Manga Mondays: The Promised Neverland
Title: The Promised Neverland (Yakusoku no Neverland)
Authors: Demizu Posuka (Art), Shirai Kaiu (Story)
Genres: Mystery, Horror, Fantasy, Shounen
Published: August 2016 – Present (Ongoing)
Serialisation: Weekly Shounen Jump
This review is spoiler-free!
Emma and her friends have a pretty good life at the orphanage they grew up in. Though the rules may be strict, the caretaker is kind. But why are the children forbidden from ever leaving…?
The Promised Neverland
That’s right, this is (unusually, for me) spoiler-free. Well, not entirely, in that the actual setting of the manga will be discussed, but I’ll say nothing of important plot points or current events. It’s not something I often do, including with movie reviews and the like, because I’m more interested in writing down some thoughts and discussing things instead of being a critic writing objectively. But the latter is what I’ll try to do now, because I intend to start covering this. Which means that this isn’t so much a review as it is an announcement that I intend to cover chapters weekly. But after reading through all of what’s available, how can I not?!
This manga is insane. I came across it by chance a few days ago, and thought it’d be an entertaining, if clichéd, read at best. It’s serialised in Weekly Shounen Jump, after all. So my expectations were that it’d be somewhat good, but nothing groundbreaking or too unusual. I ended up marathoning all of the 31 available chapters overnight, finishing at 6.30am. The day after was not fun for me, and I didn’t regret a thing.
The Promised Neverland is about a prison break, put simply. Three children, Emma, Norman and Ray, have been living in an idyllic orphanage all their lives, and are cared for by a woman they affectionately refer to as their ‘Mama’. They, along with the rest of the children, are raised with love and care, although they are forbidden from leaving the orphanage grounds. New babies are brought to live at the orphanage all the time, and by the time each child reaches 12 years of age, possibly sooner, they are placed with a foster family and have to leave the orphanage. Or so they think. Each departing child is, in reality, immediately killed as livestock, with their brains preserved to be consumed by grotesque creatures the children term as ‘demons’. The orphanage is actually a farm designed to raise children for slaughter, and Mama is in on the entire thing. Emma, Norman and Ray are next to be shipped out, and now that they know the truth they have to escape.
It’s an intellectual warfare manga. What’s really interesting is that it takes an unexpected and innocent setting like an orphanage and turns it into a prison from which its characters have to escape, using their intellect to outwit Mama whilst arousing the least suspicion that they’re aware of the truth, saving not only their own lives but also the lives of everyone around them. It draws you in right from the start, and once the train takes off it essentially never stops. Plot twist after plot twist happens, and the amount of despair is intense. I’m not even sure whether the manga will choose to continue after the prison break is over (and that might depend on whether the children are still alive by the end of it all) as any further arcs will tell a very different story from what it initially established itself as, unless the characters are made to conduct a second prison break. There’s a lot of potential for more world-building, as currently the children know nothing about the true world awaiting them beyond the confines of the farm. Is there a human society? Why are farms condoned? What exactly are the demons? What’s their relationship with the humans that they don’t eat?
The characters have also been well-developed. I’ve come to view them in terms of their personality more than anything else. When I think of Emma, what comes to mind isn’t ‘orange hair, ahoge, smile worth protecting’, but instead ‘cheerful, gentle, and kind but overly idealistic’. It feels like they’re way more than their character designs, in other words. Speaking of which, Neverland doesn’t bother with fanservice or any sort of pandering, it’s just focused on telling a gripping story and making these children suffer even more every chapter than they did in the last. I suppose you could say there just isn’t much scope for anything like that. The oldest children are 11, and Mama isn’t only the antagonist but also a symbol – as a character she represents the society of adults and demons that are keeping and raising these children in captivity, and it’d run counter to what she stands for to make fanservice out of her.
Isn’t this unusual fare for WSJ? I’m not familiar with a good half of the manga currently serialised in it, but Neverland is much darker than you’d expect from a series aimed at young, school-aged males. It should be a seinen, if anything. When I think of the modern WSJ, I think of Boku no Hero Academia or Boruto or World Trigger. If you’re asked to name something innovative, you’d think Shokugeki no Soma or the meta that was Bakuman. Neverland is much closer to the fringes of its intended demographic. The closest WSJ example, of the manga series in it that I’m familiar with, is probably Hunter x Hunter. It’s a surprising breath of fresh air, and I’m looking forward to following it on a weekly basis now that I’m caught up to the latest chapter.