The Promised Neverland 165-171 – 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:

Despite my hopes from the last review, The Promised Neverland continues to rush, forcing the series forward with predictable developments, disappointing villains, and fan service heavy content that threatens to send the series out on a whimper. Let’s Jump In!

Chapter 165 opens with Ratri winning in totality. We start off with a brief flashback meant to visualize why the demons let Mom survive, and how she’s been promoted to Grand Mother no less. The problem is exactly as a I feared, there’s little real, intelligent justification for keeping her alive. Isabelle failed spectacularly, but somehow the demons view raising really really good food above the entire, impressive disaster that let so much of it get away. It paints the demons as out and out idiots, not that we didn’t already know that from so much of what’s taken place up till now. So maybe it’s simply par for the course.

Isabelle is a recurring problem through these chapters anyway. Not only does that flashback make the demons again look stupid, but Isabelle performs a heel turn that’s totally expected by any well-versed reader. It’s so predictable that you’re just begging for it to happen, and when it does the manga feels like it needs to justify it, offering a flashback of how she turned all the other mothers to her side. The problem with this sudden focus on more minor characters is just that: We’ve never met any of these mothers before. They’re hardly characters, and what Isabelle said to turn them to her side feels borderline immaterial. What really matters is why Isabelle herself turned, something explained way back when Emma and Co. first escape, as Mother seemed fully on their side back then once she was properly bested.  These other mothers are just extra warm bodies to aid in her surprise betrayal and nothing more. We would’ve had to spend a lot more time with mother-type characters prior to this. That’s something I actually would’ve immensely enjoyed, but we’re in full rush mode and it’s obviously too late now.

But that’s not the first meaningless flashback we’re treated to either. Despite the rushed nature of these chapters, constantly hammering us forward no matter how much that damages suspense and pacing, we somehow have time for flashbacks that offer little. Chapter 166 begins with one such flashback, visualizing Emma and Co.’s plotting prior to attacking Gracefield to save all the other children. Again though, it’s content that doesn’t mean a whole lot. The manga has largely jettisoned the intrinsic planning that made the first arc so enjoyable. It’s been a long time since we had characters sitting around, coming up with all the ins and outs of a plan, second guessing, scheming, fearing betrayal, etc. But that content, that Death Note-esque pontificating and scheming, was what made the series originally so enjoyable. This sequence is so bereft of any meaningful information that honestly you could cut it and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. It feels like little more than a remnant of the manga’s earlier style, rather than a necessary component. It’s pure fluff and that’s disappointing.

Once the action gets going things move unbelievably fast. We’re in a constant switchroo for who is winning. One minute it’s Emma and Co. breaking into Gracefield’s lower levels, that we never knew existed, and the next it looks like Ratri and the Demons are on the rise again. Emma. Demons. Emma. Demons, back and forth so fast, so abruptly, and with such totality that it feels silly and loses all drama.

But perhaps that’s just a sign of how weak Ratri himself is in the end. By Chapter 169 Ratri has been completely cornered, defeated by Children much the same as the far more visually intimidating demons. He falls into a rather annoying trope, the ‘secondary villain that’s no where near as threatening as the first.” Despite my disappointment with how things played out with the Queen, somehow Ratri is even more worthless, only briefly showing signs of great antagonism before it’s ripped away from him so fast that you wonder if the writer is sick of their own story.

As Ratri struggles, flails and only looks more worthless we snap to the question of Sonju and Mujika’s fate. Like many will have suspected, both aren’t destined for execution, and a familiar face appears to save them: Duke Leuvis. In a baffling twist, Duke Leuvis, a fan favorite character (so maybe not so baffling), miraculously rises from the dead. Neverland takes its own heel turn towards pure fanservice as not only is the Duke not dead, he’s shockingly a good guy this time around, choosing to obliterate demon society as is by showing the crowds what Mujika’s blood is truly capable of, and undoing the lie that Ratri and the remaining demon elite had laid. While the Duke never aligned with the demon’s original system, and shared a like mind with Sonju about enjoying the hunt, it still feels like an absolutely mad call to help implement a system where humans don’t need to be killed at all, and one that screams more so to the fanservice of his return, than any kind of clever writing.

We’re left on a cliffhanger as Ratri realizes he can still destroy everything the kids have worked for as long as he kills Emma and destroys her agreement with God. Considering he’s been such a worthless secondary villain it’s hard to get excited for what’s to come. From my view Neverland should be pretty close to wrapping at this point. Maybe we have a heel turn from the Duke, or even one from Sonju in store, but Ratri’s about done, and after that we have just a few loose ends in order for Emma’s new promise to take hold. But at this point I think it’s pretty safe to say that Neverland won’t be ending with anything close to the quality of what it offered in the first arc.

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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