Jan 7, 2021
*CAUTION*: Contains minor spoilers. Well, not like they matter.
Remember The Promised Neverland? The manga that was promising in the beginning and did a lot of things right but then methodically squandered every remaining bit of its potential? Yeah, that one. I admit to it becoming a bit of a pet peeve of mine, as it is a textbook example of an awesome premise ruined by inept execution, and the continuous onslaught of supplemental TPN one-shots, short novels, and extra chapters mostly works to add insult to the injury rather than help remedy this situation. It could have been different if all this extra effort was
put into making the main story better instead, but alas, that ship has already sailed.
So here comes yet another weak attempt to remind us of the franchise's existence. This time is particularly noteworthy as We Were Born doesn't even have a connection to TPN except in name and a *very* loose similarity in concept. You know how the whole children farm thing was an allegory for vaguely defined real-world cruelty? Well, this one-shot is presented as faux inspiration material for the parent story (calling it a "pilot" chapter is, at best, misguiding) and provides a look at that exact cruelty taking place in the real world. Though somehow just as vaguely defined and painted in similarly broad, comically exaggerated strokes, making it less realistic and impactful than it probably deserved to be if the topic had been taken seriously.
As a result, if you've read/watched TPN, you'll find WWB very predictable. Indeed, it contains all the trademark Shirai pathos, shocking revelations™, and tired story beats like using children as a tradable commodity, kind-looking adults being scumbags in disguise, and edgy thugs pulling heel-turns to save the day. Every twist is telegraphed miles in advance, there is almost no subtlety to storytelling, Posuka Demizu is still clueless about practical aspects of weaponry, characters' reactions to various things make no goddamn sense, and the ending is almost hilariously abrupt and all over the place (again!). That's not even counting the minor things like a character holding his gun in the left hand and then having it in the right on the next panel. Editors become all too busy to perform their primary duties when there is a gravy train to ride.
All that said, WWB's most notable sin—the one it also shares with TPN—is the ever-confusing desire to take a stab at some of the more grim and challenging topics, portray them with all the gory splatter involved, and then *dumb them down* to near-farcical levels, making it unclear who the intended audience for this work even is. The writing is so basic and in-your-face it spells out its entire message in tropes: "WAR IS HELL KILLING IS BAD RICH SCUMBAGS RULE THE WORLD LIFE IS PRECIOUS AND HAS A MEANING" (spoilers, lol!). Forget "show, don't tell"; we're knee-deep in the age of "cut, then paste". I'm utterly confused by the mindset required to produce this sort of discrepancy. Does the author consider the audience too dumb to get any point presented in a more nuanced and elegant manner, or do they consider the audience so smart they can make up their own nuance while the author is bombarding them with bare concepts and tropes?
Note that the short length imposed by the publication format has nothing to do with this or any other problem; there are dozens of very accomplished one-shots and single-volume series that do things right without having to piggy-back on something else's fame. Maybe it's because they aren't so annoyingly preachy, maybe it's because they choose to portray interesting characters who behave like people and not walking stereotypes strung along by the plot, maybe it's because they involve compelling situations presented with subtlety and style and not just basic tropes. Hard to say. Surely the problem isn't with the audience, either, as the recent Jump series like Act-age (RIP) and Chainsaw Man exhibited a lot more mature and nuanced storytelling than the usual WSJ fare and were still quite popular during their run (consider the original Act-age one-shot as a good example, too). Even TPN itself was admittedly great at the beginning and could've stayed that way with some more effort and risk-taking on the author's part.
I'd like to find an excuse for WWB being so lazily written, but I just can't. If it weren't forcibly tied into the franchise, it would probably never pass Jump's one-shot screening or amass a following any other way. As much as I rag on Shueisha's editors for their greed and notoriously bad optics for jokes made in poor taste (remember the first chapter of Undead Unluck? Yeah, that), I know they usually do better in this particular respect. Actually pains me to think that it might have taken the publication slot of an original work possibly more deserving of attention; surely there's no shortage of one-shot submissions that aren't low-effort tie-ins? It's infinitely harder to come up with entirely new stuff instead of occasionally pinging an established fanbase to remind them that their favorite series could use some more money, though from a corporate suit perspective I can see the latter option taking priority. Oh well.
To summarize, I wouldn't call We Were Born outright *horrible*, but by all means it is horribly mediocre and soulless. As is often the case with cookie-cutter spin-offs like this, the one-shot combines all the worst aspects of The Promised Neverland without borrowing anything good from it, let alone adding anything of value on its own, and the result speaks for itself. Unfortunately, it so happens that quality work requires effort, and putting effort into something clearly just meant to revitalize printed volume sales is way too much to ask for.
On the brighter side, I'm looking forward to the day Kaiu Shirai goes full Hiroya-Oku-grade tone-deaf shilling and starts producing even longer and more idiotic spin-offs of the once-acclaimed series to drive away in disgust everyone who might so much as suggest there is something wrong with it, until nothing but a pure echo chamber remains. There's a certain radical school of thought proposing that the best way to fix a mess-up, no matter how big, is to double-down on it as much as possible to make it part of your personal style and desensitize the audience. It's not a mistake if it's perceived as deliberate, after all.
But if anything, at least I can still have some fun writing critical reviews of this mess, and hopefully you'll also have fun reading them.
(P.S. The one-shot does manage to cross the "so bad it's good" horizon at the panel where the rich guy's staff, who had supposedly served him for years and stood there helplessly watching him get assaulted, greedily jumps on the theatrically scattered stacks of his cash screaming "Ooh, money!" Genuine good comedy right there, almost made the rest of it worth reading.)
What did you think of this review?