Review–Volume 2 of Haro Aso’s Alice in Borderland manga English translation

Review by C.J. Bunce

When we reviewed the first season of Netflix’s adaptation of Haro Aso’s popular manga series Alice in Borderland here at borg back in 2020, there was no English edition of the original Japanese manga available.  So Westerners were left to watch the live-action dystopian, Japanese sci-fi/fantasy thrill ride without reference to the original.  VIZ Media is issuing a volume-by-volume English edition in quarterly installments, and we reviewed the first volume here at borg in January–a massive 344-page paperback collecting the first eight chapters in two parts.  Alice in Borderland Volume 2 is available in print and digital now here at Amazon, or add it to your VIZ account here.  We’re reviewing each volume here separately.  Where the first volume was mainly an introduction to series protagonist Arisu and his friends entering the dark setting of Borderland, the second volume of the manga, adding the next 344 pages of the original story, spans even more corresponding episodes of the TV show than the first.

The manga first appeared serialized in 2010, so its organization is similar to any comic book.  For those new to manga you read from the last page to the first page, top to bottom but from right to left instead of left to right.  It takes only minutes to adapt to the format, and the digital version via the VIZ Media app could not be easier to read on any droid phone, tablet, or PC.  It’s printed entirely in its original black and white artwork, typical of manga books.  Readers will realize in these chapters how Haro Aso’s story and artwork form the equivalent of the greatest Western graphic novels you’ve ever read.

The world of Borderland has incredible depth.   Arisu (the Japanese pronunciation of Alice as in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland) confronts his most gut-wrenching chapter in this volume, dealing with a violent game of survival with his two best friends, Karube and Chota, left wounded in the last chapter of the prior volume.  Arisu of the manga is less of an addicted gamer here, and his character arc moves quicker ahead, bring him closer to Usagi, the woman he first met in a game of tag in a large apartment complex.  She becomes his rescuer, but he is also less pathetic and quicker to decide he wants to survive than as seen in the TV series.

Alice in Borderland Volume 2 follows Arisu from his third day in Borderland through his nineteenth day.  That’s a lot of time in Borderland and it feels like forever with all the trials Arisu must make it through. The Seven of Hearts, the most dramatic game of the TV show, runs its course similarly in the source material in an arboretum where players must wear collars in a chilling game of hide and seek.  But it’s surprisingly not quite as compelling as adapted for television, and this Arisu seems more willing to leave his friends behind, creating a slightly less sympathetic hero than the teen of the show.   Usagi is also not as visibly powerful as in the show this soon in the manga.

Aso uses many flashbacks to describe the first days of this chapter in the story.  He allows Arisu and Usagi to grow closer as they try to discover whether the rumored “Beach” is real or fantasy.  When they arrive they learn it’s more a liability than a benefit, and Arisu steps forward as a hero far quicker than in the TV show.  He knows his goal is to protect Usagi, and he is open about it.  He realizes he may have jeopardized her odds by bringing her to a venue where they must give up their valuable playing cards in order to participate in the world’s most bizarre pyramid scheme.

The TV show created an underground bus chase game that is not in the original manga.  (Will this appear later?)  But the book more than makes up for it with other games, including games played by other players not involving Arisu, including the executives of the Beach.  Aso must have enjoyed creating the odds-based games for this world, and the choices and decisions are completely immersive and thought-provoking.

As for comparisons to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, those elements seem to be getting thinner in this second 344 pages of story.  The Hatter does not have any visual elements to tie him to the Mad Hatter of the classic novel–which did make it in some subtle ways to the screen version.  But most of the symbols and iconic elements can be found in both versions, like the wall where the executives of the Beach keep track of their cards, and the room with the safe where Number One keeps the actual cards.

Compared to Western graphic novels these volumes are giant in page count, scope, and story density.  The story feels more like an actual novel than American comics, allowing more time for character development and choreographed action sequences–even if the visual page detail and layouts may offer less artwork, and of course, the manga does not have the color of American comics.  This volume also has hooks that may bring in fans of the British classic TV series The Prisoner These tales have many similarities to that 1960s series that the Alice in Borderland Netflix series didn’t capture, but it’s surprising to track the elements they share.

As with Alice in Borderland Volume 1, Alice in Borderland Volume 2 is an excellent read, and it will be exciting for readers who haven’t encountered the Netflix series and those who have.  A great continuation from the first volume, pick up Volume 1 in print or digital now here at Amazon, or add it to your VIZ account here, and pick up Alice in Borderland Volume 2 available in print and digital now here at Amazon, or add it to your VIZ account here.   Keep coming back to borg as we review the next two volumes leading up to the release of the forthcoming fifth volume late this month.

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