The Promised Neverland 136-138 – 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.
Chapters 136-138 primarily focus on Emma and Ray’s journey toward, as we learn, breaking through the bonds of space and time, and then checking in with Don and Gilda as they search for Mujika. The trouble with all these chapters are how exposition heavy they are. Rather than really showcasing the troubles each group is facing, we instead get dialogue to fill us in on what’s been happening off page. Rather than fleshing these sequences out, we watch as characters explain the trouble, solve it, and move on.
Emma and Ray’s journey suffers the worst from this. Snapping back to explain the teases we got over the last set of chapters, both Emma and Ray have been traveling through this wonky, twisted world for awhile now. They’ve jumped from room to room, following the arrowed path, only to turn into children, or totally change locations without rhyme or reason. It’s about ten pages in when Ray spills the beans on what’s going on, revealing the long held mystery of what “The Seven Walls” really means: Space and Time. The creature with the unpronounceable name exists beyond those confines, and Emma and Ray would need to break free of them in order to reach it.
That seems like a really tall order, a whole ordeal in and of itself. Yet it’s not but a few pages later Emma and Ray abruptly stumble upon a widening desert, where they realize they need to try and reverse the flow of time. Moments later Emma is shrinking into a baby and Ray aging at a rapid pace, catching us up with that tease from a few issues before which seemed more a tie in/cross promotional campaign for Death Stranding than anything else.
The Ray aging stuff is fantastic, and really the only part in Chapter 136 that showcases the absurdity of what they’re going through. Previous chapters add to this a little, but it still feels sudden when Emma pops back up with the solution, and Chapter 137 sees the two completely defeat this obstacle, which should be an incredibly tall order.
Indeed Chapter 137 is all about explaining Emma’s miraculous solution to, what should be, the greatest obstacle they’ve ever faced. Heck mother seems more deadly than escaping the flow of space and time at this point. Emma’s solution, at least, ties very well into Neverland’s underlying theme, and really all major Shonen titles in the current era: Never stop believing in what you can do, no matter the lessons you learn as an adult.
Shonen has this positive, if I sometimes think, naive message for readers, urging them to retain their childlike, idealistic dreams, in the face of a world that will batter them down and belittle them with biting reality. It’s positive, and I don’t disagree with it entirely, but Shonen often ‘cheat’ in order to make their message seem easily acceptable and guiding. I’ll get to that in a bit with Chapter 138.
But yes, within just a few chapters Emma and Ray overcome Space and Time itself. The artwork is incredible for that moment, but it feels unearned with how quickly it all came about. It would’ve been nice if Emma and Ray had been more directly challenged in who they want to be, suffered major fall backs during all this, and were truly tested in their meddle. As it stands the manga’s craziest stuff, breaking the confines of space and time, feels like a mere foot note on their journey to victory.
Backing away from that, and just as we tease the next step in their journey, we jump to Norman and his army on the move. The manga offers a tease that Norman has some kind of secret weapon, but does so via one of the laziest ways of teasing new elements: The no details approach. “What about that thing? Can we use it?” These teases more often beg the response “Okay? And?” since they don’t offer the reader anything to speculate on. In fact, it might’ve been better for Norman not to mention his secret weapon at all, leaving it to the start of Chapter 138 for the tease to come in. Even if they’re not the same thing, Norman’s tease is still empty.
And that’s what 138 opens with anyway! We see Norman’s lackeys working on some kind of serum and when fed to, what appears to be, a demon rat, we get the sense that it’s incredibly deadly. This is a much, much better tease than what’s at the end of Chapter 137.
Capping this discussion off we snap to Don and Gilda. Again we’re offered exposition to catch us up on their efforts. The group is attacked by a demon, but again the children easily escape, what are supposed to be, man’s deadliest predator. This is what I was talking about above, where Shonen manga ‘cheat’ to make their point. It’s easy to preach togetherness and finding common ground with one’s enemy when they never actually kill any of your friends. Yes Ray and Emma lost someone in the 1st chapter, and there’s all those implied deaths prior to the series’ start, but it’s easy for the audience to swallow this line of thinking if we don’t lose characters we’re familiar with. I wish Shonen Manga had more stomach for challenging their own themes and messages, because otherwise they often feel like little more than ‘feel good’ stories.
Chapter 138 does end with a surprise twist though, as Don and Gilda realize their tracker, Ayshe, doesn’t actually speak just demon, but has been listening and understanding them the whole time, and she knows they plan to rescue Mujika from Norman’s murder plot. It’s a great twist, and one that hearkens back to that first arc, where you never know who’s listening, or who you can trust.
Ultimately I find these chapters disappointing. So much more could’ve been made of Emma and Ray’s journey. Maybe it still will? There’s time, but what’s here feels like we’ve addressed most of the crazy shit the manga was going to really play with. Norman on the move is a good development, and I love the twist with Ayshe, but there’s so much exposition and discussion, rather than really showing us the efforts required to complete any of these objectives. I do have to wonder if the authors are rushing us towards the conclusion, or perhaps this is continued impact from the writer’s health taking a dive. Whatever the case (though if it’s health I hope they feel better) it feels like we’re drawing ever closer to Neverland’s final chapters. And that’s a shame, because it feels like so many opportunities for drama, tension, and characterization are being leapfrogged right over.
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.