The Promised Neverland 156-159 – 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:

I never would’ve expected The Promised Neverland to take an even sharper dive in quality, yet here we are. With Chapters 156-159 we see the series’ fast pace go into overdrive, rushing through promising tension, introduce last minute developments that appeal to the series’ need for abrupt convenience, and flounder on reintroducing long foreshadowed obstacles. It’s bad, incredibly bad, and I can’t help but wonder why the authors are doing this to their own work. Let’s Jump In!

Chapter 156 sees the Queen, reborn into a new, more deadly form, attack our heroes. Unfortunately, for as visually menacing as the queen is, we rush through her onslaught, damaging the gravity of the situation and limiting how long the audience is able to wallow in fear for our beloved leads. The queen attacks Zazie, knocking him unconscious, but failing to kill him. Even his attacks to fend her off do nothing, making the queen seem invincible. Just as Emma and Ray prepare to counterattack, the Queen freezes them in place, making them lambs for the slaughter. These are good developments. Although, the Queen’s inability to kill a single one of our heroes doesn’t lend much to the idea that she’s truly any deadlier than any other demon they’ve faced. The problem is in the execution. All this happens in just 12 pages. At page 13 Sonju and Mujika arrive, turning the tide of the battle back towards a stand off. There’s little time for readers to worry that Emma and Co. might actually lose. I’d even argue that the Queen’s assault on them should’ve lasted a full chapter, making reader wait a full week to learn how our heroes might still come out on top. The queen also really needed to kill someone. Anyone! She’s supposed to be the baddest of the bads, the worst of the worst demons, and yet still she can’t kill a single child! Couple these two things together and boy does she feel like a lame as hell ‘final boss.’

It’s also here that we get another abrupt revelation; Sonju is actually the Queen’s younger brother. Chapter 157 begins with a flashback, giving us a severely truncated account of how Sonju was exiled. While giving more prominence to Sonju, a character teased over a hundred chapters ago to act as a future obstacle towards Emma’s goals, is wonderful, this revelation ultimately ends up meaning nothing. Besides Sonju and The Queen ‘battling for the throne’ Sonju’s noble birth seems to exist more so for the wrap up’s convenience, with heavy hints in Chapter 159 that he’ll use his former status as prince to somehow unite the demons under Mujika’s vision of the future. In fact, this isn’t the only way Sonju disappointments. Outside of last minute revelations amounting to little more than convenience, Sonju’s nature as a potential villain are completely side stepped here. After defeating the queen Sonju remembers how much he’s wanted to hunt humans, and how Emma’s new promise, and Mujika’s vision of the future get in the way of that. But one hug from Emma later and this brooding menace gets forgotten in favor of a goof.

Sonju exemplifies what our authors have been doing wrong this whole time with the demons. in Chapter 48, one of the last times we see Sonju, before fleeting appearances later on, he’s drawn with true menace, fangs, a long, sickening tongue, and all. He wants to hunt humans, and he sees Emma and Co. as a way to work toward that long withheld goal. Yet by the time we put him center stage it turns out he was all bark and no bite. Really that’s how every villain has been. They talk a good game, but when it comes time to actually challenge Emma or the others suddenly they fall on their swords. Really only Mother, our very first villain, has proven to be worthwhile, actually playing a game of cat and mouse that felt like Emma and the rest were actually outmatched until they finally outwitted her. It’s a shame, because for over 100 chapters we haven’t had a villain that has really competed with how well realized Mother truly was. Everything since has at best been a step down, if not an outright disappointment.

Going back a bit, Chapter 157 sees Sonju attempt to defeat the queen. When the Queen goes to attack Mujika, however, the petite demon girl stands her ground. Chapter 158 then follows with Mujika talking the queen to death, delivering a speech about how the queen is insatiable, desperately hungry to the point where she’s overeaten so much so that it has, coupled with Norman’s poison, brought about her own destruction. Mujika talking the queen to death might feel poignant if we’d ever framed the demons consumption of humans as gluttony. Till now  we’ve usually kept the demons at arms length, making it difficult to really delve into criticism of their culture, their lust for flesh, etc. They weren’t characters really, not until 25 or so chapters ago, whenever this final arc started. Throughout the series they were more an existential threat. So to hang the Queen’s defeat now on a character flaw, when she was truly only just introduced, feels weak and unearned.

From there, things start to wrap up quiet nicely. Emma and Co. rush to go deal with Peter Ratri and the Demon’s imperial army, still marching on Norman’s camp, while Sonju and Mujika are left to unite the Demons. I can’t help but feel one of two things is going on behind the scenes: Either our authors are sick of this manga and eager to move onto something else; or it’s health issues. It’s not as if Neverland’s creative team is a stranger to health issues. I can’t believe it’s anything but those two options. The Promised Neverland continues to rank very well in the magazine, so there’s little reason editors might want it to rush to a conclusion, unless the authors themselves are sick of it. It wouldn’t be the first time an author self-sabotaged their work, that’s pretty much how Yu Yu Hakusho went out, but here it feels more surprising. We haven’t even hit 200 chapters. Neverland always seemed like it might be a shorter story, why is it all tumbling downhill so, so fast? Whatever the case I suspect The Promised Neverland’s final missteps will send it out as a title to be ultimately forgotten. A bad or rushed ending can often turn a beloved series into something readers are eager to forget and from what I’ve seen online, there’s plenty of people increasingly frustrated with the manga’s recent pacing.

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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