The Promised Neverland 172-178 – 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 finally reaches its climax, hammering home the series’ ultimate message; a riff on the typical altruism of shonen manga, with a healthy dose of pacifism, as well as an attempt to acknowledge the complexity of real life. But Neverland doesn’t quite go far enough. It delivers a message with a solid ideal behind it, but one that doesn’t entirely address the nuance of life, yet begs for the comparison. Couple this misstep with a propensity for making the lingering obstacles for our heroes wrap up neatly and succinctly and Neverland, for all its efforts, feels as naively optimistic as most every other Shonen. This might be fine enough an ending, if the series hadn’t seemed like such a step away from the Magazine’s typical stock throughout its whole first arc. Let’s Jump in!

Chapters 172 through 178 cover Emma and Co. finally defeating the series’ remaining villains. Ratri himself is dealt with in Chapters 172 and 173, Mother is redeemed in 174 only to then sacrifice herself in 176 and 177, and the Demon Society component is neatly wrapped up in-between with Chapter 175. Starting with Chapter 172, this is where the series’ goes full preach mode. Ratri, cornered like a Rat, plans to kill Emma in one last act of defiance. He may not win, but she won’t get her happy ending either. It’s here Emma drops her guard and begins what some might playfully call “Talk no Justu” where she lays out the author’s entire moral thrust for the series. Emma is sick of the fighting, eager for a better future than today. She acknowledges that Ratri has done terrible things, but in an effort for some realism rarely seen in Shonen Manga, also recognizes that Ratri, along with all the demons, are also victims, in the sense that this system and way of life was created long ago, and they are but pawns to its ongoing function, born into a system that left them with no other choice than to continue it. It’s a surprisingly realistic revelation for a Shonen title, but at the same time such a half measure. For as much as Emma acknowledges that there’s a grey area that these events exist in, with few truly being completely good or bad, she then advocates for zero punishment for Ratri, or the other demons. The series acknowledges that things are sometimes murky and grey, yet pushes for an all or nothing sense of justice, one that again speaks to an upsettingly simplistic lack of awareness.

Again though, the series likes spouting ideas more than it enjoys the follow through. Rather than forcing Emma to make tough decisions that challenge her ideals, she and the other kids are treated to a series of events that robs them of any moral quandary. Ratri offs himself, saving the kids the trouble of dealing with him. While Mother is forgiven, she then sacrifices herself to save the children from one last demon in a stunning act of self-sacrifice. The demon society stuff is equally pushed aside with ease for the kids, with Leuvis back on the scene. Having suffered a massive change of heart off page, he sets about righting Demon Society in just a single chapter, eliminating any additional struggle.

It’s this continued insistence of presenting easy solutions that really undermines Neverland’s more earnest efforts to preach a message that acknowledges the complexity of life, because with everything coming so easy to Emma and Co. it hardly feels realistic. Without some level of earnest realism Neverland’s morally relevant message doesn’t feel like something the audience can actively apply to their daily lives. Like most series that have altruistic messages, it becomes nothing but easy entertainment, as those ideals are not so easy replicated in life when success and convenience aren’t just waiting for you around the corner. This lack of Emma and Co. having to actually confront obstacles might not be so infuriating if not for The Promised Neverland’s insistence to directly compare Emma and Co.’s struggle to the real world. Indeed in a bizarre twist the series decides to pull the blinds away and actively depict our world in the manga, with Ratri warning Emma that even the human world is fraught with struggle and wrong doing. (Heck the manga goes so far as to acknowledge the very pandemic we find ourselves in.) The series begs for a direct comparison, but offers Emma and Co. their happiness achieved on a silver platter, making the series’ message ring undoubtedly hollow.

Convenience doesn’t end there, as Chapter 178 sees the children find a portal to the human world directly under Gracefield, Emma revealing that there was no price to pay for the new promise, and that everything has wrapped up in a neat little bow. So then, what’s left to the series? I’ve seen a lot of theories for what’s to come. There could be but a single chapter to go, with our heroes now in the real world, vowing to right its wrongs. Or perhaps Emma lied, and in truth there is a price to pay; maybe the rest of the kids lose their memories, erasing their bonds of family, or maybe just Emma is erased from their minds. Others seem to suspect that we’re about to see Neverland part 2, but in the human world.

Ultimately I think we’re very, very close to the conclusion. Neverland has always enjoyed throwing in one last twist almost every chapter, making for a constant roller-coaster of relief and then ‘fear’ for our heroes, or at least that’s the intention. In reality sometimes it feels like we keep pushing the ending off so we can have another half-assed attempt to deal with what should be a very complex obstacle. Whatever is actually left we can expect with it a couple more minor twists.  There shouldn’t be anything that’ll extend the series for much longer, we’re at least ending by Chapter 200 even if we get some wild curveballs, but I fully expect an ending much sooner; either unabashedly happy or perhaps a tad melancholic with Emma having obfuscated the true price for their freedom. Either way the next review, assuming we don’t enter a super secret ‘actual’ final arc, will be after the series wraps, where I’ll discuss what was Great about Neverland, where it went wrong, and perhaps why this final arc was so rocky, if not outright dismal, in execution.

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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