Review–Volume 6 of Alice in Borderland manga raises the stakes

Review by C.J. Bunce

Netflix just announced the renewal of its series Alice in Borderland–a Top 10 international hit in more than 70 countries–for a third season.  While you’re wondering what the stories will be about after the ending of the manga source material in the Season 2 finale, why not read the original?  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.  After the series aired, VIZ Media began issuing a volume-by-volume English translation, and we’ve reviewed Volume 1 here, Volume 2 here, Volume 3 here, Volume 4 here, and Volume 5 here.  Each book is a massive 344-page paperback, and with Volume 6 they together collect the first 48 chapters.  Alice in Borderland Volume 6 is available in print and digital now here at Amazon, or add it to your VIZ account here.

In the first volume readers met series protagonist Arisu and his friends entering the dark setting of Borderland.  The next two volumes increased the pace of action and tension.  Volume 4 focused on the hopelessness of the series’ leads chances.  Volume 5 slowed the story down, shifting the nature of the threat and intensifying the story’s unique brand of villainy.  So how do our heroes fare in the next days of their journey?

As with prior volumes, the book is printed entirely in its original black and white artwork, typical of manga books, and it retains the creator’s original manga formatting.  Beginning with the fourth volume, the pace of the story has slowed down.  With the last volume I thought it was because the author was struggling with his direction forward.  With Volume 5, Aso leans into the story as parable, the human condition mirrored–and diced up for examination–in fantasy form.  In Volume 6 Aso paints a clearer picture of his tale reflecting the human condition: the evil that men do, the struggles faced unequally by everyone, and myriad types of relationships people face–good and bad and everything in between–including experiencing love and betrayal.

Alice in Borderland completes the “King of Clubs” battle, which shows the story’s male lead Arisu begin to accept the idea of acceptable losses in this game of survival.  It also shows the female lead Usagi begin to question whether Arisu is who she thought he was.  Ultimately they are drawn together, and readers, after nearly 2,000 pages, at last get a breath of air as the pair arrive at a place of solitude, however brief.

Chishiya and An aren’t in this story, but of the remaining leads Kuina is back driving the action forward, and Tatta finally gets to be a hero.  Aso takes more risks with the next big face card game, the “Jack of Hearts,” presented in multiple parts as with previous games.  The game has none of the lead characters, which makes it more difficult for the reader to care about the outcome.  It’s a bit of a shame because this is one of the most telling encounters of humans turning on each other.  It’s worth noting that the TV series makes one of its smartest changes at this point in its adaptation, incorporating Chishiya into the game, making the adaption of this game far more thrilling than in Aso’s original story.

Aso leaves readers with a big cliffhanger, as the fate of a key player is left hanging in the balance.

As for the game schemes in Volume 6, the mechanics of the double-cross in “King of Clubs” is straightforward, but the nuances of survival and decisions within “Jack of Hearts” require some careful attention from the reader, especially for anyone trying to keep up with the game players.  Aso’s artwork is less detailed this round, which may be because his story is a more densely packed assemblage of talking heads panels.  In the previous volumes readers could tell characters apart by their appearance, but Aso loses that in this volume.

Alice in Borderland Volume 1, Alice in Borderland Volume 2, and Alice in Borderland Volume 3 are excellent reads, and in Alice in Borderland Volume 4 readers may wonder if Haro can keep the action running for three more books.  That turnaround happened in Alice in Borderland Volume 5 and despite more lackluster artwork in the sixth installment, there’s enough to keep readers around for more, especially characters to care about.  Alice in Borderland Volume 6 is now available in print and digital now here at Amazon, or add it to your VIZ account here.  You can also order Volume 7 here and pre-order Volume 8 here.  Keep coming back to borg as we review the next two volumes.

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