Surrounded by a forest and a gated entrance, the Grace Field House is inhabited by orphans happily living together as one big family, looked after by their "Mama," Isabella. Although they are required to take tests daily, the children are free to spend their time as they see fit, usually playing outside, as long as they do not venture too far from the orphanage—a rule they are expected to follow no matter what. However, all good times must come to an end, as every few months, a child is adopted and sent to live with their new family... never to be heard from again.
However, the three oldest siblings have their suspicions about what is actually happening at the orphanage, and they are about to discover the cruel fate that awaits the children living at Grace Field, including the twisted nature of their beloved Mama.
Yakusoku no Neverland (The Promised Neverland) was definitely one of the most anticipated series of 2019, a thrilling experience, and a very novel twist on the general shonen template. Its premiere episode hit the anime community by storm and solidified its place at the top of the Winter season alongside Mob Psycho 100’s sequel, and Dororo. Through a mix of evocative direction, ominous sound design, and wonderfully tense pacing, the reveal of the shows big secrets that unfold throughout its run feels genuinely terrifying, for the most part—bringing us closer to the horror of the character's situation. It's a killer hook and a strong statement
of purpose for this adaptation that’s based on Kaiu Shirai’s manga of the same name. It’s Shutter Island meets Chicken Little with dashes of Death Note and Peter Pan. With its tense cat-and-mouse plot, endearing characters and a uniquely harrowing world, The Promised Neverland has been making some serious waves since.
Picture being alone in the world, you have nothing, no family, just a name. You’re under the care of a loving mother figure and you’re surrounded by wonderful friends in an orphanage home. There are certain rules of not being allowed to go near the gate or the fence, but who’d need to? Home has everything you need. Once in a while, some of your friends you grew up with have to leave and go off into the world to find their true calling. You imagine of one day joining them, and you just can’t wait. Everything is perfect. Now visualize what it would be like if that precious little life was flipped upside down. This is the story of The Promised Neverland, and it follows one of our co-protagonist and heroine, Emma—a young girl living in at the Grace Field House that’s pretty much a glorified prison. She and the other young orphans have numbers tattooed on the backs of their necks, they have to take rigorous tests, and obey the rules of never leaving the orphanage grounds.
It’s not like they realize this is a bad thing, though; the kids adore their lives and their ever-loving “Mama” whose name is Isabella. However, Emma and her close friends (and co-protagonists), Ray and Norman, eventually discover that Isabella has secretly been feeding her sweet little angels to a pack of scary and surprisingly business-savvy demons. The orphanage is little more than a farm and the children are basically livestock. Dead-set on escaping with the rest of the kids before they’re all put on the menu, the trio begins a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with Isabella, her watchful eye on them at all times. Emma, Ray, and Norman are welcome breaths of fresh air. They don’t have any special superpowers outside of their intelligence, there’s no tragic backstory to them, and there’s not even anything unusual about them. They’re your average kids, which works well for this kind of story. It doesn’t do them any favours in the personality department, with each character sort of just exhibiting one or two key traits beyond not being interested in being eaten by demons.
But in saying that, the narrative still gives them a naivety and innocence that really make you want to see them succeed in their tense mind games with Isabella. The mind games themselves are your standard fare for the genre, being five steps ahead of your opponent and all that jazz, but they’re fun and interesting to follow all the same. Emma has a very outgoing and happy personality, she acts as a mediator and leader—the type that wears her heart on her sleeve. She is physically strong and sometimes shows her ignorance with her optimistic ideals, but she means well. Norman is many ways is the spiritual leader of the group, they all look to him for direction as he is the strategist of the three. He’s very cunning, creative, cool, calm and collective. Ray is also incredibly smart but he is a bit short-tempered. He is a realist more than anything and gets agitated when people can’t really see things from a reality point of view. He too is a good strategist, even if the strategy means sacrificing for the greater good. It’s not that Ray is incorrect in his thoughts but his harsher reality will never mesh with Emma’s idealism.
Isabella is the caretaker at the Grace Field House, a real two-face character who is able to maintain her “Mama” like personality, caring and nurturing the children while carrying out her evil doings. There are other characters that get introduced like “Sister” Krone who helps Isabella at the orphanage as well as Don and Gilda who assist Emma, Norman, and Ray in their plans to escape. The downside to these characters is, first of all, the lack of backstory for them but, as explained above, The Promised Neverland gives the audiences other factors and traits to make a connection with them. I know that they are children, and children can make silly mistakes, but a few times our main trio make the sort of blunders that is frustrating, for example: talking about the escape plan out in the open, not once, but multiple times. There is also the issue of a lack of catharsis, and I feel that these are some of the big points that prevent the show from being amongst the true top tier.
Furthermore, what is a tad more distracting is how the story decides to pull up red signs in whatever important thing the audience needs to know. In these few moments, it’s telling rather than showing by delivering exposition in a blunt manner. But, in saying that, the psychological warfare is consistently present and captivating. A theme of The Promised Never is showing us what happens when evil forces good people into seemingly impossible decisions. To go along with that theme, there is a rhetorical question the show asks—How does someone readjust to their entire reality and existence being a lie? A limit placed on the children, in the form of Emma wanting to escape with everyone at the Grace Field House, considerably increases the difficulty. Isabella also has a limit placed on her, because she can’t outright kill the “cattle”. The protagonists are constantly trying to outmanoeuvre her while she cuts off any retreat. No one holds back their blows which means we get a true psychological thriller. The pacing as an anime-only watcher was fine, allowing you enough time to take in and digest everything and it also knows when to relax and build the characters so you’re not constantly anxious every second.
CloverWorks is at the helm of adapting The Promised Neverland. Director Mamoru Kanbe pushes the auteur envelope right up to the edge of pretentiousness a couple of times but manages to stay on the right side of it. His perspective shots are quite arresting, but the main standout on the production side here is the fantastic degree of tension that hangs in the air throughout—the sound design is a big part of that. Paranoia is a focus here of the production team—suspecting those we love of betraying us, even as the clock is ticking both symbolically and literally. Mamoru and his team executed this well. The art style lends itself perfectly to the actions and feelings the characters take and feel. If they are running, you really feel as if they are moving. If they are stricken with a sense of hopelessness, you actually get to feel it through the art. When everyone is happy, the style tells us that there may be more to the situation than the words we read.
The way they do climatic moments is superb. Understanding that the loudest silence is camera silence, the use of sound effects like the dripping of water from the ceiling, creaky floors, the heavy breathing, really helped to heighten the tension and dread. Wisely opting to focus on adapting the spirit of an exchange, the production team at CloverWorks uses the emphasis on turning corners, the physicality of the long hallway, and the impact of the stairs with its cinematography. Although, some of the background art is rather bland, sometimes CG, those CG backgrounds are actually pretty important, as they allow the show to achieve the close dolly-style pans and tight angled turns that define its visual identity—pursuing its own aesthetic goals in the best way it can. Character designs are not too special, they all wear the same clothes and have weirdly looking faces, but do like that they have distinctive traits in their appearance. The soundtrack goes hand in hand with the visuals, and the animation is rather consistent and fluid. "Touch Off" by UVERworld is an amazing song choice for an OP, the lyrics really touch on of what this story is all about.
With that said, there are times when The Promised Neverland is the equal of its own literary aspirations. And as an intriguing premise with merely good execution, there are times when the full pathos and potential of that premise is realized. Even if it doesn’t always hit it out of the park, that great premise gives this series the ability to go places a series not similarly blessed can ever go. It’s not perfect by no means, it does have its flaws but it’s a really darn great anime, and I also think that this is easily a perfect gateway show into the medium. I highly recommend this series if you’re into mysteries and thrillers in an unforgiving world with enough twists and turns to keep you at the edge of your seat. Looking forward to the sequel in 2020.
Yakusoku no Neverland is the biggest disappointment of the year so far. Not so much because it was so exceptionally bad, but because it had potential to be outstandingly great. What looked like a prime example of well-build thriller and highly atmospheric mystery end up being just a bunch of empty promises. Perhaps the English title, 'Promised Neverland' is actually a self-parody since following the series was an experience far from magical. At least one thing the series foreshows, I guess.
The first 4 episodes are all passable, of highly respectable quality to be exact. I was impressed by how it managed to gasp my
attention with audiovisual story-telling and directing that was nothing less than immersive. Originally, I wrote a preliminary review with an 8/10 rating just to show how much I liked the series at that point. Then the actual story started rolling onward and the downhill was quite radical. Essentially, everything in the series exists just to delay anything from happening since apparently, there is no substance to offer here outside the superficial plot points, false-tension, beyond obvious cliffhangers, and mind-numbing twists which look like the outcome of plot bingo.
Double agents, triple agents and mind games so psychologically inaccurate they aren't even laughable but facepalm-worthy. By episode 6, I was left stunned by how practically every bit of potential that there was had been destroyed by giving priority to some sort of pseudo-complex tactics instead of relying on the simple settings that already had enough room to work as a linear story. Don't get me wrong tho. I love depth and complexity, but I also strongly dislike them when done lousily/half-assedly. These need several different things from build up and planning to slow pace and development for them to work. There is nothing that even remotely is making the "depth" seen in Yakusoku no Neverland seem probable or believable, often being the opposite of awe. There simply isn't much work put behind it. To put it simply: "Show don't tell" is one of the best philosophies to live by, but Yakuskoku no Neverland is all tell and very little show. Details are not valued but instead the entire thing is just rushed thru in a manner so lame that the reveals don't even look like proper twits but empty, content-lacking ideas.
Good example of how terrible the story events become is a scene that starts at the end of episode 5 and continues all the way thru the first half of 6th. **The next paragraph describes and spoils these events**
Secret door exists behind a bookshelf. Getting into that room where the shelf is is dangerous because the kids are not supposed to be there. Two characters go there anyway and one of them starts raging at shit (loudly, duh) for not knowing how to open the bookshelf door, followed by another character quite literally saying "use your eyes" and discovering how to solve this 'puzzle' mere 3 seconds later, followed by the door to the room-where-no-one-should-be starting to open slowly. >>cliffhanger, and wait 1 week to see what happens. *me yawwning for one week* Oh, look, it is false alarm, just another kid playing hide'n seek opening the door. Literally who could have guessed. Well, too bad there is actually a locked door behind the bookshelf puzzle, but this gets also solved in 3 seconds when black kid becomes a masterthief, bumps into mother and now we have the key and can open the door.... I was struggling here not to drown in my own drool. The events -- not just this single example -- are braindamagingly horribly written and executed and I have no idea how people manage to tolerate such levels of bullshit without getting annoyed by them.
The writer practically never challenges himself. Whenever our characters and story are cornered, he seeks the easiest way out.
After the promising start, even the character behavior starts to more like resemble 'actions and dialogue that are masked as devices' in the narrative. Emma taking Ray's hand for a split second just to create yandere-like psychological outburst that feels completely random and out of place, giving me Mirai Nikki vibes rather than even mildly resembling her genuine behavior. Ray "The Fetus Memory Man's" character seemed more and more like a puppet the further the series advanced, him practically becoming a walking keikaku doori. Sister's existence is filler at best. I would call Emma's zero fucks given attitude there "character development" since she was such a naive moral soldier in the beginning, but I am sure she was just getting as tired of watching these "twists" as I was. Originally, I compared Yakosoku no Neverland's atmosphere to something which is commonly only achievable in video games, but at the end, if this was a game, the only thing there is left are the immersion-ruining, heavily scripted events that are the epitome of disbelief, and casting that behaves like npc's.
Perhaps I am being too kind praising the beginning. Even episode 1 already had a lousy cop-out in it when our main characters literally teleported from under a car to the middle of a field. And btw, this isn't even the only time when the question "How on earth did you manage to get from point a to point b?" Could be answered with "Oh, that. Yeah, I teleported." Given, I should have lowered my expectations already then, but I completely forgave it since it seemed like a mild flaw when the series otherwise was doing such convincing job, but as it is, I am very much non-happy now. It's likely that I wouldn't have become so disappointed with the series if I had been able to change my mindset for ironic -- or even more casual -- viewing after the beginning, but it was hard for I genuinely thought this was going to be a serious and intelligently constructed anime which I could like for serious reasons, but instead, the strongest sides there were, were pushed in the backgrounds, overtaken by the overwhelming amount of lame that the series' writing had to offer. I will be still waiting for that one "cute but edgy" show which doesn't make me feel like I am 20 years too old to watch.
There is a very fine line between horror and psychological thriller. The Promised Neverland strived to be a horror, whereas the manga focused on the in-depth psyche of each main character. The adaptation loses much of the nuance that made the source material so good, but it is able to stand as a decent horror on its own merits.
The anime is an entirely separate work from the manga. It has it’s own style, it’s own goals. However, the removal of inner monologues is detrimental to the characters’ relatability. In turn, the show is far less engaging than it should have been. The story’s premise
is very enthralling though: a farm for demons where the livestock are children and brains are the most desirable part of the body, disguised as an orphanage. Tension consumes this entire show.
What I find so compelling about The Promised Neverland isn’t just the premise, rather the ultimate goal is for every kid to escape certain death at the farm. Emma, Norman, and Ray are capable enough on their own, but Emma is so empathetic and selfless that she is determined to save everyone. Rooting for her, purely based on her motivations is easy. Is she a simplistic character? Sure, but seeing her sacrifice everything to save the kids is endearing. Norman and Ray have their own motivations, slightly more complicated. Ray, a brooding pessimist is puzzle box himself, clearly to be unpacked in the later episodes of the season. He directly contrasts Emma, and seeing their morals clash is captivating. Norman, on the other hand, is motivated by Emma. He sees her as a beacon of hope. His supportiveness makes him likable, and he possesses the most skill of the three. However, he's quiet. Without the inner monologues, he lacks depth. The issue is, there is not an overwhelming amount of depth to the main characters. It's not a good sign that they are the three most developed characters in the show. The mass of orphans can be condensed into one character because they have little to no personality, give or take a couple of them. Reminiscent of Attack on Titan's cannon fodder characters who exist to die violently, the kids exist for one purpose, to be saved by Emma and look cute. Many of them go the entire show without having a single line.
For only eleven years old, they’re all understandably far smarter than most of us were at that age; their intensive education is necessary for their brains to be top quality food. Their intelligence slightly hampers believability, especially considering it is never explained what about their education led them to be this way. I consider it an unimportant oversight in the story because the three main characters make smart decisions when in complicated situations. There’s no frustrating dumb kid trope here, at least among our protagonists. What would have made the characters more convincing is the inclusion of the inner-monologues so they could give us moment-to-moment insight into their state of mind and their in-depth strategizing. One of the most exciting aspects of the manga is watching one of the leads stuck in a seemingly impossible situation only to escape it with their wit, which we get to see on display. As for the villains, the keeper of the orphanage, Mama is an intimidating figure that lends the show most of its stakes. She is used to dump exposition and world-building, but never quite becomes the sympathetic and unstoppable determined force that she is in the manga. It’s a shame the show opted for faster pacing at the expense of the psychological elements.
The characters encounter obstacles in the way of their goals as new conflicts arise, giving the story a natural, but rapid flow that makes it addictive to watch. Even when the only onscreen action is just talking for minutes on end there is still plenty to be entertained by. Standard shot-reverse-shot camera work is used for much of these, with the occasional brooding long shot or creative panning shot using the CGI background. This with the low droning of the background music works well at maintaining the tense atmosphere. If only the mystery wasn’t just a bit too easy to predict it would have been a great show. The incredibly on the nose foreshadowing, highly telegraphed twists, and the overdone reveals make payoffs less impactful than they should be. Enough information is given to us so we can figure out twists on our own with the blatant clues the show gives us. Thankfully the plot moves from one plot point to the next within a few episodes at most, making it easy to jump on the rollercoaster ride.
It’s worth applauding this series for its generous lack of jump-scares. Modern horror has been saturated with cheap shock factor, it’s so refreshing to see a show and especially an anime try to convey psychological horror through patiently building tension. Scares are the main goal of this adaptation, different from the more psychological-thriller approach of the manga. Facial expressions are more exaggerated, music is used to build tension in place of the character’s thoughts, and the set is moodier than its paperback counterpart. The soundtrack is good during scary scenes, as well as the kickass OP and ED songs.
Obscuring the setting in a show like The Promised Neverland is a necessary part of the mystery, with information slowly revealed to us in subtle details. Sadly, the setting for this first season is rather threadbare. It’s just an orphanage surrounded by forest. There is slightly more to it of course because this is a mystery, but it’s not enough to justify the lack of significance to the vast majority of the setting. It would have been far better if there were different hints, easter eggs, and red herrings giving us small pieces of information about the outside world. That would make the audience anticipate the reveal of the entire setting even greater. Grace Field could have been an enthralling setting if more time and attention to detail went into crafting it; with mystery embedded into the world, the payoffs would be far more satisfying. Speaking of which, background art in The Promised Neverland is rather drab, with a dull and somewhat washed out color pallet of mostly browns and greens.
Numerous well-executed shots make up for lackluster backgrounds and art inconsistencies. The CGI is used to great effect when it allows the camera to freely move and rotate around a scene. Point of view shots from the character’s perspective is good at building up the tension as you wait for something to spring out right as our hero turns a corner. When the camera is fixed to the swinging of a clock’s pendulum tension remains high even after the monsters are off the screen. The panning of the camera down a CGI hallway or up a flight of stairs shows a constant movement of the main characters and the villains like a game of cat and mouse. Aside from the scares, it is impressive how often crowds of the children are animated separately without any CGI, thankfully there are none of the janky crowds Cloverworks uses in their other anime.
[Final Score: 6/10]
In adapting The Promised Neverland, a good thriller/mystery manga, the fantastic psychological elements are traded for a passable horror. While plenty of content was left out, and the art could have been better, it is serviceable. A predictable mystery and lacking the inner monologues of the manga; made up for with constant tension and likable but under developed characters. Hopefully the second season will incorporate both psychological and horror elements to fulfill the potential this season failed to achieve.
Horror is a genre that I rarely see effectively executed in anime. In fact, the genre itself seems to be pretty scarce in the anime medium. The first episode of The Promised Neverland perfectly encapsulates how to properly utilize horror. The atmosphere is great. We’re presented with a seemingly happy orphanage life being lived out by the characters, all children, and their “mama.” Yet as the viewer, it becomes apparent that everything's not quite what it seems, and there’s just this sort of unnerving tension in the air. The presentation is also top notch. Visuals and music are handled expertly and are very complementary to
the buildup and eventual revelation of the truth behind the Grace Field House, the farm that the characters live on. Yet despite the technical brilliance of the first episode, it concludes with the secrets of the children's home and their mama, named Isabella, being completely revealed. So where does the anime go from here?
That’s where the genius of the writing kicks in. The anime seamlessly transitions into more of a psychological battle of wits between Isabella and Norman, Emma, and Ray, the three primary protagonists. For after discovering the truth behind their lives, these three make a pact to escape from their home and cruel fate. The anime proceeds to focus on the brilliance of these three prodigies and how they attempt to outwit Isabella and escape with not just their lives, but the lives of their younger siblings, all under ten, as well. But Isabella isn’t just your run of the mill caretaker, and she actively attempts to foil the children’s plans and make them fall into despair. The escape plan itself is expertly crafted, and just seeing all of hard work the characters put into freeing themselves without getting caught is just a joy to watch. Deception and mind games are a commonality in each episode. And despite this transition in genres, the horror aspects of this show aren’t just completely discarded, because there’s always a sort of looming dread in the air, especially when the heroes are faced with the fear of being discovered by their mama. Oh, and Sister Krone’s entire character is simply horror inducing, so there’s that too. While Neverland isn’t pure horror, it’s just executed in such a way that makes it so convincing. The blend of genres works great, and they intertwine in such a way that allows for the narrative to be quite compelling.
And I really dig that.
I’ve always had a thing for intelligent characters, so I ended up liking all three of the child prodigy protagonists. I found it pretty interesting that the main characters were children, and the anime did a great job of incorporating behaviors and actions typically found in children to make them more believable instead of just having kids doing what adults would and could easily do in their place just for the sake of having a unique cast. They run around playing games like hide and go seek tag with the other children, ask for gifts from Mama as rewards for being good, and more. What makes these actions special is the fact that the anime actually incorporates them into the kids’ escape plan, which is the primary plot point, thus giving them value beyond simply bringing the characters to life.
On to the characters themselves. Norman is probably the most intelligent person in the show. He’s the sort of mastermind character who everyone else thinks they’ve outsmarted at some point only for him to be like “all according to keikaku” and explain how he outsmarted their outsmarting. He also has a crush on Emma and will do anything to save his family, even sacrifice himself if he has to. Let me remind you that this dude is 11 years old. What a badass. My only problem with Norman aside from his bizarrely animated profile is that he is pretty plain in the personality department. He’s still a chill dude nonetheless.
Emma is the lone girl in the triad of protagonists, and she’s a seemingly typical energetic/sporty girl. However, unlike most anime characters who fall under this archetype, Emma is no baka. She’s quite observant and intelligent, not to mention a great actor, and is a vital part of the plot. That’s right, this girl doesn’t just stand around and cheer on her friends. She’s heavily involved in planning and executing the escape, which increases the value and likability of her character. Her absolute moral righteousness could, however, potentially be a turn off for some people. While I appreciate her desire to save all of her beloved siblings, she can come off as quite stubborn with her complete denial at even the mention of anything morally ambiguous like leaving behind the younger kids to increase the survival odds of the rest. While this is by no means an inherently bad trait, it does take away from any potential layers that her character could of had.
Ray is voiced by Ise Mariya and has a super edgy character design, so you just know that he’s going to be a badass. This fiery boy will do anything for his two friends Emma and Norman, and would even sacrifice the other children and himself if it meant that those two could live. He’s generally level headed, but push him too far and his crazy side emerges. He even gets some distorted facial expressions during certain instances to further emphasize just how insane he can be. Though honestly, they’re sometimes a bit overstated. He’s an all around courageous character, though his courage sometimes causes him to enter the realm of recklessness.
The other children are primarily there to look cute and innocent and make viewers feel bad for them. I will say however that there seems to be more to Phil then meets the eye. I could totally see this kid being the true hero of the series…
The opening theme song, Touch Off by Uverworld, is, to put it bluntly, simply on fire. The first time I heard it in the anime, I just had to rewind and listen to it again because of how catchy it is. Maybe it’s just advanced recording and editing techniques, but the vocalist of Uverworld seems to have improved his vocal quality and control significantly from some of his earlier songs, which is also a plus. I’ve already briefly discussed how the animation and soundtrack positively contribute to the show’s atmosphere, and I’d just like to reiterate how effective they were most of the time. Unfortunately, there were a few awkward instances, such as music being played at times where it should most definitely have not been used. Also, there were some weird occurrences where the camera would just slowly pan through parts of the orphanage for long periods, and I’m not really sure what the purpose was. Maybe to show off the eerie place? Ultimately though, the production values for this anime are simply great.
This is a pretty awesome anime to be honest. Even if it sometimes gets a little ridiculous by over exaggerating the capabilities and personalities of the characters from time to time, it was still one enjoyable ride. I was captivated by each episode, even some of the duller ones, due to the anime’s excellent presentation. The Promised Neverland was definitely a success in my eyes, and I look forward to seeing where the series goes in the future.