The Promised Neverland 001 – Review
The Promised Neverland:
Reviewed by: Tom
Synopsis: Emma is an 11-year old girl living at an orphanage along with thirty-seven other children. They spend their days playing in the yard, the nearby forest, and taking test over their headsets in the house’s school room. When they turn twelve the children leave the orphanage, going beyond the gate they’ve been warned to never venture near. However, despite how quaint and comfortable this life has been for Emma and the other children, there’s a much darker truth awaiting them beyond that gate.
(Warning: Spoilers to Follow)
The Promised Neverland opens with narration from Emma, our lead, reflecting on her life as an orphan. We’re introduced to the daily routine Emma has been through for the last ten years of her life as everyone wakes for the day at 6′ am and gets dressed for breakfast. From the very first page The Promised Neverland is oozing with a darker undercurrent, hinting at the revelations that’ll come into play by the end of this opening chapter.
Emma’s one of the oldest out of the orphanages thirty-eight kids along with Norman, friendly and cheerful, and Ray, a much ruder young man. The Promised Neverland has a very cheery atmosphere here, depicting Emma and the others as jovial, full of life, and entirely satisfied despite none really having parents outside their caretaker mother. The manga is a bit heavy handed in this regard, and even without the teases offered on page one and shortly hereafter again, it’s, perhaps even painfully, clear that not all is as it seems. It’s one of the few failings this opening chapter suffers from, perhaps offering a bit too much foreshadow for its impending twists.
Despite the teasing, it’s clear Emma and everyone here loves each other deeply and the page turns cryptic as Emma says “The Orphanage was my home.” Everyone sits down to eat and Emma begins to point out the subtle and disturbing aspects of the imagery. The plain white uniforms all the kids wear, along with the ID numbers tattooed on their necks. Both are amazingly well downplayed thanks to that heavy, cheerful atmosphere, and it’s only when the manga calls direct attention that less hawk eyed viewers will finally become clued into their existence.
The children are subjected to the “Daily Test” with questions delivered over headsets far and above the level one might expect from children at their age. As it turns out Norman, Ray and Emma are all aces in the class, regularly attaining the highest score.
Afterwards the kids all go out to play, save Ray who is more content to sit back and read. Norman starts a game of tag and the students all run to hide in the forest. As Emma runs for a hiding spot she notes how there’s two places within the grounds of the orphanage they’re not allowed to go: The gates that lead to the outside world and beyond the fence. The manga does a great job here, giving Emma reason to flash back to when she, Norman, and Ray all ventured to the Gate they weren’t supposed to visit. While nothing happened during that visit this helps to really tie the present day to the informative flashback.
Back at the orphanage it’s noted that none of the other kids who left the orphanage have ever written back, but it’s decided that’s probably because they’re off having too much fun. This is probably one of The Promised Neverland’s greater stumbles and almost gives the game up early, as the flimsy excuse offered calls quite a bit of attention to the fact that no one ever returns. It’s weak, but such a small moment in this overly long chapter that it doesn’t break the effectiveness of the upcoming reveal.
The only way to learn about the outside is through the books in the library, of which we get another shot of Ray, reminding us he’s doing just that.
Back with the game of tag, everyone’s been caught, save Emma and Norman as he surges after her. However even Emma can’t outdo Norman and he eventually catches her. Emma’s frustrated and Ray helps her to realize Norman uses Strategy while she doesn’t. Emma also doesn’t see it as more than a game though, which is what’s keeping her from ever winning against Norman. The rest of the kids watch the three in awe, noting that the orphanage has never had three children as exemplary as them. Norman’s a genius, Ray is resourceful and Emma is outstanding physically and has a unique ability to learn quickly.
Later, as the kids get ready for another game of tag, Conny, a smaller girl, reminds them she’s leaving the orphanage today. We learn that when the kids get close to the age of 12 they’re assigned to foster homes and leave the orphanage forever, although some leave earlier than that. Conny prepares to leave, and says that while she wasn’t as good at the tests as everyone else, when she becomes an adult she wants to be a mother just like their ‘mother’. Emma notes how sad it is to say goodbye like this, but her turn is coming soon as she’s 11 years old now.
Later that night Emma discovers that Conny left behind her favorite stuffed bunny, surprising as Conny had been so adamant about how much she loved the gift from their ‘mother.’ The manga does a little ‘classic shonen’ exaggerated humor, which feels out of place considering its more melancholic, thriller mystery tone. I’m hoping it drops this in future chapters as it really doesn’t need it. Ray points out there may still be time to deliver the rabbit as the lights are still on at the Gate and ‘mother’ isn’t back yet. Norman suggests they deliver it to Conny before she leaves.
Rushing to the Gate, both Emma and Norman find it open for once, with a truck parked inside. Strangely, neither seems to be all that surprised that the Gate is up for once. For two kids who’ve never once been allowed out it’s interesting that this change goes uncommented on. Emma goes into the back of the truck to see what’s in the back, but drops the stuffed animal and her eyes go wide as she calls for Norman to come see.
Inside they find Conny, dead, a rose stabbed through her chest. The art is extremely effective here and while one might be able to accuse The Promised Neverland’s writing for the reveal as ‘hamfisted’ or ‘average’ the art helps to sell this moment extremely well, turning what would’ve been a rather mediocre ‘aha’ moment into something powerful and disturbing.
Norman and Emma then hide as horrifying monsters step into the passage. They pick up Conny’s body and talk of how delicious human flesh is before plopping her in a vat of liquid. The dialogue’s all a little on the nose here, and written clearly more for the audiences benefit than staying within the narrative of the story. Norman equates these creatures to demons they read about in the library’s books.
Thanks to the demons chattering, the two realize the most horrid realization: They’re on a human farm and they’re food for these creatures, live stock to consume. It gets worse as apparently certain children, like Emma and Norman, who have high test scores, are seen as high quality products bread to be sold at even higher prices. This point is clearly meant to add justification for Emma, Norman, and Ray’s exceptional education and ability, but fails the top the already horrific realization that they’re mere food for these monsters. This moment touches on what is perhaps The Promised Neverland’s biggest flaw: A narrative fault that allows Norman, Emma and Ray their only chance at survival. If our monsters were smart, they’d know that breeding insanely smart children could bring about their downfall, and by adding in this little narrative justification it makes our villains look, perhaps, a bit foolish. As it is, right now, from Chapter One, this little plot point seems like The Promised Neverland’s biggest hurdle. Either it finds a way to better justify educating the children, or simply ignore that plot point as best it can while never drawing too much attention to it.
As if the earlier revelations weren’t enough, they discover that their ‘mother’ is a servant of these demons and promises to have Emma, Norman and Ray ready for the harvest at the next pick up. It’s a solid twist, and helps to wash away the nagging issues with the earlier topic. Seeing the woman who shows so much love and compassion for these children is actually perfectly two-faced really sells the darker turns The Promised Neverland is delving into, especially for a Shonen Jump Manga.
Emma and Norman manage to get away just before they’re found out and go running for the orphanage. Emma collapses, and begins rambling, desperately trying to beat back the reality of what she’s seen. But Norman shatters that attempt and Emma screams into the night.
Back at the Orphanage they meet Ray, who asks them how it went. Norman says they didn’t make it in time and walks off, sullen. Ray, however, realizes they don’t have the stuffed Bunny with them. Disaster strikes as one of the demons pulls the bunny doll out from under the truck and hands it to the mother.
Back when Norman and Emma were out in the field Norman promised Emma they’d find a way to escape. Emma decides that there are no adults to rely on and she needs to fight for herself and she will find a way for all of the kids to survive.
Overall I’d say The Promised Neverland’s first outing is solid, and seeing as it’s free, well worth a read on Shonen Jump’s website. I have a few nagging issues, like the flimsy narrative justification for educating the students, or how heavy-handed it can be when trying to portray the light, fluffy and heart-warming atmosphere that comes tumbling down around our characters. That said, I think The Promised Neverland has some wonderful artwork that compliments its story and helps to keep these issues in the back of mind rather than the front while I’m reading. I also think there’s a lot of good potential here and I have high hopes that The Promised Neverland will act as one of Shonen Jump’s few ‘darker’ offerings that isn’t afraid to give finality to its characters, unlike other Shonen to date.
Thanks for reading and please let me know your thoughts on The Promised Neverland in the comments section below!