The Promised Neverland 179-181 – FINALE/Series 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.

Full Series Review:

Here we are, the conclusion. Chapters 179-181 see our cast finally reach the human world, and outside of some last minute drama concerning Emma actually having to have paid a price (The loss of her memories) everything ends happy. Norman is no longer dying, the kids are well cared for in a world that has moved past war, and everyone eventually finds Emma. Despite her lack of emotional and familial bonds lost via her wiped memories, although physically she still remembers them as she cries without understanding why, the children profess their love and renew the goal of all living together in peace and harmony.

There’s multiple problems with this ending. The ending itself, while predictable, might have been fitting for a series that saw these children lose so much more. As things are this wrap up is a bowl of sugary sweetness atop a story that was already handling its children with, well, kid gloves. Even still, Neverland’s ending makes a joke out of the promise with God. In a previous flashback we saw that God liked to pervert wishes, forcing the Ratri Clan into a horrible role, for potentially eternity, just to achieve their original version of segregated ‘peace.’ While there’s still some of that here in the way Emma is both with her family, and not because of her lost memories, it feels so much more friendly a twist than what we expected based on what we know of Neverland’s version of God.

I read a lot of audience reaction over the last ten chapters, with readers constantly predicting that we were in for a surprise final twist, one that would reveal the series wasn’t actually concluding, but leading into an entirely new arc about the kids having to combat the problems of the human world. I think this speculation largely existed because even younger/less versed readers could already feel the disappointing sting of the way Neverland was choosing to wrap up and answer its biggest questions. But to appreciate how far Neverland has fallen, to the point where readers are actively hoping for one more twist to make it all right, we have to go back to the start of the manga, and discuss how we got here from a title that was originally wowing everyone across the board.

The Promised Neverland began strong. What set it apart was its sense of true danger, hopelessness, and Emma and Co. persevering despite that. There was a good sense of cat and mouse too, with the kids always feeling like they were only just keeping themselves out of harms way as Mother sought to out them and ship them off for the demons to consume. The fact that we killed one of the kids’ friends early on made it seem like danger was just around the corner. The fact that Mother was so formidable meant that the demons had to be so much worse.

Neverland subsisted off of the unknown. We were teased as to what the world was really like beyond the farms, with Mr. Minerva and his efforts to spread resistance messages inside the farms, acting as a perfect way to make readers eager for when we finally learned the truth. It was during these first thirty some odd chapters that Neverland was at its height. For as much as the series gradually shifted into a battle of Emma and Co. vs. the confines of a corrupt Demon Society, the truth is Neverland was just a well-crafted game of cat and mouse at the beginning, one that made us fear mother, as well as for the safety of Emma, Ray, Norman and the rest.

The decline in Neverland begins right at the tail end of its very first arc. Ray and Emma escape the farm with nearly all the children in tow, the plan going off near perfect, even to the point of preventing Ray from sacrificing himself in order to distract Isabelle. It’s here the manga revealed how toothless it really was, outside of losing Norman, who felt like a brutal blow, until it was later revealed he was still alive. Emma and Co. escaping the farm with ease, pulling the wool so thoroughly over Isabelle’s eyes, might have been okay if Emma and Co. had been jumping from the frying pan and into the fire. Instead the series continually ‘eases up’ on the kids, making the demons increasingly inept and easy to avoid, despite how young all the kids are. Despite the hardship a group of children should face on evading their captors while exploring a world entirely unfamiliar to them, Emma and Co. get the hang of things quickly, finding Mr. Minerva’s bunker, new allies and more. In this way It becomes easy for Emma’s Shonen ideals to be implemented without facing any road blocks.

Emma has always been a classic Shonen protagonist. Shonen is littered with heroes who are uncompromising in their ideals. Academia, Black Clover, One Piece, Naruto, Bleach are all more or less about altruistic young men who refuse to compromise even in the roughest face of adversity. Emma is no different, but early on Neverland felt like it had more to say. Emma felt a bit like Gon from Hunter x Hunter in this respect. Someone altruistic in a world that won’t allow for it. It felt like Emma would be going through her own Chimera Ant Arc, one where her ideals would be put the test, and ultimately found wanting in the face of danger she could never be prepared for. Unfortunately, as we left the confines of the Farm, we discovered that not only did we not know the world outside, we didn’t know that Emma was truly like every other Shonen lead, more than capable of handling whatever is thrown her way, no matter how unrealistic that might feel.

I think this lack of challenge to Emma and her ideals began to hinder the story’s ability to speak to the reader in earnest. The truth is it’s hard to adhere to your ideals in real life, especially altruistic ones, if not essentially impossible. Emma and Co.’s struggle to survive should have come with greater cost, especially given the series’ generally bleak tone in that first arc. I think really all Shonen should challenge their leads more, but in Neverland’s case it truly felt set to do that in those first thirty chapters. In fact when they meet the adult escapees, Yugo and Lucas, it’s their rotten life and backstory that feels like that’s what Emma and Co. should be experiencing at least some of. More frequent loses of friends, insurmountable odds, etc. It’s this lack of challenge that really makes it feel like Emma and Co. are playing on easy mode. We go from the demons being an insurmountable enemy, to discovering all it takes is a bit of good marksmanship to take them out. It’s throughout Goldy Pond that we whittle away at our demons ability to be menacing. Did Emma and Co. need to gradually toughen up in order to challenge the demons? Yes, that’s not without question. They couldn’t lack the ability to strike back forever. But Neverland lacks nuance in that regard, giving our kids an easy way to obliterate their enemy rather than say, ever so slightly leveling the playing field.

Our author, Kaui Shirai, perhaps realized this towards the tail end of Goldy Pond. With the kids having bested even Leuvis, we needed to solidify that Emma and Co. were still the underdogs. It isn’t long after their victory at Goldy Pond that Emma and Co. find their bunker attacked by the Ratri Clan. Enter Andrew. Andrew is a top agent of the Ratri Clan, currently run by Peter Ratri. It’s here the bunker the children found is raided, and several unnamed kids are killed. Andrew is then only stopped by Lucas and Yugo, who give their lives to end his pursuit. While Andrew and the threat of Peter Ratri’s dogged pursuit in general was a step in the right direction, it’s here we can really see Shirai’s inexperience as an author. Yugo and Lucas’ impending sacrifice is obvious and predictable, and the fact that two kids we barely know are killed signifies how much plot armor encompasses Emma, Ray, and anyone else who was a more prominent character at the time. It’s also this more dour sequence of events that marked the end of the first half of the series and the typical Shonen time skip many readers find in most modern Shonen.

The time skip saw a doubling down of Emma and Co. having it easy against the demons. There’s no additional deaths, frequent ease in accomplishing goals, to the point where Emma and the rest are underdogs in name only. But it’s here that I want to talk about why Neverland is what it is, rather than completely recount the story up to its end. I think it’s pretty clear when comparing early Neverland, to post Farm, to post Time skip, that the direction of the story changed on at least one occasion. Directly after Emma and Co. escape the farm they run into Mujika and Sonju. These two add in an air of mystery that ultimately isn’t answered until post time skip. We eventually come to learn that Mujika is a convenient answer to the problem of demons looking to eat humans. Demons need to eat humans in order to maintain intelligence, yet Mujika’s blood offers an easy out as merely drinking her blood removes the need to eat humans at all. What’s more interesting about Sonju and Mujika though is how their presentation in the early chapters doesn’t match up with how they’re used later on. What I’m primarily talking about is Sonju’s musings as Emma and the others bid farewell to the duo in chapter 51. That dialogue paints Sonju as a clear and future threat to Emma, eager to again hunt and consume humans. Yet, when Sonju and Mujika finally return in proper, many chapters later, Sonju’s bloodlust is easily quelled as he’s caught up in the events to overthrow the Queen, undo the promise, and create a demon civilization that has no need to consume humans at all! There’s a massive divide in Sonju’s depiction from his original introduction to the character that helps to conclude the series. It’s clear that originally our author had something so much darker planned. Perhaps Emma would’ve faced betrayal from former allies, seen her ideals challenged and ultimately falter. So what happened? Why did Sonju change? Why did Neverland start to go so easy on Emma and the others?

I suspect that, in truth, Kaui Shirai didn’t know where exactly the series was going past the first arc. It’s clear with how nebulous the world is between the escape, Goldy Pond, and the eventual flash forward that the manga was, in many respects, floundering as Shirai attempted to decide what to do next. It’s unclear to me that Shirai had a concrete idea as to what God was, what became of human civilization, or how to ultimately end Neverland. I think many of the ideas were there, in some form, but I suspect that the eventual direction of the series wasn’t truly decided upon until we did the time skip, meaning there’s a large section of this manga, chapters 38 to 122, that is experimental as Shirai sought to find their footing and implement the larger, grander concepts they imagined the story would one day reach. I think that’s why we had Goldy Pond at all. Goldy Pond, in a lot of ways, is self contained from the rest of the story. Sure there’s a couple developments that involve learning what was really going on with William Minerva, and eventually the Ratri Clan as a whole, but outside of that Duke Leivus and Co. come out of nowhere, and seem like villains made to exist in that arc exclusively. To be fair, most Shonen manga aren’t planned out well in advance. This is typical. But seeing as Neverland had heavy mystery components from the get go, it might be a sign that a mystery manga running weekly isn’t exactly a match made in heaven.

It’s even more apparent that the series changed directions when we look at what we choose to focus on post Time Skip. Demon politics briefly popped up in Goldy Pond, but it’s only in the second half of Neverland that it gets any kind of fleshing out. Easy answers to the world’s problems, like Mujika’s blood, are introduced at that point too, as well as super human abilities, a greater focus on God, etc. Some of that is just natural story-telling, pulling back the curtains to reveal answers to the series’ greater mysteries. But it’s telling how little each of these topics is touched upon prior to the time skip. Mujika’s blood being a convenient cure might have been there from the start, particularly as Sonju tells Mujika she couldn’t understand him because she’s never needed to eat humans, but Sonju being an out and out adversary to the idea might’ve seen him becoming an active obstacle to using Mujika to change the very nature of demon society.

I think if Shirai had known what the intended direction was from the beginning we would have seen more teasing of each of these elements. As it stands we got very little, and often shoe-horned in at the last minute. For example, an entire subplot that sees a former lord demon, Geelan, attempt to usurp the thrown. This character doesn’t exist until Chapter 125, less than 60 chapters from the finale, and primarily exists as a convenient way for Norman to launch a surprise assault with limited human forces. Yet still, Shirai felt compelled to give us flashbacks explaining who Geelan was, the intricacy of his history with demon nobility etc. This is an example of an idea likely floating around in Shirai’s head, but one they struggled to naturally build towards, making it’s inclusion welcome in the finale, but haphazard and rushed.

Still, even if Shirai didn’t know how they wanted to build towards conclusion, why was it so rushed? Neverland post time-skip barely lasts another 70 chapters, and sees Emma and Co. trounce obstacle after obstacle from one issue to the next. It’s kind of incredible how often and in full the tables turn as Emma and Co. topple impossible odds week to week.

I’ve seen some speculate that Shirai grew bored of Neverland, and thus sought to wrap it up as fast as Jump might let them. I don’t know that I buy this considering how often the series adds in one last surprise twist through the last twenty chapters, often ending each week on a cliffhanger that is resolved the very next, but then that chapter ends with another surprise development. It’s a real rollercoster. Shirai did also grow ill at one point during the run, if I recall correctly, and perhaps then decided that rushing Neverland to conclusion, rather than dragging it out, might be better for their health? Again, why so many frequent twists then? We’ll likely never know for sure, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if ultimately what made it to print is what Shirai delivered at their best and there was little compromising at all, outside of their editor’s notes. If anything perhaps it’s a sign of Shirai’s abilities as an author. When given prep time they can come up with the most intricate tales, like in the first arc, constantly making you fear for their characters. The level of discussion put forward into how to outwit the enemy is what made Neverland so fun to read, and yet that same level of forethought and planning gradually slips away from the series the further along we get. So Shirai works great when there’s lead time, like before Neverland officially debuted. But then if we ask Shirai to compose that same story, continuing on a weekly basis, with no real lead time available to brainstorm following arcs? That’s perhaps where Shirai’s abilities as an author aren’t so suited.

The ending, I think, from looking at where the series started and where it ultimately ended up, is a disappointment. The demons were, as it turns out, quite easy to topple. The promise was, as it turns out, but a inconvenience to achieving an otherwise feel good ending. Neverland positioned itself as perhaps wanting to challenge Shonen ideals and  readers, making us ask ourselves how you adhere to such notions of altruism in the face of such insurmountable odds. Would Neverland have ever gone full bleak, doom and gloom? No, that’s not the kind of series this is. I think Neverland was always geared towards a more optimistic ending, but the one we have doesn’t feel earned because the adversity Emma faced started to feel too easy and not nearly punishing enough.

In the wake of the series conclusion my hope is that our duo of artist, Posuka Demizu and writer, Kaiu Shirai, learn from this series. Posuka did an incredible job with this first run, and honestly I have very few problems with the art. That’s always been the most consistently stable component to Neverland, giving the series a unique look all the way through. My one hope would be that perhaps Posuka’s more angsty faces could be reigned in, because sometimes when Emma and Co. got emotionally wrought the visuals perhaps strayed closer to melodrama. For Shirai, I hope they can examine how Neverland evolved as a series, and perhaps grow in their ability to craft an ongoing series week to week. While it’s a shame Neverland ends not nearly as strong as it began, it’s still a testament to Shirai and Posuka’s talent that Neverland beat Jump’s harsh standards and won itself a fanbase that was eager for more every week. If Shirai and Posuka can both grow of this experience, and return to Jump stronger than when they debuted, then even as someone who found Neverland’s later chapters severely wanting, that’s a win in my book.

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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