Entering The World
We begin episode 1 of Alice In Borderland with Ryohei Arisu playing video games and listening to his brother berate him for a lack of enthusiasm toward work. “If only we could reset reality,” He says sadly, paying reference to their Mother who’s passed away.
Arisu eventually heads out to spend time with his friends, Chota and Karube. Karube finds himself on the wrong end of his boss (well, former boss given he’s fired) after kissing the barmaid, Emi, while she’s on duty. As the trio begin messaging each other, we see a barrage of texts exchanged as they decide to meet in front of the station.
With the three together, they deliberate over where to go from there as talk turns to zombies and video games. While talking, Karube solemnly tells his friend to get a normal life. It’s clear this trio are outcasts and Karube’s words hit home to Arisu, as he looks out at the crowds of people going about their lives.
Accidentally causing a crash on the street outside, the boys hurry inside the train station and begin giggling while huddled together in one of the stalls.
When the lights turn off and on again, the boys step outside and find themselves in a very different, unexplained world. The streets are empty; eerily quiet and devoid of noise save for the wisps of paper blowing past them. Confused, Arisu looks out at the emptiness.
There’s a real 28 Days Later vibe here as the boys head back to their respective lives but find the once bustling and noisy places they frequented completely empty. Strangely, their mobile phones aren’t working either.
As they sit at Shibuya Crossing while the night draws in, Arisu sports a smile as he tells the others that this turn of events is exciting. Screaming and whooping to the heavens, suddenly a projection appears on the apartment building above, informing them that the game is about to begin.
With flickering red lights in the distance and a handy arrow pointing them in the right direction, the boys head off to investigate.
This brings them to the GM Building; a faint sliver of light in an otherwise bleak and dark world. A handy arrow flashes on as they approach, showing them the right way to go.
With only 3 participants and time counting down, the boys are approached by a girl called Shibuke who reveals that now they’ve crossed a certain point, there’s absolutely no way back.
They’re not alone though, as a high school girl shows up and enters the game at the last second. We don’t find out her name just yet but we do find out more about the game.
It’s called “Dead or Alive” and for now, they have a cryptic clue in the form of a Three Of Clubs playing card. They need to select the correct door within the stipulated time limit and get out the building.
With 2 minutes to complete their puzzle, an escape-room-esque scenario ensues as the group are faced with a near-empty room save for two different doors, one sporting “Live” and the other “Die”
As the game starts, Shibuke tells Arisu and the others to choose the “Live” door. Only… this is the wrong choice and the high-school girl is killed instantly.
The rest make it through the door labeled “Die” and immediately confront Shibuke, questioning just why she chose the wrong door.
With identical rooms facing them in quick succession, the kids argue amongst themselves as this game continues to get worse. A punch to the face jogs Arisu’s memory over the car outside and he solves the riddle ahead using math.
It’s touch and go for a while but with less than a second to spare, and fire hungrily consuming the rooms as they go, the group manage to make it outside. The app on their phone jingles a congratulations as they make it to the alleyway. Only, Chota’s leg is badly burned.
On the table outside happens to be the card they seek – which grants the survivors a three-day visa pass. As they look up, a strange man stumbles toward them and proclaims that he’s going to drop out the game. And by drop out that means brutally executed with a red laser through the skull.
Realizing their visas correlate to the amount of time they’re allowed to stay alive, the kids realize with dread that they need to play to survive.
The Episode Review
So far this first episode has felt like a blend of Cube, 28 Days Later, Sword Art Online and Saw. This medley of influences actually works really well though and it definitely gives off a live-remake of a manga too. While this concept isn’t wholly original, the execution is certainly quite impressive and leaves the door wide open for the remaining episodes.
The characters outside of Arisu are lacking much in the way of distinct traits, especially Chota, but I’m sure that will change in the episodes to come.
This sci-fi series feels exciting and dangerous too, giving the impression that this really could go in any direction in the episodes ahead.