the same basic premise, with a few minor tweaks. Per the official synopsis: “Arisu—a listless, jobless and video-game-obsessed young man—suddenly finds himself in a strange, emptied-out version of Tokyo in which he and his friends must compete in dangerous games in order to survive. In this strange world, Arisu meets Usagi, a young woman who’s navigating the games alone. Together, they set out to unravel one mystery after another as they risk their lives and confront what it means to live.”
The series stars Kento Yamazaki (who also appeared in Sato’s Kingdom) as Ryōhei Arisu, Keita Machida as Karube, and Yuki Morinaga as Chōta, with Tao Tsuchiya as Yuzuha Usagi. Ayame Misaki plays Shibuki, the first being Arisu meets in the Borderland. Naturally there are some obligatory nods to Lewis Carroll’s classic tale. There is a version of the Mad Hatter, known simply as the Hatter (Nobuaki Kaneko)—he reminds of me a little of Klaus in The Umbrella Academy—as well as a mysterious figure known as Cheshire (Nijiro Murakami), and a scary tattooed character known as the Last Boss (Shuntaro Yanagi).
Netflix released a teaser a few weeks ago, and we now have a full trailer that gives us a better look at the action. We see our three slackers skipping job interviews and causing chaos in the streets of downtown Tokyo—until a sudden power outage. They find themselves in a completely empty city, and head toward a store that still seems to have power. There, they find a set of cell phones and meet a young woman who explains their predicament: “You have no choice but to participate in the game.”
Those games seem to involve fire, shootouts, playing cards, being trapped in a room slowly filling with water, a creepy amusement park, a killer tiger, and—my personal favorite—a showdown between the sword-wielding Last Boss and a girl clad only in a bikini. (There was a big pool party seemingly hosted by the Hatter earlier.) But if there are games, there must be a games master, and Arisu is determined to outwit him (or her). All in all, this looks like loads of fun.
Alice in Borderland drops on Netflix on December 10, 2020.
Listing image by YouTube/Netflix