The Promised Neverland 118-121 – 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:

Chapters 118-121 continue to keep the series uneven. Again disinterested in exploring Neverland’s wider world, the manga sets about catapulting our heroes from the trial of finding medicine for one of the wounded children, and right onto their goal: Minerva’s base. Before I continue I wanted to address the current anime adaptation. Our Mid Season Review is still a couple weeks away, but watching the anime remove so much of the inner monologues, in favor of turning those lengthy inner thoughts into dialogue, or removing them entirely, makes me realize just how much the manga has changed from that first arc.

The Promised Neverland used to be Death Note-light. Lengthy inner thoughts, scheming, planning, traps, counter traps, etc. It was a game of cat and mouse with so much back and forth, often inside our character’s heads. Comparing the anime’s adaptation to the first arc really highlights just how different the anime adaptation is (and it’s for the worse, in my opinion,) Yet it actually really lines up with where the manga is now. Setting aside the more obvious shift from thriller/mystery to outright action, The Promised Neverland has really changed in how it lays developments out. There’s still inner thoughts sure, but they’re far less frequent, or more condensed, and there’s a lot less scheming and plotting to be done. Part of that comes with the territory of expanding things beyond the initial concept, but there’s lots of ways The Promised Neverland could’ve remained true to itself, instead of gradually moving further and further away from what made the series so interesting at the start.

That said, what’s here today isn’t the worst the series’ been. We get the reveal that Norman is actually the current Mr. Minerva, which is a cool twist, but lacks the emotional impact thanks to the audience learning well in advance that Norman was alive and well. I still think that was a major misstep. From there The Promised Neverland develops much as you’d expect, but in a rather awkward way.

With Norman alive of course we’re going to go into emotional reunion mode. We’re going to have heartfelt tears, warm embraces, etc. But instead of laying that out in one go, The Promised Neverland chops it up. We get this awkward transition between Norman welcoming everyone back and launching into the big reveal for why demons are so desperate to eat humans.

The explanation is great, and sheds light on why things are the way they are. It’s not airtight, and probably could have a few logic holes poked right through it, especially when we start getting into how various children have super powers. But right as we finish that, and Emma clearly questions Norman’s grand idea of slaughtering all the demons, we snap away again to the family reunion.

There’s no reason to do it like this, and things would’ve felt more natural if everyone caught up in one big go, then we had the reveal, and then Emma began to question Norman’s logic and everyone else’s gleeful appreciation for taking it right back to the demons.

A more personal problem I have with this development is Emma herself. Emma’s rubbed me the wrong way for awhile. It mostly has to do with her ending up as little more than the stock shonen lead. I’ve talked about it before but Emma’s altruistic nature pretty much falls in line with every other shonen protagonist, and outside of her being a girl I don’t actually think much truly sets her apart. Normally this wouldn’t grate me, seeing as I understand why shonen heroes are like this. They exist as role models for kids. It’s an important aspect of entertainment aimed at youth. But seeing as Emma’s enemies are demons, literal demons, who’s major purpose in this story is to eat the children, and as we learn have to do so in order to maintain their intelligence, there just isn’t a feasible way to coexist. At all. I’m sure the manga will pull something out of nowhere (Considering I believe there’s one demon in the story who claims not to have eaten any humans at all) but it feels too goodie toe-shoes to work in the world that’s been constructed here. Not every shonen story needs to be about finding common ground with everyone.

Ultimately though I don’t think what’s here is bad, just disorganized and muddy. I continue to wish The Promised Neverland was more in line with that first arc. There’s an opportunity to go back to that, especially if Emma finds herself at odds with Norman and Ray, but I’m not banking on it.

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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