2019 kicked off with a spectacular anime season. It was hard keeping track of what to watch and I could have spent the last few months glued to my laptop watching each and every series. In this already stellar ensemble was an unforgettable anime: The Promised Neverland had viewers gasping, guessing, and grumbling. A trio of eleven-year-olds earned our admiration and respect over the last twelve weeks. Let’s look at what made this series so special.
Eleven-year-olds Emma, Norman, and Ray have grown up with everything they could possibly want. The orphanage they live in provides shelter, good food, and most importantly, a loving family. When a younger child is adopted, Emma and Norman venture to the forbidden gate and edge of their world. There, they learn the horrifying secret behind their existence. With a literal deadline hanging over them, the trio plan their grand escape.
Plot & Story
The Promised Neverland held a great sense of control in how its story was delivered. Cards were played close to the chest, as the audience viewed events along with the characters. A sense of unease was instilled in the viewer as new characters were introduced, the series’ world unfolded, and hints of dialogue prickled our ears. We questioned all alliances and the tension was palpable, a mindset framed right from the first episode. A set up reminiscent of Madeline coddled us, until the final world-breaking truth was revealed. From then, expectations were subverted, heart rates rose and anxiety was rift. It was impossible not to be drawn into the fast pacing and punchy story.
Part of the intrigue of The Promised Neverland was how it framed its story within each episode to allow for the week break. There’s a fine balance of waiting periods from ‘meh it’ll show you when it shows’ to ‘the wait is far too excruciating’’. Additionally, you can’t have viewers hyped for a full week and then deliver a subpar episode. Or worse yet, a recap (lookin’ at you, Goblin Slayer). The Promised Neverland uses the wait to its full advantage. Waits were tantalizing, as the cliffhanger end of each episode hooked viewers in and refused to let go.
Art & Music
I found the art and animation in The Promised Neverland to be excellent. There wasn’t one episode where the quality dropped or was significantly improved. They maintained a constant smooth animation style throughout the twelve episodes. One specific aspect of animation that I found the series did well was the lighting and shadows. Scenes shot during the night or with low light weren’t muddied or a swirl of gray. It was interesting to see the way the characters’ white clothes changed during different ‘types’ of low-light situations, from the colors used during the night to gray sky days. The palettes were realistic and reflected a real attention to detail.
In terms of music, I found it was employed best during uplifting scenes and especially during the escape. My absolutely favorite tune was Leslie’s song. The melody does a great job of stirring audience’s emotions.
Themes & Trivia
Strength in Numbers: Right from the beginning, Emma was so focused on ensuring that all her family makes it out of the farm-orphanage. Throughout the series, characters and the viewers are positioned to think this is a weakness and will be part of the plan’s ultimate downfall. However, time and time again, family bonds are tested and proven to be their greatest strength.
Living vs. Surviving: As the series draws to a close, viewers began to appreciate the parallels between Emma and Isabella. Both want to stay alive, but the way they go about it couldn’t be more different. Isabella will sacrifice anything and anyone whereas Emma prioritizes her family above all else. At the end of the series, one is surviving a hollow existence, and the other is truly living. There is a purpose in life for Emma.
Near the End: Towards the end of last year, series creator Kaiu Shirai and illustrator Posuka Demizu, confirmed in interviews that the manga series is entering its final story arc.
The Promised Neverland was a series that took me completely by surprise. I went into it not knowing what to expect and came out so enamored. I’ve discussed how well the story did at drawing audiences in, but what made this show truly special was the characters. As per anime tradition, children are never really as childlike as we are used to. So it’s not a big shock that Emma, Ray, and Norman are far smarter and more athletic than your average eleven-year-old. Yet, they weren’t so divorced from the idea of childhood that it was ridiculous. There was an innocence about each of them, a fragility to their character which reminded us exactly how young they are. It was this fragility that emphasized the injustice of the situation that they were in.
However, one issue that did pervade the series was the way in which discussions and internal monologues were conducted. Particularly with the latter, it is challenging to work out how best to reflect inner thoughts to the audience. But the scenes of characters talking and often even shouting their plans was unbelievable. For a story where characters value secrecy, it really grated my nerves to see them so blase about secret plan discussions. Parts of the series did also require audiences to suspend their rationality. Ray’s lack of infantile amnesia and Norman being able to scale a wall like Rock Lee are just two examples of true WTF moments. What really struck me at the beginning of The Promised Neverland was how it tried to be as realistic as possible (ignoring the demons for a second). The children attempted to work within their limitations to escape the farm. But when you throw in these, almost fantastical skills, it almost ruins the excitement of a real survival story.
Watch it, Now or Never!
- Punchy, character-driven plot
- Great music
- Adorable characters
- Bad for your heart
- Some unbelievable moments
Our journey with The Promised Neverland has not quite ended. A new season has been announced for 2020, and I absolutely can’t wait. This season delivered it all, great plot, art, and music, but what made it truly special was our three heroes – Emma, Norman, and Ray. Each so different from the other, but all equally loveable. While at some points we did have to suspend our disbelief and go with the flow, overall the series was a tense, grounded story on survival. I can’t wait to see what comes next for this series.
Let us know in the comments your thoughts on The Promised Neverland! Also, don’t forget to check out our other anime series reviews!
The Promised Neverland
Winter 2019 | Anime Info | Streaming Options