First Look: The Promised Neverland

Alternative title(s): Yakusoku no Neverland
Manga Adaptation by CloverWorks
Streaming on Funimation

Premise

Together with her fellow orphans, Emma lives a life free of worry at the Grace Field House. Despite the daily intelligence tests, the serial number tattooed on her neck and the imposing wall separating her from the outside world, she has no reason to suspect anything fishy — yet everything changes when one of her siblings is sent off to go live with her new foster parents, and Emma’s beloved home reveals its wicked true nature.

Aqua’s verdict: Exit Light, Enter Night

Whether intentional or not, the consecutive endings of Bleach and Naruto have given Weekly Shounen Jump the opportunity to profile itself as the surprisingly diverse magazine it has always been. Nowadays, pretenders to the battle manga throne like Black Clover or My Hero Academia more or less have to share the spotlight with supernatural rom-coms (Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs), saucy cooking manga (Food Wars) and whatever the fuck Chainsaw Man is supposed to be. What do you mean, you’ve never heard of Chainsaw Man?

By far one of the biggest buzzers on Jump‘s current line-up is The Promised Neverland, and it’s hard not to believe the hype. Pairing the wide appeal required to survive Jump’s infamous popularity polls with unsettling and uncharacteristically gruesome horror vibes is a bold move, yet what sets The Promised Neverland apart most of all is its clear focus on wits over fists. It is a story that, like its protagonists, favours careful, considerate planning over boisterous spectacle — a quality its anime incarnation effortlessly mirrors.

The first episode of this noitaminA adaptation is a masterclass in mood, bathing a refreshing combination of familiar elements — Mysterious facility for breeding super-soldiers or bucolic orphanage with a dark secret? Why not both! — into eerie vibes that more than make up for what is admittedly a twist I should have seen coming from miles away. Needless to say, The Promised Neverland shines the brightest when it asserts its creative dominance over the rich traditions it draws from. Just one episode in, plucky protagonist Emma is already much more than the sum of her tropes, and if director Mamoru Kanbe (Sound of the Sky) can extend to the rest of the show his approach towards the unsettling dread looming above this episode, all of its facets should follow suite in no time.

What certainly helps is that all of the original manga’s strong points translate well into the new medium. Posuka Demizu’s signature rough style loses none of its charm and detail in animation, and her instantly recognizable character designs have mercifully been retained in this adaptation that invokes the manga’s striking use of colour at any given opportunity. Everything points at CloverWorks knowing they have gold in their hands with this property if they play their cards well — and if this pilot is any indication, the odds seem to be in their favour.

The idea of a Shounen Jump anime possessing creative merits of its own remains a strange one nevertheless. The brand is commonly associated with long-running, agonizingly padded, and thoroughly average adaptations produced on a shoestring budget. Yet in recent years, shows like My Hero Academia, JoJo’s Bizzare Adventure and indeed, The Promised Neverland have abandoned the long-runner format in favour of an approach that favours quality over quantity, leaving beloved franchises in the care of capable studios and directors. Could we be looking at a new era of shounen manga adaptations? I, for one, welcome our new seasonal overlords.

Gee’s verdict: Delicious

As a fan of the original Weekly Shounen Jump manga, there was basically one thing The Promised Neverland had to do to work. As an animated adaptation, it absolutely had to succeed in evoking the sense of creeping horror and tension that pervades the story’s early arcs. I’m happy to say that at least so far, The Promised Neverland anime has largely succeeded. Emulating Posuka Demizu’s charming artwork is no small task and while there are some obvious compromises made to its presentation in the anime such as its rather plain backgrounds, it has achieved a solid facsimile of the original artist’s work.

We are deftly introduced to the Grace Field House and its inhabitants. Even during the economical introduction of its idyllic facade, viewers will already begin to feel the ominous mystery that lurks underneath it. But perhaps its greatest strength is similar to its more bombastic peer, My Hero Academia. Anyone who’s consumes both manga and anime know that the presentation styles and pacing choices don’t quite line up with each other. That a great adaptation knows where to perfectly emulate the original’s iconic imagery, but also where to break from it and use their own techniques to present the same material. If The Promised Neverland can maintain this level for the rest of its run, we have something quite promising on our hands.

Artemis’ verdict: Sweet Dreams (Are Not Made of This)

The best shows are always the hardest to write about – and make no mistake, The Promised Neverland looks set to be a really, really good show. Horrifying without tipping over into loud melodrama, gruesome while not crossing over into shock value gimmicks, ominously creepy without giving away too much too fast, it’s exactly the kind of show that’s hard to come by precisely because it’s so difficult to strike these kinds of balances. They depend so much on not just plot or setting but also timing and execution – and Neverland delivers on all these things and more. If the exposition is a little clumsy in places and the lead-up to the reveal a little too obvious (it’s hard to be subtle when everyone has a number tattooed on their necks), these issues do not detract from the well-crafted atmosphere, which puts me in mind a little of Made in Abyss. Whether Neverland going to be able to maintain the very high standards it’s already set for itself, it’s impossible to say. However, I’d like to believe in its storytelling prowess, so for now, I’m cautiously labeling it my favourite title of the season. Just maybe don’t watch it right before bedtime.

2 thoughts on “First Look: The Promised Neverland

  1. “The best shows are always the hardest to write about”

    Amen… I’ve said that a thousand times myself. (Doesn’t help that I’m not the world’s best ever writer.)

    If they can keep this pace and quality, Neverland promises to be very good indeed.

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