I still haven’t watched any more episodes, but I found the manga online for free and read what was essentially the first half of the television episode in the manga series. In the process, I finally discovered who “Alice” was:
The main character Arisu.
Arisu is the transliteration of “Alice” in Japanese. Online references I could find for the name say it is generally a girl’s name, but I mistrust most internet sources and assume that if a male character is named Arisu in a manga series, it is common enough for men to have the name. Given that no one teases him of having a “girl’s name”, I figure it is further normalized by that fact.
So, mystery solved on who Alice is — which means that it is probably only a convenience to make the series sound like it is related to Alice in Wonderland. With the prevalence of playing cards, which indicate the type of game the characters will play and the difficulty they will encounter, I think that is the end of the tie-in elements. As I had mentioned in comments yesterday, you might be able to argue Arisu has fallen into a “rabbit hole” filled with apparent nonsensical rules that become less so when logic is applied (somewhat like the Carroll book), but that appears to be it for similarities through episode 4. Like having a monster in Final Fantasy XV called a bandersnatch (which has no apparent connection to anything Carroll), I think the author(s) started off during the creation process of wanting more connections, but decided it was too unwieldy. But they liked the name they had come up with and kept it.
[Edit: a character named “Hatter” has appeared in episode 5. You could argue that he’s in charge of a mad tea party of sorts.]
Reading the manga, I can say that some of the choices the live action team made for the story make the overall story better. The first issue of the manga is a bit rough, in my opinion.
- In the show, Arisu and friends are mid-20s. In the manga, they are 18-19.
- In the show, Arisu has a friend who is afraid of dying a virgin, but has intimacy issues because of his religious upbringing. In the manga, the same character is girl-crazy (trying to look up skirts, trying to get laid every chance he can get, won’t stop talking about chicks), although he is a virgin too.
- They present a clean, sterile Tokyo after the event in the show. In the manga, time seems to have shifted and things are rotting or covered with huge layers of dust.
- The TV show leaves the event as a mysterious thing, whereas the manga makes it more prominent without offering much in the way of explanation. I think the more subtle approach gives it more gravitas.
All of these elements make for a little better storytelling.
Anyway… I should probably actually watch more before I write more about the show. I just found these details intriguing. Maybe tonight.