Thursday, January 19, 2023

Japanese Drama Review: Alice in Borderland, Season One (2020)


Stories that involve being trapped in a game are the popular it thing right now. I love trapped in a game stories, but while I "enjoyed" AinB, it's really not that original. I could get the same thing watching Tron, The Hunger Games, or The Maze Runner, and actually enjoy those more. If not for the likeable leads of Arisu and Usagi, I would have dropped it halfway through the first season. Why the threat of dropping? Because it's far more violent than was necessary. Lots and lots of gore, showing the impacts of bullets, knives and swords actually cutting, a brain dissection, etc. It went overboard, probably because the manga is also big on over-the-top gore, but I'm only guessing at that part since I haven't read it, and probably won't. I'm also not keen on attempted rape, so keep that in mind as being triggering for a lot of folks. 

2023 Update: I published this review on another blog last year, but have decided to keep everything at Musings of an Introvert. So if you find any odd references, like not mentioning S2 is already released, oops, that's why! I also binged S2 over Christmas break so I will be releasing that review soon. Um, can I just say, as a precursor to the S2 review, Yamashita Tomohisa, what the heck, man!? I felt like I was in anaphylactic shock for hours!

Yamazaki Kento, Machida Keita, and Morinaga Yuki

The one thing that didn't bother me like it did a lot of viewers was The Beach. It's incredible how many viewers saw red at the behavior of the people on The Beach, but frankly, that's one of the things that made sense to me. I believe in evil and sin. I believe that humanity is inherently wicked (not inherently good), so it makes sense to me that a man on a power kick creating his own utopia is going to create it through sinful desires. He is going to make women nothing more than pleasure objects. He is going to raise himself up on a throne as a deity. Why? Because it's human nature to take advantage of other people in a way that demeans and cripples their self-esteem.

Viewers need to remember that the The Beach is not presented in a positive light. It makes both Arisu and Usagi uncomfortable and for good reason. It's supposed to be uncomfortable to the viewers, not in a way that necessarily makes us mad, but in a way that helps us confront humanity. We can get as angry as we want at women prancing around in skimpy bikinis, but in real life, women wear those bikinis by choice, objectifying themselves to the men they know are watching. Where does the real issue come from?

One criticism I do have is related to the trans character. If you are going to go that route of having a character be a trans woman, cast a biological male in the role. End of story.

The friendship shared between Arisu, Chota, and Karube was refreshing. They're all lost in their own way, but their friendship grounds them. And I feel strongly that episode 3 was crucial into pushing Arisu to be more than he thought he could be. It was a super hard episode, but important.

Tsuchiya Tao as Usagi

Yamazaki-san was ideally cast as Arisu. I liked him long before Alice in Borderland so his success doesn't surprise me, but it does please me. I loved seeing Tsuchiya-san as Usagi. She was terrific opposite Suda Masaki-san in My Little Monster (my long-winded review of fangirling here). Morinaga Yuki-san as Chota and Machida Keita-san as Karube were brilliant. Kudos to Murakami-kun as Chishiya, Sakurada-san as Niragi, Asahina-san as Kuina, and Yanagi-san as Samura. Yanagi-san keeps showing up on my radar in bizarre roles. I would give anything to see him play a normal lead in a normal romance. I wonder if he could do it. And Sakurada-san, not a favorite of mine by any means, sold his role as a villain.

Alice in Borderland tries to tackle some difficult topics, and I feel like it mostly succeeds. Arisu is right. There should always be a way of winning the game without resorting to murder. You should always be able to beat the game makers at their own game. While I don't regret watching Alice in Borderland, it's not a favorite, although I will watch the second season because I'm curious. It's interesting, and adds to that whole trapped in a game genre, and it's got some pretty awesome special effects.

Enjoy the official trailer from Netflix.

Alice in Borderland S1 (Imawa no Kuni no Alice)

Country: Japan

Year: 2020

Episodes: 8 episodes, 42-52 minutes each

Genre: Game, Suspense, Sci-Fi, Dystopian

Starring: Yamazaki Kento, Tsuchiya Tao, Morinaga Yuki, Machida Keita, Murakami Nijiro, Sakurada Dori, Asahina Aya, Yanagi Shuntaro

Official Overview:

Arisu Ryohei—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. After a dangerous game which tests Arisu’s limits, the two set out together to unravel one mystery after another as they risk their lives and confront what it means to live.

Source: Netflix

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