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Thursday, February 22, 2024

‘Alice in Borderland’ delivers intensity in shocking series finale

The live-action Japanese thriller’s second season is a fast-paced, action-packed watch

 

By VIVI KIM — arts@theaggie.org

 

Last December, the highly-anticipated second season of “Alice in Borderland” was officially released on Netflix. The Japanese thriller series, originally based on a manga, depicts a boy named Arisu who is stuck in apocalyptic Tokyo, where he is forced to survive on life-threatening games.

During season one, Arisu and his two best friends, Chota and Karube, emerge from a public restroom after hiding from the police, only to find that Shibuya Crossing, a street that was bustling with people mere seconds ago, had been completely deserted. 

After wandering the city, Arisu and his friends stumble upon a building that turns out to be a game arena, where they must gamble for their lives in a game of luck. Although Arisu’s quick wit helps them to win the game just in time, they ultimately realize a more disturbing truth. Everyone remaining in Tokyo is essentially a “player” in the “Borderlands” — a dystopian parallel of Tokyo — and in order to survive, they must continue to compete in a series of deadly challenges scattered around the city. 

Each game is represented by a playing card. The category and difficulty level of the games is hinted at by the suit of the card. The more a player collects, the longer they have to survive before they are automatically killed by a laser beam shooting directly from the sky. 

Up until the very last episode of the series, there doesn’t seem to be a human antagonist, since the challenge of most episodes is sheer survival. However, the playing cards play a crucial role in understanding how the Borderlands work. It is revealed in season one that in order to escape the Borderlands completely, a player must defeat every single game, collecting the card that comes with it.

Throughout the season, Arisu meets several new and interesting players who end up appearing in season two as well. Usagi, a flexible mountaineer, Arisu’s love interest and the main heroine of the show, is introduced just after Chota and Karube die sacrificing themselves for Arisu. Chishiya, who Arisu meets in a deadly game of hide-and-seek, is as cunning as he is intelligent and seems to prefer operating as a loner for most of the show.

While season one focused primarily on the survival aspect of the series, season two dives much deeper into each character’s backstory through far more intense games. Throughout, a struggling Arisu also begins to be haunted by survivor’s guilt and all of the uncertainty surrounding the origin of the Borderlands. 

Since season one ended with the players collecting all forty numbered cards, season two focuses on the collection of the face cards, each of which is represented by a real person. Two of the most notable face cards are the King of Spades and the Queen of Hearts. The King of Spades is a skilled mercenary who has been hunting down players since the first episode. Arusi and several other characters have nearly died at his hands and later end up fighting him in a final showdown during the last few episodes of season two. 

The Queen of Hearts, or Mira, who some deem the central antagonist of the show, is the very last face card that Arisu and Usagi must defeat in order to escape the Borderlands. This final game takes up a whole episode and is definitely the most confusing yet. Rather than a game of physical endurance or intelligence, Mira simply requests that Arisu finish a game of croquet with her. During this game, however, Mira manipulates Arisu by cornering him into a state of existential dread and despair. As she feeds him multiple fake stories of how the Borderlands came to exist, Arisu begins to hallucinate that he is a mental hospital patient mourning the death of his friends. 

Though there were countless complex mind games, intense battle scenes and philosophical conversations that make season two worth the watch, the most intriguing part was the final episode, which revealed the true origin of the Borderlands. While most survival-themed television shows and movies often have supernatural or dystopia-related causes, the ending of “Alice in Borderland” had neither, which made it pleasantly surprising. 

Many parts of the show incorporated a theme of life and death, both in a literal and figurative sense, and the final ending is no exception. It also explained the meaning behind the show’s title, which in retrospect, acted as a subtle clue to the plot twist itself. Looking closely enough, the victory of one character in season one led to numerous subsequent victories in season two, all of which made Arisu’s survival possible and in turn, ensured the survival of the remaining characters. The cyclical nature of life is portrayed this way throughout the show. As a result, what the series lacks in subtle plot development and pacing, it makes up for with deep-rooted themes and characters. 

 

Written by: Vivi Kim — arts@theaggie.org