The Promised Neverland – Anime Review
Synopsis: The one adored as the mother is not the real parent. The people living here together are not actual siblings. The Gracefield House is where orphaned children live. An irreplaceable home where 38 siblings and Mom live happy lives, even with no blood relations. However, their everyday life suddenly came to an abrupt end one day… (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
The Promised Neverland anime retains the essence of the manga’s original narrative, while simultaneously cutting near all of the character’s inner thoughts. It truly changes the feel of the story. The manga version feels akin to Death Note, with how often characters are scheming, plotting, and second-guessing themselves as they attempt to outwit the enemy. Without that Neverland feels so much more like a typical thriller. That said, the anime’s presentation also fits more in line with the manga’s later chapters, where inner monologues are trimmed down and the story takes a significant step away from those first 37 chapters. Still, certain aspects feel under emphasized, namely longer story threads that extend well into the series’ current chapters, making me wonder what Season 2 (which has been announced) is going to feel like when it has to do more work than the manga did in playing up these elements.
Still, none of the changes remove the inherent adrenaline pumping game of cat and mouse. It changes the feel, but many of the major beats are still there and, thanks to tight editing, keeps the story moving at a brisk pace, with numerous developments episode to episode. The intricate details of their plans are largely toned down, but the overarching developments to the story remain front and center.
However, if you’re looking for gripping leads, they’re just not there. Without the character’s inner thoughts what remains are three leads, Emma, Norman and Ray, the three children plotting to escape from Gracefield upon learning its horrific truth, who all feel rather one note. Norman is the wise thinker, Ray the moody schemer, and Emma the altruistic, idealistic hero. None of the characters deviate from their introductions all that much, making them feel like static individuals. Character development is not a series strong point.
To be fair however, there are places where the adaptation is far and away a step up from the manga. Adding a conversation there, cutting some here, small changes peppered throughout turn certain sequences, that dragged in the manga, into much faster scenes. It’s when the anime gets creative with what it’s adapting that you get hints of greatness, and it only makes me wish the entire production felt like that, rather than something that bounces between weaker than the source material and at times far stronger. In fact, I’d argue the anime really only emphasizes Mother, Emma, Norman and Ray as the primary cast, treating Don and Gilda, other children at Gracefield that eventually learn its dark secrets, as much more incidental characters than they were presented in the manga. That said, what the anime does sits more in line with the rest of the manga, as both Don and Gilda are quickly sidelined into oblivion.
Linny and I talked about the character of Sister Krone, a subordinate sent by headquarters to help mother keep the children under control, and from escaping the farm. She remains a black mark on the series, particularly as the anime ups her stereotype/caricature like nature. Sister Krone feels bombastic and absurd, pulling the viewer away from the tense nature the rest of the series is basking in. Mother herself is a capable villain, but falls apart towards the end of the series, as she undergoes such a significant shift in character in order to provide an emotional catharsis to the series, and one last twist. It’s one instance where characterization falls away for thematic/emotional closure, feeling like something more so crafted for the audience’s benefit than staying true to who Mother is presented as.
At the end of the day though, The Promised Neverland’s adaptation works. Maybe it’s weaker than the manga in places, and surprisingly stronger in others (and borderline nonsensical due to cut content during one specific sequence) but overall it produces a version of the manga that should work most of the time, despite flaws. What’s here is a good story if you’re looking for a straight thriller, that tones down much of the mystery in favor of intense focus on our heroes enacting their plan to escape. If you’re looking for something meatier however, I still think the manga remains the best way to experience Neverland.