I discovered Alice in Borderland when it popped up as a new live-action release on Netflix in December 2020. By that point, I had watched most of the Japanese dramas available on the service and craved more. In my personal experience, the only way any company licenses more J-dramas is if there are viewership numbers to back it up. So, I took it upon myself to watch it that weekend. I was immediately hooked. And now, the Alice in Borderland manga provides another way to experience it.
Imagine drifting through the world with your closest friends. You have no real ambitions, no goals. You just know that the life your parents want you to have with a respectable career path working in an office and repeating the same steps day in and day out isn’t for you. Alice in Borderland‘s hero Arisu Ryohei spends his days avoiding homework, “wasting” his time with video games, and hanging out with slacker friends Chota and Karube.
One afternoon, when confronted by his brother about slacking off, Arisu slips out of the house before things escalate with their dad. He heads to the bar where Karube works to meet up with his friends and commiserate about life. They talk about the what ifs; what if zombies rise up, what if there’s an apocalypse, what if… as they wander along the abandoned train tracks. Some time around 4am, the group notices a fireworks display. An intense light blankets the sky. When they wake up, they discover themselves back in the bar.
A thick layer of dust covers the room and the boys are bewildered. They head outside only to find the streets devoid of people. Weeds and other plant life have sprouted through the roads and sidewalks. Food with an expiration date of the same year (2010) has molded. As they search for others, Arisu and his friends happen upon what looks like a festival of some sort. There are tables upon tables of freshly prepared food and refreshments just sitting there. While partaking of the buffet, another person emerges from the restrooms. An older woman quickly deduces they are first timers and warns them not to leave. They have unknowingly been lured into playing a dangerous game. Once you’re in, the games never stop.
Trapped in this new world where the only way to stay alive is to risk your life, Arisu competes in these Borderland games in search of answers. Who is the Game Master? What happened to the real world? Is there a way to leave the game without dying?
In July 2021, Viz Media announced the company acquired the license to Alice in Borderland. Turns out, Viz is publishing the series as omnibus collections in its Signature imprint. The first volume contains the first two tankobon and covers the first two Borderland games: Three of Clubs and Five of Spades.
If you’re coming to the manga because of the Netflix series like I did, don’t be surprised by the differences between the manga and the show. In all honesty, while I love the source material, some of these changes are definitely for the better. Especially in terms of technology. Consider that the manga was set in 2010. It makes sense in the context of the manga that messages in that time period were given using large screens and visa papers printed out like tickets. With the live-action version taking place a full decade later, using smartphones as the primary means of communication and tracking is only natural. Why bother with annoying collars when people are already carrying a tracking device on their person every second of every day?
Another big shift in tone with the Netflix version is that Arisu and his friends are a bit older. Chota works an office job, Karube’s still at the bar, and Arisu is just drifting along. An EMP causes a power outage while they hide from the police in a train station bathroom. When they stumble out of the stall and back outside, Tokyo is a ghost town. I enjoy both versions but I think the stakes in the manga are just a bit higher with our stars being adolescents.
So if you’re like me and enjoy reading the source material as a way to enhance your viewing experience, I highly recommend checking out these Alice in Borderland omnibus releases. It starts strong and just keeps amping things up. Don’t be shocked if you finish this double feature in one sitting.
Volume 1 of the Alice in Borderland manga releases on March 15, 2022 in North America.