The Promised Neverland 149-155 – 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.

Now, years later, Emma, Ray, and the rest of the children work to free the other children from the farms and escape the world of the demons. But Emma can’t stand the idea of bloodshed and sets about trying to stop a war between man and demon.

Review:

The Promised Neverland’s final arc continues with Chapters 149-155, showcasing that this last leg of the story is both a relative high point for the series, while also exemplifying the damage the stories’ earlier mismanagement, post Grace Field House, has exacted on the series. Let’s Jump In!

To summarize: Chapters 149-155 see Geelan’s efforts to defeat the Demon Queen end in tragedy, while Norman enacts his plan and takes advantage of the situation. Emma arrives to redeem Norman, but before they can skip along on their merry way it turns out the Queen is anything but defeated.

Focusing on Chapters 149-151 we continue to pepper in flashbacks and details pertinent to fleshing out Geelan’s struggle. It’s a shame, because all these flashbacks are quite strong material and their last minute inclusion really speaks to just how mismanaged Neverland has been post Grace Field House. We spent the majority of the manga’s middle traipsing around the forests and wastelands of the demon’s world, dealing with Goldie Pond, which increasingly feels like a side story only relevant through the inclusion of a few key plot developments, rather than delving into what the demon world was truly like outside the farms. Until this final arc the closest we came to understanding the Demon’s politics and way of life was when Emma and Co. briefly snuck through a Demon City after the time jump.

If Neverland had been more willing we could’ve been peppering in information on Demon Society, Geelan, Yverk, and other characters this whole time, making this struggle between Geelan and the Queen feel so much more powerful and weighty. Instead it’s all shoehorned in at the last minute, the flashbacks a way of propping up this content since it’s lacking the foundation it should’ve had from earlier in Neverland’s run. So why? Why was this plot line treated like this? Truth be told it could be any number of reasons. It could be our authors didn’t think of these ideas until just recently. That the manga stumbled post Grace Field House because they hadn’t thought too deeply about the outside world, and it’s only through those missteps that they realized the story they wanted to tell.

Personally though, I actually wonder if this was an editorial decision. That Jump was afraid if attention was taken off Emma and Co. too often they might lose the audience. Academia gets away with focusing on the villains for a whole arc because they’re youthful characters. But Neverland’s villains are inhumane monsters, no matter how much their political structure actually just resembles a typical medieval aristocracy. I imagine the fear was that if we didn’t have our leads on hand at all times then audiences would begin to lose interest. I’m inclined to think this is the reason because Emma and Co. have never been off the page for more than a chapter or two, rarely letting readers wonder what their favorite characters are up to. Whatever the case I think it’s a shame as allowing Geelan and the demon world to seep in earlier would’ve made Geelan’s subsequent failure to achieve victory that much more upsetting and saddening an end. As it stands you perhaps feel for Geelan, now knowing he was such a good guy in the beginning, but the feelings associated with his death are just as fleeting as the manga’s attention on it.

I also want to address the sentiment that Neverland’s world could never have lived up to what we imagined in our heads. I don’t think that’s true at all. The problem is Neverland’s world was never truly defined until now. Emma and Co. post Grace Field House endeavors hardly expanded our understanding of what the Demon World was like. Sure we learned a few reveals concerning the war between humans and demons, and the wish that condemned sections of humanity while freeing the rest, but it wasn’t until this last arc that we learned what we really needed to: What demon society is like. It’s this lack of focus and new, interesting, world building details, that make Neverland feel disappointing in that regard, and not because it simply could never have lived up to lofty expectations.

Moving on, it’s not more than a few pages after Geelan’s death that Norman’s minions join the fray. Neverland isn’t interested in drawn out fights, the manga’s never allowed battles to go on for very long, usually resolving combat between two opponents within a chapter or two. Here though we start to see Neverland rely on one of Shonen’s most overused elements: The 180 switch. Shonen fights frequently undergo a lot of back and forth. The bad guy is winning, then the good guy, then the bad guy again, etc. Smarter series don’t let the shifts in the battle feel quite so extreme, maybe allowing for the tide to shift gradually, or only just a tad, so that the battle has a more unpredictable Eb and flow. Neverland, not having been invented as a battle shonen, feels as ill-equipped as ever to start delving into the more fantastical aspects of its combat, even if we knew this was coming as far back as Norman’s reintroduction. Indeed the fight between the Queen, Geelan, and later Norman’s forces, all feels like overused 180s. Geelan is winning, until he suddenly isn’t, Geelan looks like he might make a comeback, until he suddenly doesn’t. The queen has won, until she suddenly hasn’t. There’s no middle ground and because we snap back and forth so often Neverland’s fights start to feel predictable, abrupt and uninteresting.

Thankfully the series backs off the action for a bit. Emma and Ray arrive to begin Norman’s redemption. It’s a Sequence that suffers from a number of conveniences. The Demon Poison turns out to be quite easily reversible, turning Norman from a would-be, unforgivable, mass murderer, into someone we can again see as sympathetic. Even the problem of Norman and everyone else’s seizures, a plot point only toyed with in more recent chapters, is solved with the snap of fingers as Adam, introduced ahead of all the other super human characters, turns out to be the convenient cure. What potential moral quandaries Neverland could have toyed with are batted away just like that, allowing Norman full redemption without any of the hassle.

 

As a quick aside, there’s a couple lines between Norman and the Queen that bug me. We learn the Queen had Norman sent to the Lambda lab so as to save him for herself, so she could eat him and not offer him to the impronounceable god being, yet why allow him then to be subjected to experiments? Wouldn’t that taint the meat? I can’t help but feel that idea is a last minute, poorly conceived explanation for why Norman was ever sent to Lambda in the first place.

Ultimately Chapter 155 sees another 180. Just as the battle looks concluded, and we’ve redeemed Norman, the Queen lives! Not only that but she changes forms, turning into an altogether more horrifying and unexpected menace. The visuals are cool, and I think I’d be more on board with this if the Queen hadn’t already done the “Big Bad Shonen Final Boss ain’t beat” shtick a few too many times during the Geelan fight.

Also, I was sort of right about how much we had to go, as news came out about the Authors taking a week break to do research. I don’t know what that entails, but I also saw that an editor confirmed they’re aiming for the series total length to hit between twenty-thirty volumes. My guess about sub-thirty chapters is just under how many more we’d get if the series came in at exactly 20 volumes. But I worry if Neverland is aiming to total closer to 30 volumes than twenty. That would mean we’ll have a lot of dragging of feet and sudden developments to keep the series plodding along through that many chapters. Neverland’s best asset, even when it’s stumbled, is to keep moving. Keeping the pace fast is what’s saved Neverland even when the story has never quite reattained that first arc high. But if the series starts to stretch out this arc, with too many last minute ideas and baddies to fight, Neverland could really do itself a great disservice. Time will tell.

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.

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