Alice in Borderland wastes no time in getting straight to the action as three best friends are forced into a series of deadly games.
This recap of Alice in Borderland season 1, episode 1 contains spoilers.
You get the sense very early on in Alice in Borderland episode 1 that the show isn’t much interested in taking its time, and this very much persists all throughout the episode. In the opening scene which introduces Arisu, the “Alice” of the title, we’re given just the right amount of preliminary information to understand him as a character, all without much dialogue. He’s an avid gamer, he’s very clever, but he’s also a layabout, much to the chagrin of his stern father and careerist brother. He’s clearly still harboring some trauma over the death of his mother, and he finds solace in his friends Karube and Chota, whom he meets up with outside the bustling Shibuya Station.
The friends have to text each other — the messages show up on-screen — just to locate one another in the heaving crossing, which makes for an effective juxtaposition a little later. See, Arisu, Karube, and Chota’s messing around earns them the attention of the authorities, and all three take shelter in a toilet cubicle inside Shibuya Station. When they emerge, the entirety of Tokyo — including Shibuya Crossing, one of the most famously busy junctions in the world — is deserted. It’s the 28 Days Later effect, and it really works here as the trio begin to poke around. All their phones are dead. Nobody is around. Behind them, a building lights up to inform them that a game will commence in a moment, and an arrow directs them to the arena where it’ll take place. With no better ideas, they follow the arrow to the GM building, where they pick up new smartphones with face recognition software that relay details of the game to the players, who also include the severe Shibuki Saori and a sacrificial lamb whose name I didn’t catch but who is only really present to make the players and audience aware of the stakes.
Those stakes are pretty life-threatening. Once the game is underway, it has a border that instantly kills any player who crosses it with a laser. A playing card, the three of clubs, denotes the difficulty of the game, which is called “Dead or Alive.” The rules are simple. In a series of rooms, and within a shortening time limit, the players have to select the correct door out of two choices, marked “live” or “die”.
There’s a two-minute timer on the first room, which eventually starts flooding with gas. Here’s where the no-name girl is offered as a sacrifice to prove to the players that choosing the wrong door means instant death, though it’s telling that she’s manipulated into choosing by Shibuki, who believes this is a game of sacrifices. But Arisu quickly figures it out as a game of logic. Using his memory of the car parked outside, he’s able to figure out the rough shape and dimensions of the building, using that to inform his decisions. He leads the group through the right door each time, and despite Chota getting caught by the flames on the way out, they all make it out alive.
I really like how believable Arisu’s intelligence is. Usually, this kind of thing is depicted as a contrived superpower, but you can really follow the train of logic here, and the smart use of a diagram lets the audience see the decision-making process.
Since the game was ranked as the three of clubs, that gives the winners a three-day visa. To explain what that means, a random man stumbles into the alleyway to declare that he’s dropping out of the game since it never ends no matter how much you clear. His visa expires and he gets lasered to death instantly, so we have our stakes set nice and high. The characters all have to continue playing.
Right on cue, we see lights crop up all over Tokyo, presumably denoting the location of more games, as the camera cuts to a woman stood on a rooftop surveying the city.
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