A trio of troublemakers get sucked into an alternate world where they must win games or die.
Ryōhei Arisu (Kento Yamazaki) is a high school dropout who spends his days gaming, much to the disapproval of his family. His two closest friends are Daikichi Karube (Keita Machida), a fellow slacker, and Chōta Segawa (Yûki Morinaga), an office worker. While complaining one day that their lives are boring, they go to watch a fireworks display and find their city seemingly empty. They wander into a building and find themselves suddenly playing a game involving deadly booby-trapped rooms. They manage to survive with the help of Arisu’s gaming skills and a woman named Saori Shibuki (Ayame Misaki). It turns out that the three are now in the Borderlands, an alternate reality that runs by the rules that you either play the games or you die. Games come in four flavors: Hearts, clubs, diamonds, and spades. The level of difficulty increases depending on the number of the game, but the more difficult the game, the longer you get between them. Unfortunately, it seems that Arisu and company might not realize how difficult some of the games are, nor how high the stakes can really be. They’re eventually joined by another girl stuck in the Borderlands, Yuzuha Usagi (Tao Tsuchiya), working together to deal with not only the games, but the other players.
I had never heard of this property before now and I really only gave it a shot because the title sounded weird. I regret nothing. This was a hell of a show from start to finale. The subtitles are definitely the way to go on this one, although the dubbing is pretty decent. One of the strengths of this show is how well the actors convey the deep emotions of the characters, and it’s very difficult for the dub to get the tone of the words exactly right. I know it’s weird to say that when you’re reading subtitles to actually get the meaning of what’s being said, but if you saw Parasite, you probably understand that tone and meaning can be received separately and yet still both be effective. If you didn’t see Parasite… you should probably see that film.
The game set-up in this is both creative and excruciatingly brutal. The show does not shy away from any of the gritty violence that is inherent in some of the games they play. It’s notable that the games are all deadly even if they’re only supposedly “low-value, low-risk” games, but at least in those you’re likely to die very quickly. The riskier games are not so merciful. The methodology of the games ranges from being mental puzzles to physical challenges to games of skill, but they’re all pretty well-crafted. Apparently they’re also different than the games in the source material, so even if you read the manga, this show will still have plenty for you.
The season is only 8 episodes, so it moves along at a decent clip, but still takes time to make sure you care about the characters. It’s not shy about making you like a character only to brutally dispatch them, either. It’s not quite Game of Thrones, but you’ll get a few flashbacks to some of the executions, I imagine. It helps that you never can feel like the characters are safe, because the games often don’t quite end when you think they should. Sometimes it’ll be funny or rewarding, but most often it’ll be heartbreaking.
Overall, this was a really solid show. It’s like a reality show on steroids. If you don’t mind subtitles, give it a go.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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