By now, a good portion of Netflix viewers have watched Squid Game and loved it. I didn’t want to get into it, but I fell for the trap as well. I found myself completely taken in by the clash of personalities, suspense, and the fantastic twisty, edge-of-your-couch storytelling.
It was, in all fairness, a very well-done show. But like everything else today it got roped into reviewers’ personal politics. There is also the inevitable and unending comparisons to the book-cum-movie series The Hunger Games. Sure, there were cash-strapped folks competing in deadly gladiator-style playground games for the enjoyment of everyone on Jeffrey Epstein’s private island, but I found the characters in Squid Game to be so much more interesting, and the story much more intriguing than Hunger Games ever was.
If you survived the deadly Squid Games and want some more of these darkly addicting stories, here is one live-action series, one anime, and one classic film I recommend trying.
Alice in Borderland
This Japanese live-action adaptation of the manga thriller by Haro Aso is one of the reasons I was reluctant to start Squid Game. It came out last year, and is one of my favorite series. A twenty something slacker and gaming fanatic, Ryōhei Arisu, and his two friends find themselves sucked into series of puzzles and games. Like Squid Game, these games are deadly, but unlike Squid Game these players never opted to be part of this tech-heavy mess.
You can guess by the title there is a heavy Alice in Wonderland theme from each player loosely representing a character in the Lewis Carroll classic. The game itself also follows a playing card pattern, much like the Queen of Hearts theme.
This isn’t an overused “rich vs. poor” scenario either. Everyone has a backstory that is often not what you’d expect, and every time we think we know who…or what…is behind the games, we get thrown a curve ball.
Watch it now if you want to be surprised, as both the English translation of the manga and season two of the live-action series are coming in 2022.
Kaiji: Ulitmate Survivor
This 2007 anime series is based on the first part of Nabuyuki Fukumoto’s incredibly popular manga series Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji. Its popularity prompted a second series Kaiji: Against All Rules based on the manga’s second part. The title character, Kaiji Itō, is falling prey to lack of work, poverty, and bad lifestyle choices.
This includes some pretty significant accumulated debts.
When a loan shark comes to visit him, he has the choice of spending the next decade of his life paying off the debt, or going on a nice little one night gambling cruise on the ship Espoir to try and clear it. Well, as you can guess, this was a bad choice. Games like “rock-paper-scissors” and poker take on a much more dangerous edge.
Sound pretty similar to something? There are many Kaiji fans who say Squid Game wasn’t just similar, but a flat out rip off of Kaiji. You can be the judge, but there’s a “crossing the high obstacle” portion that seems awfully familiar.
A fan even took it to the next level making an anime trailer for a Squid Game and Kaiji mashup.
There is a live-action trilogy that began in 2009 and that finally wrapped up in 2020, but give the anime a go first.
The Most Dangerous Game
Finally, there is never a bad time to discover the old classics. This 1932 film is adapted from the Richard Connell short story (also known as The Hounds of Zaroff) that originally ran in Collier’s in the 1920s.
A group of passengers on a luxury yacht voyage (one of which ironically is a big game hunter) wreck on a remote island and soon learn they are to become competitors in a deadly game. The game’s creator is Russian eccentric, Count Zaroff, who has grown tired with his love of big game hunting. Hunting people is now his new obsession. Of course the players — or prey — are giving some provisions like food and weapons, and are granted freedom if they make it past a certain amount of days. It is no surprise here, not everyone is going home.
It stars some biggies of the time including Fay Wray, Joel McRea and Leslie Banks, and is a pretty gutsy storyline for its day.
I read this is the movie that inspired the game of paintball, but anyone who watches this will see it definitely had some inspiration for several other stories.
There is a 2020 television series, Most Dangerous Game, made for the streaming service Quibi starring Liam Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz. It is loosely based on the story, but I haven’t seen it yet. It does look pretty exciting, if the trailer is any indication.
When you finish up Squid Game, take some time to recover and get back in the exciting and deadly thrillers of man-vs.-man with these stories.
Just don’t get too attached to anyone.