Between Hyde & Closer and Zom 100, Haro Aso has written some excellent, if a bit underrated manga. However, there’s one title that’s different, having spawned an OVA and even a live-action Netflix series. This is Alice in Borderland and it’s finally arrived in the United States.
According to the official description provided by Viz Media:
Eighteen-year-old Ryohei Arisu is sick of his life. School sucks, his love life is a joke, and his future feels like impending doom. As he struggles to exist in a world that can’t be bothered with him, Ryohei feels like everything would be better if he were anywhere else. When a strange fireworks show transports him and his friends to a parallel world, Ryohei thinks all his wishes have come true. But this new world isn’t an empty paradise, it’s a vicious game. And the only way to survive is to play.
Have you seen Squid Game? Have you read As the Gods Will? Are you familiar with Liar Game? If so, Alice in Borderland has a familiar premise as these series (though it debuted before most of them). People caught in a dangerous, lethal scenario trying to survive oddball to even childish games. Alice in Borderland is similar with a bunch of teens and others trying to find a way back to their home while taking part in games with a card-theme overlay. It’s familiar in that way, not distinguishing itself too much at this point.
If that does not bother you, then you’ll find Alice in Borderland’s first volume to be an engaging tale of survival. It really succeeds all thanks to its sharp, good writing early on. Admittedly the story does take a bit to get going with actually getting to Borderland and showing the stakes involved in it, but it doesn’t feel long. The slow buildup does a great job at establishing the lead, Ryohei, and the themes and desire to escape life through seeing his life and his reaction to leaving it behind.
It’s when you get four chapters or more in that it really gets going. A lot of the rules and stakes are established or given mystery while the cast is expanded upon in meaningful ways that really shed light on them. The second game the characters play is much more intimidating and thrilling, while also showing there’s a logic and strategy that doesn’t make the games seem completely hopeless. And, at the end of it all, despite how darkly the story may be set up, it never becomes so bleak that it is depressing to read. There are small, human moments and victories to be won that elevate things just a little. Combining the first two books of the series into one volume was a very wise decision.
The strongest part of the manga is its lead character, Ryohei Arisu. This guy is completely relatable in that teenage way where you just don’t know what you want with your life. Little to no aspirations, no clue what to do while it seems like the entire world is passing you by or pushing you down. In his case, it’s a bit of both. However, he’s not an unlikable fool though. He’s deeply sympathetic for other people, wanting to help them out if possible and thinking of others. He’s also extremely observant and clever, able to figure out a lot of the hidden layers within the games themselves. He’s just a well-written character that’s easy to like.
The rest of the cast is good, but there’s not a whole lot to them just yet. Daikichi gets the second most focus, being an old friend of Ryohei from the past. He seems to be the most put together and capable person, the one everyone turns to. However, he lacks self-confidence in subtle ways, easily breaking when he thinks he’s failed a friend. He’s probably the most likable of the cast, standing up for others while still being realistic about the situation. Others like Chota and Saori have a good moment of characterization, but don’t get to do much currently. Everyone else either dies or leaves by the end, though hinting that they will be back in some way. There’s more work to be done, though with the type of series this is, who knows who will last ’til the end.
The artwork is interesting. The style is reminiscent of the creator’s previous work, Hyde & Closer, in the character design and some action. It’s kind of cartoony in a way but still invokes a serious, heavy vibe when it needs to. However, the art does get better around the time when the characters get transported to Borderland. The designs and visuals get more interesting, the layouts really start to flow well (the Tag game has some great pages), and it starts leaning more heavily on details and matching the mood more. It’s good work, though the occasional use of real life images mixed into the art is awkward-looking.
Is It Good?
Alice in Borderland Vol. 1 is an effectively tense, engaging tale of survival. While it is certainly familiar in its plot to series that came before and after, its solid writing and characterization make for a great read. The artwork is an interesting mixture between cartoony and real, making for a visually unique-looking series in this genre. For those into Liar Game and As the Gods Will, or even fans of the creator, this is an easy recommendation and worth a look.
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