This article contains spoilers for Alice in Borderland season 2.
When the credits rolled on Alice in Borderland’s season 2 finale, fans of the J-horror survivor series were left with a melancholy taste. Did our favorite horde of badass women and wistfully sad men survive? Yes, but likely not in the way that viewers expected – unless they previously read Haro Aso’s manga series.
Sure, Arisu (Kento Yamazaki) and Usagi (Tao Tsuchiya) reunite in Tokyo, but one that’s been decimated by a meteorite crash. We learn that the life-or-death battles we’ve witnessed throughout the show were a purgatory-like test for players. Anyone parkouring off of buildings, dodging arrows, or attempting to outwit rigged explosives was competing with their will to survive in the real world. If they persisted, they’d have a chance to escape this realm and live again.
Given that explanation, the death-by-sky-lasers take on a somber meaning – metaphorically replicating the instantaneous and unexplainable death everyone caught in the unexpected blast of rubble experienced at Shibuya Crossing.
Also, this brings a lovely (albeit dark) meaning to why the heart card challenges were so brutal. In the real world, these players barely survived a natural disaster and their hearts stopped. The heart challenges were asking them if – despite all the loss they witnessed – could they live with that knowledge. That is unequivocally the heart of this series: How do we continue through loss?
While it’s debatable, I like to think that those who died in the games (especially the heart games) had already died in the real world. We were just witnessing a reimagining of their final moments through the eyes of those who were there to experience it and find a way through the cruelty of grief.
But the hardest caveat to this reveal is what it meant for the characters’ relationships: When they returned to life, none of them really remembered each other. There’s the sucker punch that had some fans (understandably) feeling angry about how the Shinsuke Sato-directed series chose to close its second season.
Being Netflix’s most-watched Japanese television series ever, it’s understandable that fans are expecting and rooting for more battles to come. But is this a likelihood? And, if so, what would this mean for the series’ overall arc?
As it stands, Alice in Borderland neatly wraps up the questions and character arcs that started in its debut season. We know what the Borderlands is, who goes there, and what it takes to escape the realm. Our fan-favorite players miraculously all lived – despite the tease that only Arisu would survive it all.
Still, there’s one part of the season 2 finale that could lead the series in a new direction – either adapting another of Aso’s works or deviating from the source material to establish a round of games with new players and challenges.
After the camera pans around the hospital to show us who has survived, the camera’s last shot lingers on a Joker card on a table. Throughout the series, the Joker card is the one card that has never made its appearance in the games.
However, that is not the case in Aso’s story. In the manga, the Joker greets Arisu after he clears the Queen of Hearts game. The reader then learns he’s the equivalent of an underworld ferryman in this universe. When it comes time to bring winning players back into reality, he has the ability to bring them there.
In the manga, the Joker is neither vindictive nor benevolent. He’s an impartial witness to events. The television series could take this route or cast him as an orchestrator of sorts – knowing the outcome, but never dare reveal it.
On one hand, the visual image in season 2 could just be the series’ way of poking a little fun at the viewer and knocking down the house of cards it meticulously built. We did sit through all these bloody games, wanting to know what it all meant. Sato could have used this visual as a way to remind us of the, at times, seemingly senseless way of life. We don’t have control over what happens to us but the value of living comes from the choices we make for ourselves.
But fans of the manga also know that Arisu, sadly, enters the Borderlands a second time after another near-death incident. In Alice in Borderland: Retry, he’s married to Usagi, expecting a child, and working as a school counselor. However, an accident sends him back to the Borderlands where he meets new players. If the series does continue, adapting Retry feels like the most fitting place to start – as it’d give viewers a chance to meet new players while also seeing how the years since the original games have changed Usagi and Arisu. Also, since it is an adaptation, it leaves the doorway open for surviving fan-favorite characters from Alice in Borderland season 2 to return. But knowing how harrowing these games can be, it might just be best to let those players find some deserved peace.