How Alice in Borderland’s Kyuma embodies the show's naked truth
One character in Alice in Borderland Season 2 represents the show's unexpectedly kind message.
Alice in Borderland’s cast of characters is an embarrassment of riches. It’s one of the many story elements that makes this Japanese deadly competition drama a must-watch in the era of peak entertainment. In the Netflix series, no character is too small to get a flashback, expanding the world far beyond protagonists Arisu and Usagi. In Season 2, this means new characters for Arisu, Usagi, and us viewers to get to know. And one character in particular has stolen the show.
Kyuma (Tomohisa Yamashita) only appears in two (and change) of the season’s eight episodes, but he easily steals the show — and not just because he spends all of his time naked.
This article contains spoilers for Alice in Borderland Season 2.
The naked thing does make an impression, though. With Ginji “living life in our natural state is humanity's true form” Kyuma, what you see is what you get. A citizen of Borderland, he acts as the King of Clubs, hosting a game called Osmosis that Arisu, Usagi, Kuina, Tatta, and Niragi take part in to avoid the King of Spades’ cross-city killing spree. In worlds like our reality and Borderland, where so many people figuratively and literally cover up as a means of survival, Kyuma quite explicitly has nothing to hide, and no interest in pretense. But that doesn’t mean he is nihilistic. Unlike many of the characters we’ve met on this journey — Niragi being a shining example — Kyuma hasn’t given up on living a life driven by human connection. He came to Borderland with the members of his band, and they are in this together. More than his own survival, that is his guiding principle. They will live or die together, occasionally to the fatal detriment of individual members. We see it in the team’s suicide run strategy for the other team’s base, which calls for one of them to die so that the rest of the team can live.
It’s hard to undersell just how important meeting Kyuma is to Arisu’s growth as a character, and to this show as a whole. Heading into Season 2, Arisu has just endured the mob-driven massacre that was The Beach. He watched the self-described utopian society fall apart — or, more accurately, lose all pretense that it was ever anything other than a violent hierarchy. After something as traumatizing as the Witch Hunt, accepted narrative logic dictates our protagonist might develop a cutthroat, win-at-all-costs relationship to Borderland. Unexpectedly, Alice in Borderland Season 2 takes a hard left turn, and Kyuma is our first clue that this series has something relatively novel to say about humanity.
Kyuma complicates Arisu’s understanding of how people with relative power operate in this world, or in any world. As characters, Hatter and Kyuma initially seem like two sides of the same coin. They’re both beautiful, charismatic man-leaders with similar hair. However, Hatter, who seemingly started out with noble, community-driven intentions, grows to prioritize power over friendship. Meanwhile, Kyuma and his bandmates never lose their shared commitment to one another over all else.
Kyuma represents a turning point, for Alice in Borderland and for Arisu. Our protagonist is already on a path of decision-making that prioritizes healing over the accumulation of power, but Kyuma gives him a tangible example to aspire towards. “I would risk my life if I could save all of you,” Arisu tells his teammates after Kyuma shows him what this can look like. Ultimately, Kyuma is a loser (in that he literally loses his own game), but the show never treats him like a loser. Kyuma may lose his citizenship and, you know, his life, but, unlike Hatter or Niragi, he never feels pathetic. Arisu doesn’t want him to die and neither do we, but the series suggests there are fates far worse than losing, which somehow feels like a subversive message in the year 2022.
Alice in Borderland’s exploration of what it means to be human works because it refuses to be just one thing; Kyuma and Arusu exist in the same episode as Niragi and Banda, who have a history and present of making violent choices presumably driven by trauma and pain. Heading into Season 2 of Alice in Borderland, it’s easy to expect it to be another dystopian series that ended with a flat, survival-of-the-fittest theme. But as the season progresses, it becomes clear that one of the greatest currencies someone can have in Borderland is a clear, defined will to survive. Guess who is best at this? Our man Kyuma. Guess how he does it? By being a cool, kind guy with deep, committed relationships.
Characters like Arisu, Usagi, or Kyuma are not depicted as particularly special or even unselfish in their acts of caring and kindness. They are not going against their instinct to survive because, in Alice in Borderland Season 2, survival is a question of motivation more than it is a testament of physical capability. For the series, acts of violent selfishness can be the very thing that keeps us from surviving. Not because characters who choose them again and again don’t have someone to watch their backs — often, in spite of their harmful behavior, they still do — but because they can get in the way of our desire to live.
Kyuma is Alice in Borderland’s coolest, most aspirational character not because he’s a naked hottie, but because he’s figured out that wanting to be alive is often about finding a way to surround yourself with people who care, and caring for them in return. It’s how Arisu learns to survive. And it’s Alice in Borderland’s ultimate message.
Alice in Borderland Season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.