I have, once again, decided to hurt my own feelings. In four days, I watched three of the most popular dramas on Netflix: Alice in Borderland, Sweet Home, and Squid Game. These shows have reignited my love for screenwriting, and each time I finish one of them, I find myself in awe of the creators and their skillful writing. I want to review the techniques that made these shows so memorable for me, starting with the one that has been out the longest: Alice in Borderland (2020). There won’t be any spoilers in this review, but if you want to go in blind, this is the place to stop.
To make something great, a writer needs a genuinely interesting premise, and the creator of the manga, Haro Aso, had just that. An obsessive, apathetic gamer and his two friends unexpectedly find themselves stuck in a barren version of Tokyo, and they are forced to compete in a series of deadly games in order to extend their visas, which are the only things sparing them from execution. It speaks directly to a generation of video-game enthusiasts who are constantly searching for ways to immerse themselves.
Yoshiki Watabe and Yasuko Kuramitsu created the actual Netflix series. They have a distinct way of making the audience care about the characters, despite their flaws and the limited amount of time we got to know them. While the main character, Arisu, wants an escape from his life, he does not choose to enter this post-apocalyptic city; neither does anyone else who is forced to join it. This makes us automatically sympathetic to most of the people we are introduced to, as they are all frightened and confused by the circumstances they find themselves in. Because this is a survival drama, we go in knowing that not all of the characters we have grown attached to will make it to the final episode. However, the character writing is so compelling that we allow ourselves to care anyway, which amplifies the intensity of the emotions we feel when they inevitably lose their lives to the game. It also fuels our hatred for the antagonist, the gamemaster, and the fact that we share this feeling of anger with the protagonist emphasizes our connection to him. We, the audience, have the same desire as he does: for him and his comrades to survive.
In my opinion, one of the most interesting literary devices used in the story’s creation is the use of foreshadowing with the playing cards. After a player has registered for a game, they are shown a digital version of the playing card they are competing for; the type of card indicates what the player will be tested on, and the number determines the difficulty level of the game. Spades are a challenge of physicality, clubs of teamwork, diamonds of wits, and hearts of betrayal and heartbreak. Depending on which character you have come to favor, seeing the cards will either excite relief or dread in you, as each person has their own weakness, whether it be a lack of physical strength or a hothead that prevents them from thinking clearly in stressful situations. It builds anticipation, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats. The heart cards in particular strike with dread because without a doubt, it will result in tragedy.
With a script full of compelling dialogue, situational irony, and enticing flashbacks, Alice in Borderland is the perfect binge watch. After I pressed play, I lost the will to tear myself from a screen, whether it be my phone or laptop, or television in the common area. I slammed through the series in a matter of hours, refusing to acknowledge the world around me. As the creators intended, I ended the show in a similar fashion to how Arisu started it: completely immersed and undoubtedly addicted to my preferred choice of entertainment.