What I thought about: Alice in Borderland

Very Japanese, this part-sci-fi part-thriller part-horror series, based on a popular manga, has random citizens of Tokyo get teleported to an alternate universe where they must take part in sadistic games to survive.

Don’t get too attached to anyone in this show. Consider yourself warned.

What’s it about?
One moment you’re having a shower, or something. The next thing you know, the lights go out and, when they come back on moments later, everyone around you has disappeared. In fact, not just the people around you – the entire population of Tokyo. Gone. Just like that.

That’s the situation facing Arisu, Chōta, and Karube – a trio of delinquents and misfits. As night falls, the only source of light comes from screens around the city which read ‘this way to the game arena’. They follow the screens to a building with mobile phones set out on a table. Unbeknownst to them, they’ve just registered for their first game.

Two doors, one says ‘live’ and the other ‘die’. Two minutes to choose before the room is incinerated. Another player (they’re not entirely alone) freaks out and runs through the ‘live’ door, only to be zapped in the head with a powerful laser. The rest escape through the ‘die’ door into the second room, now with less time to choose another room. With some luck Arisu, good with puzzles, work out the shape of the building and draws a map that leads them confidently through the rest of the game. Their prize? A three-day visa, the importance of which is explained to them when a disheveled man rounds a corner and yells ‘I can’t take it any more, my visa has expired’. He is promptly blasted in the head by a laser from the sky. Your visa is your right to live, and you can only get them by clearing the dangerous games.

What do I like about it?
The games are cool, and most are well designed, if a little confusing what with the additional language barrier for on-screen cues. Along the way, more characters are introduced and we start to learn more about the pseudo-Tokyo and what’s going on. Also, in contrast to Escape Room (which you might consider to be a related concept), the set-up for the sequel is fantastic. No spoilers, though!

What do I not like about it?
There’s a little too much filler for my liking, Some scenes are long, drawn out, and emotional. I also wasn’t a fan of the fact that the ‘main character’ is basically a nobody except for the little nuggets of wisdom he occasionally dishes out, but then again, that is a trope of manga like this.

Worth a watch?
This is a very violent and miserable show. Things only really go from bad to worse for everyone involved, so be careful. But if, like me, you were intrigued by the mystery and are a fan of Japanese on-screen violence, Alice in Borderland is brilliantly produced.

By the way…

  • Much of the shots of an empty Tokyo city centre were filmed with extensive use of green screens, and they did a great job of blending it all together
  • Apparently this season covers 31 of the 64 manga chapters – so maybe Season 2 is all we’ll get

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Quickfire round: Escape Room

Overall a good horror movie that capitalises on the explosive growth of escape rooms, it was somewhat let down by the revelation of a slightly wider universe/plot towards the end which felt cheap.

It’s getting toasty in there.

Six strangers receive a cube, ostensibly from a friend or relative. It’s a mini-puzzle, and upon solving it a piece of paper pops out inviting them to test an immersive new escape room with a prize of $10,000 up for grabs. Amanda, an Iraq war veteran, Jason, a financier, Danny, a nerdy escape room enthusiast, Zoey, a genius physics student, and Ben, a stockroom worker. After being told by a woman behind a frosted glass screen to take a seat and wait, Ben decides he’d rather leave the room and go outside for a smoke. As he pulls the door handle it falls off, revealing what appears to be an oven dial. This is the first room.

So, it’s an escape room horror movie. It follows the basic premise of escape rooms – there are rooms, and there are genuine puzzles with cryptic clues. Only, the Game Master is nowhere to be seen, and you can’t ask for hints. Oh, and if you don’t escape the room in time, you genuinely die. I’ll spare the details of how each room becomes deadly because it’s a large part of the enjoyment of the movie.

And enjoy it, I did! Don’t get me wrong, it was terrifying and my anxiety went through the roof. But I couldn’t stop watching as the chaos unfolded. Towards the end, though, the story gets a bit more complicated, and not for the better. Up until the final room, the rooms could potentially be completed with everyone surviving (spoiler: they don’t all survive said rooms, but you must have known that would happen given this is a horror movie). But the final room is different, and after that the ‘reason’ behind the escape rooms existing is revealed. What follows is too much of a spoiler to write here but I think, although it was a decent plot twist, it felt tacked on.

The feeling of the plot being weakly tacked together continued after the events of the fateful day itself, with a cheap ‘6 months later’ cut which sets up the sequel to the movie (coming out early this year). Don’t get me wrong – I’m totally going to watch the sequel, but I’m not holding my breath for an improvement to the overall plot.

If you like horror and puzzles and escape rooms and acting that is not terrible but also not particularly impressive, I could think of worse ways to spend 99 minutes.

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Recapping 2020 on the binge

I’ll skip the ‘what a year it’s been’ comments as you’re no doubt tired of them. Instead, let’s get straight into the stats of my little side project and see how we did this year.

The geographic spread of this blog, most of which is from bot accounts, I’m sure.

How much stuff did you watch this year?
69 TV seasons and 31 movies/stand-up specials, which is exactly 100 ‘pieces of TV & Film content’. Not bad, and it makes for an average of almost 2 pieces of content per week.

How many posts did you write?
Including this one – the binge is home to 75 posts.

Why haven’t you written 100 posts then?
Some of my posts are round-ups where I write about a few pieces of content in a single post. For other times, I just lost the steam necessary to write about them, and in some cases I didn’t think they would make a worthwhile post.

So what didn’t make the cut?
In the interests of transparency or something, here’s a few words on each piece of content I watched but didn’t write about:

Terrace House Tokyo Part 2: I used to watch this on the commute into work, so with the lockdown I just…stopped. Probably for the best, as I was saddened to hear of the death of one of the contestant.

Indian Matchmaking: Actually quite a good show about arranged-ish marriages, mostly featuring a Mumbai-based matchmaker who pairs up predominantly wealthy clients with each other.

The Boys (Seasons 1-2): A high-budget anti-superhero series, Season 1 had me absolutely hyped but, sadly, I did find Season 2 rather lacking. I’ll still be keeping my eye out for more from this universe though!

The Matrix (1 & 2): Everyone knows what this is already.

How to get ahead in advertising: A rather old film about a stressed ad man who grows a boil that eventually takes over his life. It’s weird.

Ninja Assassin: Really good CGI-blood violence with virtually no plot.

Sam Jay: 3 In The Morning: A decent special by an up and coming lesbian comic.

Taylor Tomlinson: Quarter-Life Crisis: Perfectly targeted stand-up for my generation.

Feels Good Man: Documentary into the history of Pepe the Frog, a happy cartoon frog taken over by the alt-right.

Official Secrets: I was shellshocked to find out that this was an entirely true story (even if some of it is a bit dramatised). We should never have gone to war in Iraq.

What next for the binge?
Honestly, I don’t know. I noticed I slowed down my intake of Netflix towards the end of the year as work became busier and I spent more of my free time gaming (particularly Valorant, which I really enjoy). I’m honestly a little impressed with myself that I managed to stick with it throughout the year, releasing a couple of posts a week. I don’t really advertise the blog and most of the viewers are bots (if you’re a bot reading this, no I will not read your blog!)

I think overall it’s been a good project to practice writing a bit and adding a little bit of meaning to my Netflix addiction. So, we’ll see!

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What I thought about: Big Mouth (Season 4)

The latest season of this adult cartoon continues to explore important themes of life with its usual grotesque flair – but the storytelling is less tight this time around.

Andrew (middle) has a unique fashion sense, and he won’t heed to any criticism of it

What’s it about?
Big Mouth is an adult cartoon set around a group of high school freshmen. They’re beginning their puberty journey, and learning to cope with everything that comes with it. The characters are hugely exaggerated and yet somewhat relatable.

Each of the kids have a hormone monster, an invisible creature only they can see. Sort of like fairy godmother, they talk to them and guide them through this stage of their life. I think they are supposed to be a manifestation of their hormones rather than an actual, individualised character – but either way they add so much colour to the show.

What do I like about it?
The personification of thoughts and emotions is perfect. We have the hormone monsters, of course, whom you might say are the stars of the show. But there’s also The Shame Wizard, a scraggy looking British wizard who pops up whenever you do something shameful – which for Andrew is basically all the time.

New to Season 4 is the Anxiety Mosquito and I have to commend the writers for the choice of animal because a mosquito is a perfect representation of anxiety. There can be more than one. They don’t go away when you flail and try to swat them. They question what you’re doing and shout at you when something goes wrong. As someone who went through this year’s summer with a lot of anxiety, I thought the portrayal was brilliant.

The voice acting is also on point, and somehow being able to tell which voice actor is voicing multiple characters just makes it funnier.

What do I not like about it?
Usually I love the show and it’s a consistent ten out of ten. This time around though, I didn’t think it was quite as good as before. I think it’s down to the way the stories were told. Characters had much more individualised storylines that didn’t often intersect. It was a departure from the ‘we’re all in this together’ class-sized story of previous seasons. While I do understand why this was the case (as you go through puberty and discover more about yourself, you naturally diverge from where you and your peers all began) it did just make this season a little less enjoyable.

Worth a watch?
Yes, but definitely start from the beginning and try to not take the toilet humour too seriously.

By the way…

  • One of my favourite characters, Missy, changes voice near the end as she has bene recast to be voiced by a black woman, which should have happened in the first place
  • Netflix has renewed the show all the way up to Season 6, which I was really happy about

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What I thought about: You Me Her (Seasons 1-3.5)

Any interest I had in this show unfortunately fizzled out at the beginning of Season 4. Characters became annoying, the plot wore thin, and the initial intrigue I had in the show’s premise simply faded away. I’ll try and unpick my thoughts here.

I had a hard time thinking Jack’s smile was ever sincere.

What’s it about?
Married couple Jack and Emma have pretty successful careers and live in the rich and fancy suburbs of Portland, Oregon. The one thing they don’t have is a sex life. After a series of increasingly tense couples therapy sessions, Jack’s brother offers some advice: go and see an escort, and you’ll have such a good time it’ll reignite something in your own sex life.

Enter Izzie, a grad student who escorts in her spare time. Jack backs out of the session before anything serious happens, but his guilt gets the better of him and he immediately confesses to Emma. Understandably pissed, Emma arranges to met Izzie as a customer, planning on exposing her and telling her to keep the hell away from Jack. Instead, uh, they end up making out. Long story short, the couple are both infatuated with Izzie and form a polyamorous relationship.

What do I like about it?
You can’t help but be intrigued by the plot here, right? Their unusual relationship situation (not to mention the fact that Izzie is quite a bit younger than them) is a poor fit for their socially conservative professional lives, and the first couple of seasons sees Jack and Emma flip-flopping over whether to commit fully to the relationship, which at times is an emotional watch.

I also really liked the side characters. Emma’s best friend Carmen and her husband Dave are particular stand-outs, as is Izzie’s room mate and fellow escort Nina. The supporting cast really helps tie the show together and I think are a big part of what kept me invested in the show for so long.

What do I not like about it?
Unfortunately, the supporting cast’s magic eventually runs out and you start to realise how boring the main characters became, or perhaps how boring they always were. Despite claiming to be fully committed to the three-way relationship, the show is fully of petty and often bizarre fall-outs between them. Characters change their minds on a whim. Emma, who essentially comes out as bisexual in the first season, ditches the throuple for a full-blown lesbian relationship at the end of Season 2. By Season 4, she’s basically the most annoying character in the show.

Put simply, it lost its polish.

Worth a watch?
No. Not because the idea is bad – but because, if you’re a completionist like I usually am, you’ll find the latter seasons a real grind.

By the way…

  • It says a lot that, when writing this review, I had to Google Jack and Emma’s names, but not Carmen or Dave’s.
  • I like how, on Wikipedia, episode synopses for the show stop at the beginning of Season 3. Seems like I’m not the only one who gave up on this show.

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