The Promised Neverland 014-016 – 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)
While exploring the gate one night, in hopes of delivering a forgotten stuffed toy to a departing friend, Emma and Norman, one of the smartest boys within the Orphanage, discover the horrible truth: The orphans are being raised as mere meat for horrific demonic creatures. Escaping back to the orphanage both Emma and Norman decide to try and find a way to escape with the other thirty-six orphans before they’re harvested too.
They recruit Ray, the last of the three top kids, and set about trying to determine the best means of escape. But Mother is onto them, recruiting another adult to come in and help her watch over the kids. Things take a turn for the worse, however, as the group is forced to conclude that there may even be a spy among them.
Norman asks Ray why he became Mom’s sheep-dog and we learn that it’s because Ray learned the truth of the orphanage six years ago. In fact, everything he’s done up until now has actually been in service of their current escape efforts. He sold himself to mother in order to learn things and request items. It was even how he was able to get his hands on a tracking device and learn to nullify them. This has been quite a twist for Ray’s character, although makes sense seeing as he’s been the far more aloof of the three. It also explains why we’ve heard Norman and Emma’s inner thoughts, but never Ray’s. He’s not really a main character, but more of an antagonist.
He asserts to Norman that he’s his strongest card in this ordeal, in fact, he’s who set up Norman and Emma finding out everything in the first place. He agrees to become Norman’s trump card, but on one condition: They trick Emma. Ray doesn’t like the liability of trying to save everyone. So outside of including Don and Gilda, they lie to Emma about bringing the rest of the children along. They’re too much of a burden for Ray. This I really like. In some ways Promised Neverland seems to be directly challenging the “no one ever loses/dies” trope of shonen. We have Emma, who very much embodies the naive yet determined shonen lead, with Ray and Norman acting as more weathered variations. It definitely makes me interested to see where Promised Neverland is going to land. Can we actually obtain a perfect ending with how many obstacles are appearing in Norman and Emma’s path?
Norman agrees, realizing he doesn’t have too many options, but finds it difficult to really swallow the idea of tricking poor Emma, whom he admires so. This is also a incredibly awesome character dilemma. Seeing Norman actively struggle with the idea of lying to Emma is wonderful characterization, really challenging exactly who Norman is.
Ray meets with Mother, who’s growing suspicious. He tells her what she wants to know, and tries to remind her how long he’s been in her service, although she’s painfully aware it was his mistakes that set in motion the current situation of Norman and Emma. Ray reminds her that he gets a reward for his services and Mother says that he’ll have it in 2-3 days. Ray thinks back to how long his plans of escape have been in motion and refuses to let Norman or Emma ruin it and lead themselves to their deaths. We finally get a bit of Ray’s internalized thoughts here and I definitely feel like, outside of his use to the plot, Ray is the least interesting of our three heroes. He doesn’t really have any moral dilemmas challenging him and while his past is interesting, his present self is pretty set on one very direct course.
Norman is still having trouble reassigning himself to tricking Emma. He even has a nightmare where he and everyone else meets a terrible fate. He’s struggling to come to grips even with lying to her and it consumes his thoughts even through their daily studies. In fact, if anything the nightmare has made Norman decide he’ll attempt to play Ray, to fool him and give Emma exactly what she wants: An everybody lives scenario. This seems bound to backfire, and from how Neverland has played out so far, there’s little doubt in my mind something will go horribly wrong from this decision. When it comes time to meet with Emma and Ray and divulge who the traitor is Ray takes the spotlight, and reveals himself to Emma so Norman doesn’t have to.
Ray lays it all out for Emma and she generally takes the surprise well, understanding that Ray has been working on this escape plan for six years. But she notes one little issue: How did Ray get his hands on a tracking device? Does it mean that he sacrificed someone and got them shipped out early for their sake? The manga does a bit of a flashback here, but doesn’t go all the way. I’m hoping there’s something more juicy here we’ve only scratched the surface with. Ray doesn’t know how to answer, but Emma retracts the question, instead asserting that he never sacrifice one of them like that ever again. Ray swears he won’t, almost assuredly lying through his teeth. Emma runs off to train the kids and Ray and Norman both note that Emma held in her anger for Ray’s past actions. It’s an interesting note about Emma’s anger. I wonder if Emma’s more emotional self is ever going to come into play and what that means. Might she snap during their escape plan on the 8th?
Norman then begins to piece something together, asking when and how Ray learned the terrible truth. He notes that Ray has on multiple occasions claimed it’s all been to prevent either Norman or Emma from getting killed but in actuality? It’s hard to figure out what Norman might be getting at here. The dialogue cuts off so early that I don’t have a good idea about what Norman might’ve just pieced together, or if I should even have an inkling of what that might be.
The conversation is cut short as Emma reveals she has something to share with them. As it turns out Emma and Gilda have noticed mother disappears right before eight o’clock each night and they believe it’s because there’s actually a secret room in the house non of them know about.
The group meets over Emma and Gilda’s findings, denoting the location of the secret room on a map of the house. They believe it’s how she does regular check ins with headquarters. Don is eager to get inside and perhaps learn where Conny and the others have all been sent. But Ray is quick to shut all this down, it’s too risky. They don’t know what’s inside the room or what kind of security is in place. Don and Gilda head away, slightly dejected. I feel like Ray and Norman really suffer from hubris. Neither seems to pick up on Don’s dejection here, or realize that he might take action on his own. It seems like a bit of an oversight for how clever either of these two characters are. Although maybe that’s the point, both boys think themselves so smart they underestimate everyone besides themselves and mother.
The main trio then discuss learning about the outside. Ray gives Emma binoculars that he secured as a reward from Mother. This I found a tad silly. Mother seems like such a smart and capable woman, yet she gave Ray binoculars without a moments thought? The idea is to get along the wall and look out to see what they can see. Emma then changes the subject, asking to show Norman and Ray something she’s discovered.
She brings them to the library, where she’s found quite a few of the books have a signature inside, by one William Minerva. Emma believes that this mysterious individual donating books is actually an alley, as she’s found hidden messages in the books. She believes he’s the key to surviving outside the wall. This is really interesting, but while Emma mentions hidden messages we never get any examples of, which makes the moment feel a tad hollow, especially for what’s normally such a thorough manga. Norman notes that as long as things go smoothly everything should be fine.
But Norman doesn’t predict Don’s actions, as he bumps into mother by ‘accident’ and steals the master key for the house. He then coaxes Gilda into sneaking into that secret room they’d all talked about. Overall I love these chapters. Sure there’s a minor issue here or there, and I could’ve sworn there was something in these chapters that made me question if we’ve contradicted something from earlier in the story, but by most measures these are some of the better shonen chapters I’ve read in weeks. I continue to be generally impressed with Neverland and appreciate how different it is from everything else in the magazine.
Thanks for reading and please let me know your thoughts on The Promised Neverland 014-016 in the comments section below!