Arisu in Borderland premiered on Netflix sometime last month/year. It still feels weird that we are in 2021. Happy New Year to you all by the way, hopefully this year is a better one! It is a Netflix original series and is based on the manga of the same name. I loved it and it seems that most other people did as well, with the series being renewed for season 2 already! Even my fiancé loved it and she normally hates anything foreign, the uncultured swine.
It’s hard to slot this show into a genre. It has mystery elements. It puts out horror/thriller vibes. It has its fair share of action and drama. Definitely some science fiction thrown in. If that sounds interesting to you, you should stop reading and go watch it. Come back after you’ve seen it, because spoilers lie ahead!
Arisu is an unemployed man who is obsessed with video games. Me too, Arisu, me too. He is hanging out with his delinquent friends, Chota (who is skipping work and stealing money) and Karube (who just got fired for making out with his bosses wife and punching said boss in the face). The trio cause a car crash and run into a nearby toilet cubicle to hide. This is when things get interesting. They hear a knock on the door and emerge to find no one. No one at all. Not anywhere. All of Tokyo seems to be deserted.
Later that evening, they are directed to a “Game Arena” by some billboards. They follow the signs and enter the game. In the arena they find some phones, as they turn them on it scans their faces and indentifies them. It then explains the rules of the game and gives it a difficulty rating based on a playing card, for this game it is a 3 of clubs. It is called Dead or Alive. They are joined by two more participants and the game begins. They enter a room and have 2 minutes to decide which is the correct door to leave from. One door leads to death, the other door leads to the next room. The gang quickly think it is a prank, until one of the participants select the wrong door and is executed by a laser beam. Pew pew.
Thanks to some quick thinking from Arisu, the 4 of them escape and complete the game. They are rewarded their prize of “3 visa days”, which basically gives them 3 days of life. Once the 3 days expire, they get a laser beam to the head. The only way to extend their visa is to keep playing and winning games. As they continue to play they learn that there are 4 types of games, based on the picture on the cards. Clubs are team challenges. Diamonds are a battle of wits. Spades are typically physical challenges. Hearts are games of betrayal, designed to toy with the hearts of the competitors and turn friends against one another. The higher the number on the card, the harder the game is.
In perhaps my favourite episode, the trio and their nearly acquired “friend”. Shibuki (from the 3 of clubs game) enter a game and find out first hand how devastating a hearts game can be. They are thrown into a 15 minute game of hide and seek in which there can only be one winner. In 15 minutes, we see the lifelong bond of Arisu, Chota and Karube dissolve before our very eyes. A tearful Arisu is trying to find a way to solve the puzzle so they can all survive. As the clock continues to rundown, they all turn against one another. Eventually, they all realise that none of them want to live without one another.
The entire time, I was convinced that Arisu would find a way to beat the game or that there would be some loophole in which they all survived. Imagine my surprise when the game ended and everybody’s head exploded, leaving Arisu the sole survivor and victor, at the cost of his friends lives. From this point on, I didn’t know what to expect from the show.
It eventually builds up the ultimate challenge of the series, a 10 of hearts game. My partner could not solve the puzzle, but I was fairly certain I had the correct answer (I did). I wasn’t 100% though and this was mainly because I wasn’t sure if there was a way to win this game.
Having solved the 10 of hearts game and learning the face of the game master, the only challenges that remain are the face cards. Which, will apparently begin tomorrow! Tommorow for them, not us. We will likely have to wait another year or more. Ugh!
Aside from the storyline, which was incredible, the character development also stood out as a highlight. You watch Arisu grow from an unmotivated nerd into a hero and saviour of others. You see the impact his friends and the loss of them has on him. He isn’t the only one though. Nothing is black and white, no one is just good or evil. You learn the backstory of most of the “villains” and develop sympathy (to an extent) for them.
I have a hard time criticising anything in this show. It was well filmed, acted, written, directed and anything else you can think of. As I mentioned at the top, I can strongly recommend this series. The only problem is that I have to wait for the next season!