Alice In Borderland Complete Collection (Cert 15)
1 Disc Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 70 minutes approx.
Release Date: July 4th
Survival is a natural instinct of human and animals alike. Many times we are forced to go it alone but having others with you for help and support makes all the difference, giving us the strength to carry on and see things through to the end. Unless, the situation calls for you and your friends to sacrifice each other in the name of survival.
Three high school friends, Ryohei Arisu, Daikichi Karube, and Chota Segawa, are wiling their days away, bored with their daily routines and wanting something more out of life. During a firework display, Arisu wishes he could live in a different just as a large flash explodes in the sky. The three friends then wake up in what appears to be a dystopian Tokyo, visually similar but eerily empty and quiet.
Finding a nearby uninhabited festival, they meet Saori Shibuki, a woman who informs the trio they are in the Borderland and to survive they need to win some games. As if on cue, a sign board instructs them to play a clubs game of middling difficulty; fail to win and they pay with their lives, whilst salient clues are all around them to help solve the puzzles or work out a solution.
No doubt, the first thing that has popped into the minds of some of you is Squid Game, the hugely popular Korean Netflix show in which people play games to win money or die. It is not the first nor will it be the last of the death game genre – in fact, the manga by Haro Aso Alice In Borderland is based on began in 2010, whilst this anime adaptation followed in 2014, and Netflix viewers may have seen the live action series which has a second season in the pipeline.
In that regard, this release is something of a timely cash in for fans of said Netflix show who may be interested in seeing its animated predecessor, but there is a small caveat to heed. You may have noticed this only has a 70-minute run time, this being a three-episode OVA and not a full series. They were actually released with issue of the manga books to give readers a chance to see the corresponding chapters come to life, probably a nice treat for them.
Viewed in this compilation format, we newbies are missing out on the full experience, something evident almost right away. Wasting no time, we meet the three daydreamers, idly looking up at the night sky and waxing lyrical about how dull their lives are, then bang, they are now the game of their lives. At first, they react exactly as you’d expect teens would with the world as their oyster, not knowing what dark and divisive fate await them.
When confronted with their first game, to draw fortunes and solve a puzzle, they think this is just a joke. Luckily, Shibuki is on hand to steer the lads in the right direction but can they trust her? Well, she is a bit older, very foxy, and has big boobs (natch) – what do you think? Anyway, Karube is up first and gets a good luck fortune so he is okay. Chota gets fair luck and a maths puzzle, to which he gives the wrong answer.
His punishment? Arrows of fire fly out of the sky and just miss him. Maybe now he’ll listen to Shibuki. Fortunately for the group, Arisu – the Japanese phonetic pronunciation of Alice – may be unfulfilled in life, but he is a smart cookie and his intelligence is going to be their secret weapon to surviving and maybe leaving Borderland – if that is indeed possible. Who knows?
But, we do learn Arisu feels more alive than ever in this perilous environment, now he has something exciting to do and has the chance to use his brains in a way that stimulates him where academia doesn’t. Plus, living in the shadow of a perfect older brother can be a motivation killer; with people now appreciating what he has to offer, Arisu has his mojo back. Keeping it alive however, is not going to be easy.
Karube and Arisu take part in a game in the second episode which reveals more players, including an athletic school girl, an older man, some thugs, and a shrewd loner, who like Shibuki, may have played before. The latter might be a typical trope for this for this type of story but he at least engenders interest, and you suspect he and Arisu might face off down the line.
And this is where a three episode run for non-manga readers proves frustrating, and not just for leaving things without a resolution. Scarce flashbacks offer the barest details of the friendship of three lads, hurting the drama of the third episode in which the survival stakes are their highest and cruellest. It makes for an emotional climax but with barely any time to get to know the cast, our investment in their predicament is limited.
One of the few projects by Connect before being absorbed by parents company Silver Link, the animation is suitably energetic and edgy to meet the tone and gravity of the storyline. The inventiveness comes in depicting the mental gymnastics inside Arisu’s head as he deciphers the puzzles of works out a strategy, a mixture of computerised calculations and hopeful flash forwards thrown together in a visually daring display.
Maybe this review makes it sound like Alice In Borderland is not worth your time, which isn’t true; it packs a lot into these three episode in terms of action and storytelling, and leaves us wanting more. At the same time, it is mean to tease us with such an engaging snapshot of the wider story like this – maybe one day a full series might appear. Until then, consider this a taster for either the manga or the Netflix show and it probably does achieve something after all.
English Language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Japanese Language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ***
Man In Black