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 and the second volume here at borg in March–both massive 344-page paperbacks, together collecting the first 16 chapters. Alice in Borderland Volume 3 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 spanned even more corresponding episodes of the TV show, but now more than 1,000 pages into the story the third volume features even more tension, more compelling drama, and more exhilarating action.
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. In my review of the last installment I noted Haro Aso’s story and artwork form the equivalent of the greatest Western graphic novels you’ve ever read. But it’s more staggering than that. How is he able to keep the story so riveting? His balance of storytelling and graphic narrative skills is extraordinary. Typical celebrated English graphic novels might reach a few hundred pages of content, but this story is more than 2,700 pages–truly a landmark work for comics, manga, and graphic novels.
Series lead Arisu (the Japanese pronunciation of Alice as in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland) must take a backseat for most of this book, having been tricked into finding the vault he is left bound and gagged until nearly the end. Usagi, the woman Arisu was growing closer to, is being assaulted by leaders that remain at the Beach after the surprise murder of the Hatter in the last book. All comes grinding to a halt as the Beach becomes the next game arena–a big surprise to almost all of the several hundred inhabitants. Almost all since the new game is a high numbered challenge–a 10 card–of the worst type: Hearts–and the challenge is a witch hunt. A woman lies dead with a knife in her chest. The game is over once someone finds the killer–the witch–and throws her (or him) into the bonfire outside. Thankfully the game allows Usagi to be free to look for Arisu. She becomes his rescuer again, and he–beaten up and bruised– is even more sad and pathetic from being left for dead in a room upstairs.
But Arisu gets two ways to save face. First, he becomes part of a new concept for the series–a side story breaks into the Ten of Hearts game chapters. We are introduced to a 15-year-old kid all new to the games named Dodo in a two-chapter arc “Four of Hearts.” Usually I hate spliced-in chapters like this that have seemingly no tie to the main story. Here it’s not a necessary element, but it does provide room for what makes Alice in Borderland unique–those fantastic games. The game in this story is derived from Family Feud, where the questions concern someone having surveyed groups of people to find an answer, leaving the contestant to choose whether the group got the question right or wrong. Arisu becomes part of this story. He then gets to be a hero again once he is rescued by Usagi–solving the puzzle of the witch on a parallel path as new character Rizuna An.
We get to know both Chishiya and Kuina better after Chishiya steals all the cards from the vault. The Beach leaders decide it’s easier to gun down everyone of low rank and throw them into the fire and begin strafing the crowds. Chishiya and Kuina each track down and confront a leader of the Beach–deciding to retain some of their humanity and fight for the common good against these thugs. Chishiya goes after #2 leader Niragi, and Kuina gets the series best one-on-one combat yet, taking on the creepy fully tattooed man known as Last Boss. Here we learn Kuina’s surprise past. We’re also getting to lean more about the #1 leader who replaced the Hatter, the quiet, methodical tough guy named Aguni.
My only distraction in English language choices in this translation is Chishiya’s dialogue, which uses some speech that is a little too modern and distracting, but this is a minor point.
Rizuna An is a forensics expert who worked for the Metropolitan Police Department back in the real world. Her superpower is science and she aims to solve the witch riddle her way. We now have met Usagi, Kuina, and An–the series’ trifecta of badass heroines that made borg’s Kickass Heroines list here in 2021. Kuina is the only character of the three whose badassery is equal in the books and TV series, with Usagi and An more engaging in the TV series. But their development and creation here are impressive works.
All the threads move ahead at full force. Usagi and young Tatta from the last book use some good sleuthing to find Arisu. Kuina tails An to make sure she is able to get her findings into the open (although the resolution is saved for the next book). And meanwhile Chishiya is working the big picture angle–the long game of trying to get out of Borderland.
It’s surprising that considering how big and important this book is to the series, Alice in Borderland Volume 3 only covers the seventh episode of the TV series. This book illustrates why someone decided this story deserved a two-season TV series. It’s a mammoth book stuffed with wall-to-wall action and intrigue. Aso uses his writing and artwork to develop and expand an amazing and unique world.
As for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, allusions have really vanished in this book.
Like Alice in Borderland Volume 1 and Alice in Borderland Volume 2, the third volume is an excellent read, and it’s actually even more exciting. Pick up Alice in Borderland Volume 3 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, with the remaining three volumes due out by year end.