This Week in Anime
Is the Alice in Borderland Death Game Anime Any Good?

by Steve Jones & Nicholas Dupree,

After a boost in relevancy from Netflix, the three-episode Alice in Borderland anime is now available for streaming! It's an isekai but not that kind. How do the murder shenanigans pan out and is it any good?

This series is streaming on HIDIVE.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @mouse_inhouse @NickyEnchilada @vestenet


Nick
Steve, I don't know if you've noticed but there is a metric fuckton of isekai anime this season, and I would do just about anything to avoid talking about it for another week. So whattaya say we just pick something at random off of streaming and get away from it all?
Steve
Sounds good to me! We might as well avoid that deep dark rabbit hole while we can, before the summer season is in full swing and there's no escape for any of us. But here in the anime borderlands, sometimes you gotta be careful what you wish for.
Ah dammit, did we escape into the Death Game anime dimension instead? That's almost as bad!
Look, at the end of the day, some milquetoast anime boy is always going to magically transported to some kind of parallel world. There's no stopping that. It's coded into the elementary particles that make up our universe. And given that inevitability, I'd much rather watch the option with more exploding heads. So without further ado, here we are with Alice in Borderland!
This is actually a series of OVAs from around 2015, that only just got licensed by Sentai a few weeks ago. I suspect after the franchise got a boost via the live-action Netflix series from late last year. So while the whole parallel world dystopia death game setup was still tired back then, it wasn't AS tired as it is now.
Yeah I'd only heard of it thanks to Netflix showing me the live-action banner every time I log on, because thanks to this column, their recommendation algorithm for me is screwed beyond all hope.
To be fair I checked out the first episode of the live-action show for comparison, and while not amazing I'd say you're better off picking it over this show.
I'd say that probably tracks. These OVA episodes were originally bundled with the manga, and they definitely have the look and feel of something workmanlike slapped together to throw the fans a little anime bone.
Especially the setup. I can't speak to what the manga is like, but the time constraints here mean we get all of 30 seconds with these characters before they're thrown into the Death Game hole, and it's mostly used to establish our main character as a Gamer.
He's our titular Alice—or more accurately, Arisu—and the closest the narrative gets to developing a coherent theme is through the lens of his escapist fantasies. As an admitted "loser" in the real world, he longs for the chance at a do-over in another world.

You'll also recognize this as the impetus behind every isekai series ever, so there really is no escape for us.
The idea of wanting to escape from the pressures of a less-than-ideal real life is at least still a strong idea you could do something with. And it's honestly interesting that even when they wind up in a deserted, dystopic city with next to no food, Arisu is still kind of into this just because he doesn't have to see his family.
Yeah, even after the first couple brushes with death, Arisu still feels surprisingly gung-ho about the whole situation. And, like, there's something to be said about modernity being so bleak and oppressive that just the opportunity to exercise your own agency is its own reward.

Of course, he also has his designated dad-friend Karube to keep his boyish aspirations in check.

Karube is probably the one character I really like from the OVA. He's not complex, but he's a man of action towing two anxious nerds through this whole ordeal and is genuinely endearing while he does it.
Same! I found myself wishing he was the main character instead. There's a great moment in the first episode where, under the threat of a volley of flaming arrows, he's just calmly helping their companion work out how much blood it takes for a cow to produce milk. That's protagonist material right there.
Meanwhile Arisu is putting his Gamer skills to good use by absolutely pissing himself.
I don't think this opening arc of Alice in Borderland really knows what to do with Arisu besides prop him up as the protagonist. Like, he goes from being the above weenie to being the only guy to figure out the very obvious clue in the first death game, despite the fact that Karube had already been established as the "brains" of the operation. His personality fluctuates all over the place in the subsequent episodes too. I understand he's under a lot of stress, but the anime doesn't do a very good job of giving those swings the space they need.
He's supposed to have this like, Game Analyst brain that kicks in when things are dire, that lets him figure out the trick behind whatever new danger they run into. And in classic anime fashion this is illustrated by him immediately becoming Light Yagami levels of confident in any plan he comes up with. And it really does not track.
It's bizarre. It's like the writing thinks he has to be a super genius in order to be the hero, but in actuality, he's really only endearing when he's just talking about how much he loves his bros.
Also his master plan in episode 1 is...run. Like yeah he figures out where to run but also could have explained that BEFORE he set off the death trap that nearly burned them all alive.
To be fair, it does result in this scene, which is very funny.
They weren't even under a tight deadline! He could have explained all this BEFORE literally 3 million burning arrows rained down on their heads!

If I'm Karube I'm socking him in the mouth for that particular keikaku.

Well thankfully the second game is a little more their speed.

Goodbye Uma Musume. Hello, Uma Murderer.
Really sad to see the guy from that ponytail episode of FMP Fumoffu fell on such hard times. Also we kind of skipped over two of our main characters but that's only because the show does too.
It's fine, they're having plenty of fun on their own.

Also that's not me being coy, they literally bang out of NOWHERE.
They gotta do something to keep busy considering they sit out the whole second death game. Though don't worry, we get like eight other characters to die in their stead.
And most of them proceed to immediately get horse-stomped, so don't get too attached.
Probably not a great sign that for most of this episode I was rooting for Daiwa Scarlet here. Dude was gonna have a real Special Week if he won this and he seems like he had a really Nice Nature.
I love him. I was really disappointed by how aesthetically bland the first episode and death game were. There was just so little imagination to it. But then there he was in episode 2, walking around that corner with the dumb meme horse mask. Such a breath of fresh air. Fresh, stupid air.
Unfortunately like High-Rise Invasion or whatever that show was called, it's not enough to really spice up what amounts to a guy shooting a minigun at randos for 20 minutes. No amount of Prisoners Dilemma can spice that up.
Hey now let's not besmirch the good name of High-Rise Invasion. And actually, watching this OVA cemented for me that High-Rise Invasion really was a good example of what I'm looking for in a braindead death game anime. By comparison, Alice in Borderland is just nowhere near campy enough to take advantage of whatever promise its premise might have.
And I don't know that there was much promise to begin with considering its conceit is this:
I mean, on one hand, Arisu's powerfully undercooked character development is definitely a consequence of us having only three half-hour episodes to work with here. But on the other hand, yeah, I don't know how many more stories I need about This Guy.
It's especially egregious here because it insists that him having psychological issues from his family not loving him gave him like, ninja powers to not be spotted by the killer? Like nah dude, that mask just blocks his peripheral vision. Your trauma didn't give you super powers.
Heavy is the yoke of the horse mask.
Also in the end he winds up getting baled out by two nameless characters who do the hard work, including this dude who was the only person who thought to bring a gun to the murder game.
Right? Like the showrunners here seem to be very big sticklers about their rules, but I guess having your own gun is cool with them. I'm not a professional death game civil engineer, though, so what do I know.
They were too busy boobytrapping an entire apartment complex to do any frisk searches, I guess.
And the other new character is a girl who will definitely not be smooching Arisu in the new future, why would you even suggest that?
Don't worry lady, he's a gamer, he doesn't have any of those.
And that's why he wins Game 3, the most Gaming of Games yet, complete with a Gamer headset for everyone.

This is the most melodramatic part of the OVA and everyone spends it wearing this stupid headgear. Exquisite.
Over 9000 looking ass hide & seek laser tag bullshit.
Pontificating on the hard limits of friendship while my AR visor displays a sick decal of my fursona.
It's a very silly setup for what's supposed to be a morbid game of trying to save your friend by dooming yourself, and they spend like 5 minutes just trying to figure out the mechanics of it all when it amounts to "only 1 of y'all is getting out alive because Death Games aren't a team sport."

"Also ignore that winning the last game required working together pls k thnx."
They all deadass walk past a table chock full of various sharp instruments and go "Gee, I wonder what THIS is for?" Like, bros???? Where have you been the past three days?
Well Chota was getting his beak wet, so it's understandable he might have forgotten what's going on.
Okay I'll allow him that. And I guess Karube was also distracted after using a taxi radio to communicate with Norio Wakamoto. Also Norio Wakamoto is in this OVA somehow?
For all of about 8 seconds for a plot beat that never gets to come up again. Especially weird since Karube is the only one we see hear that message and by the end of this episode he's not exactly available to share it with anyone.
This episode also wields flash-forwards in an impressively clumsy way that interrupts any tension the game might have had. Maybe it worked better in the manga, but the runtime is short enough that they really should have just done it linearly.
It's here where the lack of runtime absolutely catches up with the already rushed story. This is supposed to be a psychologically torturous confrontation that either forces each player to betray their friends or try to die in their place, but half the participants are non-entities, and we already know Karube is too much of a Bro to ever actually abandon Arisu. So none of this drama lands for squat.
Like I said earlier, I think their genuine bro bond is the most legitimately endearing part of the show, but this just exploits it in the laziest, quickest, and most slapdash way possible. Even though it is kinda funny to hear Arisu just mercilessly dunk on everyone out of the blue.

Also in the middle of this Chota admits to having sex like it's some dirty secret he's got to repent for before the Lord takes him.
I actually love that this immediately defuses the situation. Chota saves their friendship by being the most awkward dude ever. Now that's a real tale of inspiration.
Sadly he can't defuse the bombs in their collars.

Ah, the exploding collar. An anime death game classic. And to some degree, you gotta respect a series willing to follow through on the threat. Multiple times even!

So yeah, I guess these OVAs more or less cover the story's prologue, and the main thrust of Alice in Borderland is Arisu's quest for revenge. Which I can't say I'm too enthused by, since he's not a terribly interesting character, for reasons we've already covered.

Yeah I can't say I was chomping at the bit for more. But like I said up top, I did try out the live-action series for comparison and came away from the first episode pretty positive. The actors are solid, it takes a lot more liberties to characterize our main trio beforehand, and in general it felt a lot more complete.
I might give it a whirl! And if you're on Netflix and chomping at the bit specifically for some anime death game flavor, I will once again recommend High-Rise Invasion as my recent gold star example of dumb campy fun.
I wouldn't call that a good use of your time, but it's probably better than this one, at least!
Yeah, I'll be kicking this Alice back down the hole he hopped out of.

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