Spoilers for “Alice in Borderland” ahead. Watch the show here.
Netflix’s “Alice in Borderland,” just confirmed for a second season, is a Japanese dark thriller series based on Haro Aso’s similarly named 2010 manga. In this live-action adaptation, Arisu, played by Kento Yamazaki, and his two friends are “transported” into a parallel Tokyo known as Borderland. They appear to be stranded until a building lights up and signals them to join a game where they meet other important characters.
These players must then participate in sadistic survival games set up by gamemasters and are rewarded playing cards for each game they win. Depending on the difficulty and the number of points the game is worth, players will get a visa card with a certain number of days to live. To avoid the impending death from the lasers above, completion of more games is a must before a player’s visa runs out.
Everything from the “Alice in Borderland” theme song and opening credits to the filmmaking of the eight episodes is so appealing to the eyes (and ears). The show also boasts captivating characters, not least of whom is the cunning player Chishiya.
What makes Chishiya so irresistible when the audience first meets him? Maybe it’s his silver hair or his dreamy sharp features or the mole under his left eye, or perhaps, it is his calmness and intelligence.
This mysterious and sly player may appear as someone who is desensitized to death with secret weapons hidden up his sleeves, but he’s also caring deep down.
Chishiya’s First “Alice in Borderland” Appearance
In the second episode, Arisu meets Chishiya, played by Nijiro Murakami, in a deadly game of tag that has a five of spades difficulty. (Each card suit represents a type of game. Diamond, spade and club games test the players’ critical thinking, physical abilities and teamwork skills, respectively. Meanwhile, heart games brutally test the players’ psychological well-being and force them to betray each other’s emotions. The higher the number of the suit, the more difficult the game is.)
Chishiya appears as a mysterious, quiet and sly player standing on the top floor of an apartment building, observing the other players and saying, “Everyone looks like they’re about to die, as usual.”
Below him, the others try to hide from a pair of armed killers with tunnel vision as they locate their objective: a room with two buttons that will stop a bomb from exploding.
When Arisu shouts for the others to share the tagger’s location, Chishiya disapproves; he believes the others would not risk giving up their own locations since they are selfish by nature.
Why does Chishiya choose to stay on the highest floor of the building rather than hide from the taggers? He deduces that it is the safest spot due to its outlying location, making it the perfect spot to watch the mistakes of the other players and learn from them. Both he and Arisu separately deduce that the armed killer focuses its firepower around one area, revealing the location of the hidden room.
The audience can see that Chishiya remains reserved and plans ahead, making him smart enough to realize that befriending others can backfire or hurt him.
Most of the players survive once Arisu, Chishiya and Usagi, played by Tao Tsuchiya, work together to disable the bomb. As they witness the execution of one of the killers, Arisu feels guilty as Chishiya remains unfazed. After witnessing Arisu’s innate ability to beat the game and his compassion for others’ survival, Chishiya becomes interested in allying with Arisu.
Why Don’t Murder, Madness and Mayhem Affect Him?
If Chishiya is so uninterested and unmoved when others die, does that mean he is desensitized to death? No — he fears death. He flees when the tagger unexpectedly tries to kill him and Arisu. However, he tries his best to remain fearless when living in Borderland.
Chishiya can remain a patient, rational strategist throughout all the survival games he participates in because he has a practical, dark view of humanity. He expects death to happen in Borderland and is prepared. He doesn’t let his natural amiability undermine his survivability, making him a potentially strong diamonds player. Since he is a constant witness to the selfish side of human nature, he has “turned off” his compassion for others. Therefore, he has adapted his behavior, emotions and reasoning accordingly to survive in Borderland, win the game and finally escape.
Inside Chishiya’s Mind
Chishiya’s secret weapon is that he can easily spot another’s weakness and use it against them. In the eyes of Chishiya, compassion is a handicap that leads to dependence on others, making death all the more inescapable. He knows that Arisu’s talents would be helpful to carry out his plan of stealing an entire deck of cards from other players. Arisu’s good-hearted and trusting nature makes it easier for Chishiya to abuse his compassion for his benefit.
Chishiya drops a shocking question to Arisu: “How will you live in this world of despair?” He asks this question to prepare Arisu emotionally for the reality of being surrounded by death at all times.
Chishiya’s Survival Secrets
In the sixth episode of “Alice in Borderland,” Chishiya tricks and frames Arisu for stealing cards to gain the trust of another character, Aguni, played by Sho Aoyagi. As Arisu falls into the trap in the royal suite, Chishiya learns where the cards are actually kept by observing Aguni’s body language.
When Chishiya’s partner Kuina, played by Aya Asahina, asks him why he betrayed Arisu, his answer is simple: “To gain something, you need to lose something.” He’s honest and has insight. The sacrifice of Arisu is a rational decision. Chishiya believes it is necessary to lose people to beat the games, and he doesn’t care who dies in the process. His tactics are never personal. He understands if others try to betray him because he would do the same.
In his eyes, it’s inevitable. One must trade others’ lives to survive in Borderland. This way of thinking is why others are terrified of possibly becoming Chishiya’s next stepping stone.
In the following scene, Kuina wonders why Chishiya doesn’t feel bad about betraying Arisu and asks him, “Don’t you feel sorry for him?” Chishiya responds with, “Is there anything we can’t do to survive?” To him, survival matters the most, and one must do anything necessary to stay alive. No option can save everyone, and he knows this. His number one priority is himself.
What Is He Hiding?
Chishiya’s belief that humans are naturally selfish gradually changes after witnessing Arisu’s and Usagi’s selfless acts. When Kuina is about to leave the beach, a place where she is safe, Chishiya stops her from stepping past the gateway. The beach had transformed into a game zone. He almost seemed worried and wanted to protect her; it didn’t seem like he was okay with his friend dying. If he cares about her, then he’s not just a heartless player trying to win.
One may think Chishiya is heartless by choice. However, his Machiavellian scheming that makes him appear that way is just his reaction to his observations of the human nature in Borderland. His humanity persists due to his fear of death and his care for Kuina. Although he has taught himself to act emotionlessly, he can’t completely divorce himself from his feelings. He’s only human, after all.
So why do viewers adore him? They sense the goodness in him even though he hides it.