The Promised Neverland 127-132 – 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 127-132 go right back to some of my biggest complaints with The Promised Neverland post Gracefield House. First, the lack of conflict between characters with opposing ideals, and the ease with which the story crafts a path forward for Emma at all times. The second issue is how the manga seems to rush past key elements and characters that could make this, likely final arc, feel more weighty. Let’s dive in.

Chapter 127 introduces us to the concept behind the “Evil-Blooded Girl” and how the truth is there actually is a very simple way for humans and demons to live together: This gir’s blood could make demons stay intelligent without the need to consume humans. While it’s a nice touch that the noble-level demons purposefully removed this option from the table, simply in order to maintain their power and status over other demons, it also presents a potentially easy out where the manga can craft the happiest ending possible. There’s no hard decisions to make, not when an easy out exists. Remove the noble demons from the equation, and humans and demons can get along, no problem.

The issue I have with this idea is how divorced this is from real life. When it comes to grand, societal issues there’s never a “just do this” solution. If we compare demons to say, Climate Change, or really any societal/world wide ill that threatens people’s lives there’s never an easy solution. Sure you can build more solar panels so that you have an energy source that doesn’t produce excess CO2, but that won’t stop the damage that’s already coming from decades of inactivity on the issue. It takes multiple solutions and real effort to effect change, even if you had everyone already on your side. Here Emma is presented with a solution that simply requires turning even the demon populace towards her ideals, and seeing as we keep hearkening back to “The Promise” and forging a new one, I imagine that aspect of her trial will be just as simplistically easy. Ultimately it’s a very ‘shonen’ development. It feels a bit magical too, in the sense that there isn’t an explanation for what this blood provides to demons that replaces the need for humans. Even if we were to directly compare demons eating humans to people eating cows, I’m pretty sure society would be absolutely shook the day a cow pleaded “Don’t eat me!”

But there’s another problem sitting in this very chapter: Norman’s character shift. When we last left Norman he sacrificed himself in the belief that Emma’s ideals were sound. That, discounting himself, she could save everyone. However, in the interim Norman has suffered a powerful shift away from his belief in Emma’s altruism, now fully in the camp of “No matter the cost.” But Neverland doesn’t offer much in the way of a much needed flashback. It doesn’t really offer enough material to fully understand what it is Norman has experienced that has changed his world view so much. He hardly feels like the same character. If anything he feels much more like Ray did at the start of the series. This is where The Promised Neverland seems to be offering the ‘cliff notes’ version of its story, rushing us along towards an ever nearing conclusion, without providing the material to really make this story strike home and feel powerful.

The story even undermines Norman’s push back in two distinct ways: One, Norman’s argument that amounts to “You can’t have it all, Emma” in response to her idea that she wants humans and demons to live in harmony, is easily deflated by the mere existence of the Evil-Blooded Girl. There is literally a way to remove the need to eat humans, and I don’t think Norman’s “Could you stop eating your favorite food if it asked you not to” is any kind of an effective counter argument. Maybe this would make sense if Norman was full blown “You don’t understand how evil and corrupt the demons are! They’re monsters!” If Norman exhibited such ‘racism’ then his willful desire to ignore the easy outcome might feel believable. But Norman is undermined again as the narrative pushes him to both move forward with his plans, and support Emma anyway. The two end their discussion on a hug and promises of emotional support. For a man who believes demons cannot be reasoned with, he sure lets Emma, who’s against his very efforts, get away with a lot.

This all lacks conflict. Emma and Norman are clearly at odds in their ideals, yet you don’t feel like that by the end. The only characters exhibiting frustration with Emma’s sheer altruism are the experimented children, who we see suffer side effects of their experimentation in Chapter 129. Norman should also be frustrated with Emma, angry even, for her still holding onto optimistic naivety he clearly no longer possesses.

Everything is hindered by a lack of preceding arcs. Goldie Pond was largely a waste, barely furthering the story outside of a few key Mr. Minerva reveals. What we should have had was an arc giving Emma a truly different experience with demons. Yes, they met Mujika, but the story clearly paints her as a blind spot for the understanding of demons. We needed an arc where Emma sees demon society for what it is, not just a couple panels showing her walking through demon towns. We need a regular demon family they met and got to know, that humanized the demons. But the manga skips right over that. This could even have set up Norman’s “Would you not eat your favorite food” argument, perhaps showcasing that demon society actively keeps human’s intelligence a secret, so as not to upset the status quo. Or perhaps an arc that shows the intricacies of demon society and nobility, but we didn’t get that either. It’s being crammed in last minute. There’s a lot of missed opportunity with this series and as someone who very much loved the concept early on, it’s frustrating to see so much lost potential.

Things seem poised for conclusion though. By the end of Chapter 132 there’s no foreboding sense of dread, even when Emma tells the other children she’s shooting for the ‘long shot’ happy ending. Outside of a few tears, and characters frustrated that Emma always put the world on her shoulders, there’s little doubt she can succeed. If this is truly a long shot, why does that notion get so little play? We also delve into full on magic here as Emma and Ray instantly teleport to where they need to be in order to initiate their journey into making a new promise. While all that’s going on Demon forces are on the move and Norman’s schemes are culminating. With everything about to go down, there’s little room to stretch events out, flesh out newly introduced characters, any world building, etc. We’re basically zooming towards conclusion and unless the manga has a surprise twist in store, this series doesn’t seem to have much left in it.

Ultimately I found these chapters truly disappointing. If I ignore the ease with which Emma is being handed her victory as just a part of the shonen formula, there’s still so much wasted potential. We skipped right over incredible opportunities to flesh out the world, add nuance to Neverland’s ultimately positive and optimistic message, and allow the characters to truly breath and evolve. We’ll see what’s in store as we draw closer and closer to the end, but the best of Neverland is still that first arc, before we got out into the world and learned how truly small it really was.

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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