The Promised Neverland 052-054 – Manga Review

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.

Joining forces with the other top kids, Ray, Gilda and Don, they plot an escape. But Mom closes in on them and thwarts their plans. Norman gets shipped out, but not before giving Emma and Ray the means and plans to escape with. Emma and Ray manage to escape with many of the children, leaving only the youngest behind. Now as they make their way from the Demon’s farm they find themselves in a whole new, and dangerous world.

Review:

The Promised Neverland continues to both interest and turn me away. On the one hand chapters 052-054 push the story forward. While the kids progress in their quest to find Mr. Minerva and learn the greater truths to this world of Demons separated from men, Sonju pops up to put an end to the pursuers. The farm demons have been, until know, a purely visual threat. After killing that first girl way back in Chapter 1, they haven’t done much besides look intimidating. And I’ll give them that, the demons have incredible designs, but they hardly ever do anything to back that ferocious look up.

Here we see them easily slaughtered by Sonju, a character introduced a mere handful of chapters ago. It’s the final nail in the coffin for defanging these incredible looking villains. Not only are they incapable of catching children, the entire group is killed by a lone individual. Sonju essentially becomes our replacement villain, at least until we meet the poachers mentioned in Chapter 054, but we’ll talk about that in a bit.

Typically it’s hard to get answers when you kill the person you’re asking.

As Sonju goes we don’t know a whole lot, save that he really really wants to hunt humans. Chapter 052’s opening serves as a way to bolster his threat level, and when looked at that way seems to do the job. But I find it hollow, seeing as these other demons have time and again proven ineffectual, and should Sonju prove just as incapable as his predecessors I won’t find it all that big a shock.

Moving on the kids discover that Minerva’s secret base is beneath the ground. Chapter 052 concludes with them meeting a disheveled man surrounded by monitors who may, or may not, be Mr. Minerva. The ‘is he or isn’t he’ doesn’t last very long however, and this individual, currently unnamed, turns out to be an older escapee from the farms, someone who escaped from a different farm 13 years ago, alongside his friends too. (Kinda sad learning one huge batch of kids escaped and whatever they did to beef up security, assuming they did, was completely ineffectual.)

It also doesn’t take long before this man turns into another antagonist, teasing greater knowledge and revealing he someone knew about the fifteen of them who’d escaped. He quickly torments the children, insisting they don’t have what it takes to survive, and even pointing out how improbable it is that Emma and the others have all survived unscathed. (Well, save a couple ears anyway.)

Always best to let children tantrum themselves out.

As if tormenting the kids wasn’t enough, the man quickly pulls a gun on the group and grabs Emma, threatening to kill her unless they give up the pen left to them by Dr. Minerva. I’m not too fond of this character in all honesty. As we see through Chapter 054, they’re going for a psychopathic, psychotic individual, someone broken by his time in solitude and the loss of his friends due to the ‘poachers.’

But he comes off as that classic, over the top, anime/manga villain that seems too hammy to take seriously. Indeed the manga doesn’t even take him all that seriously, quickly defanging him in Chapter 054 with Emma smashing the poor man’s jewels for comedic relief, relief I don’t think we honestly needed. We just had some the moment they met the guy and joked about his uneven appearance.

Compounding that Emma insists that he’s actually a good guy at heart, talking him into a corner about how he doesn’t really want to kill them. It’s shortly after that Emma’s words force him into a psychotic break, where he hears the voices, presumably of his dead friends, and collapses, ending his threat.

From this angle it looks like he’s got quite a pot belly developing. Probably all those cookies.

I think my issue is how long this confrontation goes on, and then how abruptly it ends. It’s another instance of our characters being confronted with the honesty of their situation: Children, 15 of them, all surviving in a hellish landscape like this is, in reality, impossible. But the themes of Neverland, like most shonen, preach never giving up, never giving any quarter. In some ways I feel it’s a bad call to drive this so hard into the forefront of the series. The sheer impossibility of 15 young children, no matter how smart, outrunning horrific demons, surviving hellish landscapes, while not losing anyone remains a big flaw with the series, something older audiences may have trouble overlooking. Casting it front and center only highlights that central issue.

The Crazy Man’s psychotic breakdown is also so sudden, so over the top, I feel like it lacks the actual dramatic impact it could have held. I think this comes from withholding too much of his flashback. We get maybe two or three panels, very quick glimpses, before he collapses and it’s all over. We could’ve, and I think should’ve seen more.

In fact the chapter draws to a close just a few pages after that, focusing on the word ‘poachers’ scrawled over the back wall of the room this man presumably slept in. For all my criticism it’s definitely a chilling conclusion to the chapter, and sets clear expectations for our heroes next major plight.

I mean, in a world where humans are farmed and eaten by demons, ‘no manners’ seems like a pretty minor complaint.

With a new antagonistic force presumably just a couple chapters away, I really would like to see more palpable threats established. If death is off the table then I’m crossing my fingers the poachers at least present a credible threat that seeks to capture and sell the children back to the farms, or something similar. Right now these 15 kids feel like they’ve got plot armor, some truly impervious stuff and I’d really like to see something pierce that, especially if death isn’t a real threat for them.

Let me know your thoughts on The Promised Neverland’s latest chapters in the comments below!

The Promised Neverland is published weekly in Shonen Jump. The first few (001-003) chapters can be read for free via Viz.com

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