Let’s settle the debate of 2021. Which is better – Squid Game or Alice in Borderland

Since it’s premier on Netflix in September, Squid Game has sparked a million memes, ruffled the feathers of school and parenting groups worldwide, and no doubt was the Halloween costume of 2021. But is it the right East Asian series you should really be watching on that platform?

The death game concept – where participants have to compete to survive in a series of trials – isn’t new. Battle Royale and As The Gods Will are just some of the other often quoted names said to inspire Squid Game

But one Netflix series in particular has been consistently mentioned in discussions – Alice in Borderland. The Japanese series that features a similar death game premise even trended again in multiple Netflix Top 10 lists despite its release being almost a year earlier. 

 

Image: Netflix

So without further ado, let’s break it down. Caution: minimal spoilers ahead!

The World

Squid Games: Various people across Korea have been selected to be players and the common thread is they are all facing crippling debt. Be the last person standing and you’ll become an instant billionaire. In this dog-eat-dog world, it’s a chilling reminder that everything has a price, and when desperate enough, that can include a human life.

Alice in Borderland: One minute three layabouts are crossing the busy Shibuya Crossing and the next they’re exiting a public toilet to a completely empty city wondering what happened or where everyone disappeared too. The story unfolds swiftly but since AiB falls in the sci-fi genre, the action that follows may carry less impact for viewers. 

Winner: Squid Game 

The Action

Image: Alice in Borderland vs Squid Game/ KK Day

 

Squid Games: While we may not have specifically played ‘Red Light, Green Light’ growing up, the idea of our childhood games now being a literal life-or-death situation makes the series easily accessible and relatable. When players lose a game, they are instantly shot. The action is tense, but the standard punishment does lose its impact by the second game.

Alice in Borderland: Much like being in an escape room, the players have to enter an arena and walk out alive. The games range from psychological, survival, strength and puzzles, and there are various levels of difficulty. Surviving games buy you a visa, a passport of time and if you refuse to play and your visa runs out, you die. Some causes of death range from being burned alive, to being shot by lasers, an exploding collar, or drowning. It’s the various nuances that make the series an overall more exciting watch.

Winner: Alice in Borderland 

The Characters

Image: Alice In Borderland vs Squid Game/Green Scene

 

Squid Game: It’s debt that brought these players together and who you root for depends on which cause is closest to your heart. There are those in it for family, business, and others hoping to find meaning in their lives. There’s no one pure soul and as the game advances and true characters unfold, you may find yourself riveted by the plot, even if frustrated by the pigeonholing and plot holes. 

Alice in Borderland: Since AiB is an adaptation of a manga, the characters, both main and side, contain more depth and feel more fleshed out. The chemistry of the three slacker friends, brings their bond alive and you feel their pain and trauma with each loss despite the fantastical setting. 

 

Winner: Alice in Borderland

The Women

Squid Game: In a series filled with archetypes, Sae-byeok, a North Korean defector hoping to bring her family across the border, commands scenes with her initial aloofness and gradual tenderness. SQ also doesn’t shy away from calling out the sexist attitude in society. Male players considered women a disadvantage as they perceive them to be physically weaker when players were tasked to make groups. As the series rightfully demonstrates, you need more than brute strength to survive in this world.

Alice in Borderland: When we meet Usagi, an introverted mountain climber reeling from her father’s death, we learn she’s been alone for a while. Learning to trust is her biggest character growth, and while that’s an important lesson, it’s not as well-rounded as Sae-byeok’s journey in SQ

 

Winner: Squid Game

The Execution

via GIPHY

 

Squid Game: While SQ wins the instantly iconic aesthetics point, the many plot holes leave it an unsatisfying watch. In a classic case of ‘too much telling and not enough showing’, character motivations in the show were raised then conveniently reversed or dropped without further explanation, making for an annoying watch. And while I will never advocate for more gore, the bloodshed in SQ felt almost comical, with its explosive but fake-looking bloodiness, taking away from the gravity of the premise. There’s also universal consensus that the portrayal of the game’s spectators were nothing but cringe-inducing.

Alice in Borderland: Given the lack of instructions and sudden insertion into this parallel universe, we become a de facto player figuring out the rules and world together with the characters. This is a story with many threads and layers of plot, but it is delivered holistically with dynamic visual storytelling. Perhaps it’s an unfair advantage given that this series is adapted from source material, but it is overall the more fulfilling watch and one you need to start immediately!

Winner: Alice in Borderland 

 

Ultimate winner: Alice in Borderland. However, Squid Game is worth the watch to catch a glimpse of the incredibly charismatic games recruiter played by Gong Yoo that’ll make you believe there can be pleasure in pain. #IYKYK