The Promised Neverland 102-108 – 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 tests 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 and thwarts their plans. Norman gets shipped out, but not before giving Emma and Ray the means to escape. Emma and Ray manage to escape with many of the children, leaving only the youngest behind.

On a quest to find Mr. Minerva, the one man interested in freeing children from the demons, Emma and Ray guide the others to an underground bunker, where they meet a broken man, another escapee of the farms, suffering a dark past. Together, Emma, Ray and this new ally make for Goldie Pond, where they find only more horror as their destination turns out to be hunting grounds where children are slaughtered for fun. Defeating the demons in charge, and freeing the previously hunted children, Emma and Co. work towards finding a way to free everyone suffering at the hands of the demons and rejoin the rest of humanity.

Review:

The Promised Neverland is beginning to suffer compounding issues. Even setting aside my problems with the series’ villains, and their lack of fangs, Neverland has two increasingly damaging issues: Character bloat/lack of personality, and rushed pacing. Let’s talk about the pacing first, as that sits at the forefront of these chapters. Last time I predicted we’d have some world hopping as Emma and Co. traveled to find what they need in order to free humanity. Well, I was partially right. That happens, but we skip near all of it. Chapter 102 time skips nearly two years from the last chapter. All the effort of finding these temples has been cut in favor of getting our heroes right to their target. Emma and Co. successfully infiltrate some demon city, where they very quickly find what they’ve been seeking the last two years. Not only do we cut all the effort this took, condensing it down into just a few panels of Emma with bed-head and baggy eyes, but our villains introduced in the last two chapters now sit in limbo, having made zero progress towards finding the children in all that time.

Chapter 103 fairs no better, with the mystery of connecting the two worlds solved before it could even get going. The series also keeps this mystery vague, rarely giving us details to what the children are looking over and discussing, making it feel like the author has little confidence that they could pull the wool over our eyes. If given enough information the audience could easily guess what few mysteries remain in the series. As if then to finally address our villains absence, they suddenly attack, abruptly shifting the story from mystery to action/thriller. Despite the rushed, near haphazard nature, I think this remains one of the few strong developments from this series of chapters.

Chapters 104 to 108 cover the fight with Andrew and his tactical team. At points they seem quiet dangerous, literally blowing away two of the children as Emma and Co. rush to escape. It’s a decent moment, but one lacking an emotional gut-punch. The two kids killed are practically nobodies, and this is where we have to discuss the character bloat. Since The Goldy Pond rescue our group of kids has ballooned to a whopping sixty. That wouldn’t be a problem if we took the time to flesh many of them out, make them feel like individuals with insecurities, fears, opinions, beliefs. But outside of Emma, Ray and maybe a handful of others, many of these children lack depth. They each have a unique design, although some are less unique than others, and a name, but beyond that they feel empty and hollow.So while two kids finally bite the dust again, in an attempt to sell Andrew and Co. as deadly and dangerous, their deaths mean little to us as these kids are the thinnest of characters. This is where the rushed pacing compounds matters. If we’d slowed, spent ten, twenty, thirty chapters on the quest to find the temples, perhaps we could’ve used that time to grow the kids as individuals. But the series is so focused on rushing through its plot we don’t even have time to evolve Emma or Ray even. Emma has generally remained the character she’s been since escaping the farm, and few events here have altered her as they would better written leads. She’s stalled, and without time to address our characters as individuals, everyone is gradually acting more so as plot devices to move the story forward than true individuals. This is even more disastrously true for characters who barely get any page time.

The rest of these chapters are a mix of good and bad. Lucas easily takes down a combat soldier solo, despite the idea that these characters would’ve had tactical training, and Lucas has survived merely on wits alone, as a cripple no less. It’s not so much the idea that he could take down a soldier that’s the problem, but rather the realization and way it’s depicted. He does so in one fell swoop, which belittles the threat these new villains pose.

Another positive however is how Emma is challenged on her shonen lead nature. Emma, for better or worse, carries the typical shonen ideals: if we were all friends we could survive and work together. This is challenged here when she tries to plead with Andrew, only for him to shoot her ideals down without even once entertaining them. This however is the second time Emma’s been met with defeat, leading me to wonder if ultimately Emma will propose friendship to a future villain, one final time, and this time garner a yes. That these reactions are a thin effort to build towards an eventual reversal.

From there the kids actually escape Andrew’s clutches quite easily, thanks to getting a radio off the soldier Lucas defeated. It’s another sign of pacing issues. One minute our heroes are in danger, next they have the radio, the position of their enemies and boom, they’re home free. It almost seems pointless when Lucas and Yugo decide to stay behind and fight Andrew to the death. If he and his men can be so easily evaded, why bother? In fact, Chapters 107-108 make Andrew look like a massive idiot, which is frustrating because Chapter 105 introduces the idea that Andrew and Co. hunted down all the supporters, a group of allies Emma and Co. never even got to meet.

Chapters 107-108 see Yugo and Lucas, against all odds, blow away each of Andrew’s troops one after another. It’s one of those moments in fiction where we start to see signs that the main characters, for whatever reason, are intrinsically better than anyone without a name. That characters who go unnamed are mere stepping stones and don’t hold a candle to our heroes, who possess innate talent for anything. Indeed Yugo and Lucas are only injured by the guidance of Andrew, otherwise his team stands little chance, despite outnumbering Yugo and Lucas four to one.

Andrew’s death even makes him look like a chump. During the battle he orders his men to go for a head shot, a confirmed kill. Yet later when he catches up to Yugo and Lucas, both critically injured by Andrew himself, he suddenly forgets all that and leaves both to bleed on the floor as he converses with them, near gloating in their failings. This gives Yugo and Lucas the opportunity to set off explosives, killing everyone still in the compound. Andrew wavers greatly in character, one minute smart and dangerous, the next as blithering an idiot as his unnamed men. A character that could’ve felt like a true threat is quickly lobotomized so Yugo and Lucas can go out like heroes.

The Promised Neverland is a mess and I’d argue that first began after they escaped the farm. It’s taken a while, but I think many of the series problems first started there and have only grown worse. That first arc is still incredible, and I’m sure the anime will be a huge hit for it, but everything after, lesser ideas, poorer execution, and rushed story-telling indicates our authors don’t really know how to get from point A to B. They obviously still have some cool ideas, concepts, and elements they want to guide Emma and Co through, but little real idea of how to put that all together in a satisfying way.

There’s chance to turn this all around. With the compound gone, Andrew dead, and Emma and Co, off again on their adventure it’s a chance to start fresh. We’ve cleared the more immediately problematic elements and if used right, this could help to guide Neverland towards more compelling content. We need to focus on the characters, challenge them, add some drama and introduce villains that feel worthy of our heroes. It’s a lot to ask, but this is the best time for Neverland to reinvent itself.

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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