True to its ink and paper roots (the show is based on the Haro Aso manga series), Season 2 of Alice in Borderland elevates the stakes of the deadly games from Borderland and introduces a slate of bosses (or “citizens”) that actively participate in the competitions they propose. This means that Arisu (Kento Yamazaki), Usagi (Tao Tsuchiya), Chishiya (Nijiro Murakami), and other players can only move forward if they defeat and kill more experienced players that know more about Borderland than the lead characters do. This was all teased by the end of Season 1, but it’s great that Season 2 immediately follows up on that and we quickly understand the newly unveiled hierarchy of Borderland.
The greatest merit of Alice in Borderland Season 2 is its structure; the debut episode not only picks up immediately after where Season 1 left off but also starts the second season with the heat turned up to eleven, with a first ruthless boss that challenges everything that Arisu and Usagi think they know about the games. Then, the episodes separate characters into different groups, which forces the story to jump between arcs and makes it never feel boring. At the same time, having different cores allows Alice in Borderland a lot of room to explore some games that are more understated and cerebral – which is a perfect balance to the more adrenaline-fueled ones. It also makes room for exciting new characters; even if some of them don’t get the screen time they deserve, it’s great to meet them anyway.
That choice of separate narratives is fundamental to making Chishiya the MVP of the season. If in Season 1 we had to take his intelligence and wits mostly at face value, but now we get to see him in his element. The games he participates in are by far the most interesting and intriguing of the season, and also the ones that feed some much-needed information (more on that later) about who’s behind the deadly games. As you see Chishiya overcome each game, you can’t help but admire his quick-thinking skills and feel a lot closer to him, to the point of questioning how he’ll survive in one of Season 2’s best cliffhangers.
Season 2 also doesn’t forget to stress how dreadful is the reality that all those people are living in, and as much as you have fun watching the games, the series never romanticizes them, with their cruel nature frequently displayed on screen in several (and graphic) ways. At the same time, there are moments in which the series forgets the high stakes it originally crafted for itself. The very first game is instantly established as the deadliest, and yet the way it plays out ends up numbing the viewers. From then on, it takes a high dose of suspension of disbelief to keep fearing for the characters’ fates.
And that brings us to Alice in Borderland’s biggest problem. Fully aware that at some point it needs to start giving some answers, the series first cops out by revealing the truth(?) about the “citizens,” and then it seems reluctant to start digging into its own mysteries. Shinsuke and Yasuko Kiramitsu’s scripts keep putting off their revelations, and they seem happy to no more than suggest that some key characters have learned important information — but they never sit down and reveal what they know to each other, which is obviously crucial in that world. Before the final episode, the closest we get to understanding what’s really going on in Borderland is when some characters come across some revealing footage, but calling it a cop-out doesn’t even begin to describe the end of that particular scene.
By the time you reach the final episode, you’re inclined to think that an 80-minute runtime will translate as a massive info-dumping ground, but that’s hardly what happens. Some answers are in fact given, but when the episode wraps there’s a sense that Alice in Borderland shied away from delving into its own core. Maybe for fear of the series getting canceled without a proper ending, Shinsuke takes the safest route possible to explain its major questions. The good news is that the final tease in the very last scene could be worked on in a potential Season 3; if it does, we definitely can get a lot further and the last episode is easily forgivable, but if this turns out to be the actual ending, it’s truly a disappointment.
With higher stakes and much more intriguing games and characters, Season 2 of Alice in Borderland is a thrilling ride that’s never boring. The games make you think and invariably put you in the players’ positions, which ultimately keeps you involved all the way to the end. The new episodes also aren’t afraid of delving into the past of some key characters, which makes them all the more interesting to follow, as well as helps us speculate about their journey in Borderland and why they could be there. However, the series gets high on its own supply of deadly games and mostly forgets to delve into its themes (even though the critique of savage capitalism is still very much present in most episodes, and it’s a valid interpretation), deciding to only get to them on a final episode that doesn’t do much to work on the show’s mythology in a satisfying way.
You can stream all episodes of Alice in Borderland Season 2 as early as December 22 on Netflix.