There are some shows that I immerse myself in and binge within 24 hours, totally content and happy, only to find myself going blank when I attempt to assess the show’s quality. Certain genres are hard to critique because the magic that makes them click for audiences are more difficult to put into words. The Promised Neverland is one of those shows.
Specifically, this is a show depicting a mental tug of war between two sides trapped together. The tide is constantly shifting in one side’s favor and it all builds to an elaborately constructed conclusion, the complexity of which I- an aspiring writer- could only dream of creating. It’s… a lot to unpack, but the short version is: It’s really good.
The Promised Neverland takes place at the Grace Field House, an orphanage surrounded by dense forest and a gate. The children all live happily under the protection of their caretaker, Isabella, whom they all refer to as mom. The audience mostly follows Emma, Norman, and Ray, the three oldest and brightest kids there.
Every now and again, a child will be adopted and tearfully leave their friends at the orphanage. As one of the young girls, Conny, is adopted, Emma runs to return her stuffed animal to her before she leaves, but discovers the horrifying secret behind what really happens when you are adopted.
From here onward, she and her friends must deal with the horrifying implications of what lies on the outside world, how best to deal with their current situation, and most importantly, how to escape. It is comparable to any prison break story, but one where the prison’s purpose is unknown to the inhabitants, who believe it to be home.
Perhaps it is more accurate to call it a farm rather than a prison, with the children being raised as livestock. It is an unnerving premise made more so by the wholesome aesthetic and the strength of the facade. Because the protagonists and antagonists are aware of this facade, it allows for an uneasy balance.
Early on, the characters compare playing tag to chess and how you need to predict your enemy’s movements. Chess could not be more accurate in describing the drama of this story. The show managed to keep introducing new challenges, shattering hopes while offering new ones, all without falling into repetition or a stale formula. I could never 100% predict what was gonna happen and I loved it. This tension could not exist without great villains.
Isabella makes for an exceptional villain, because she begins so convincing as the mother figure to these children. She even hints that she does care for them, albeit in a twisted way forged by her own past that mirrors our heroes. She was frightening to the very end and the hints of backstory in the final episode left me feeling incredibly satisfied with her arc.
Just as surprising was Sister Krone, a villain who I initially pegged as, “the crazy one,” but was actually a lot more grounded when it counts. Her arc is actually pretty enlightening as her rivalry and interactions with Isabella shed light on their profession and further develop the world.
Of course, the main trio is the best part of this show. These little geniuses play off of each other so well and all grow in really surprising ways. Emma is definitely the main character if I have to pick one from the big three, though there was a time in the series midsection where I feared she was being overshadowed by Norman and Ray.
Emma is very much the heart of the trio and the closest thing to a mother in her own right. When they begin planning to escape- literally at the end of the first episode- she stresses that she wants to escape with everyone. It’s a naive demand considering the number of children and the age range of said kids, but it is a very complex dilemma she is put in. Frankly, how she develops and worked around this issue stunned me as she tried to find the best possible solution for everyone.
On the flip side, Ray comes off as less compassionate, only really caring about those closest to him, not because he necessarily doesn’t care, but because he doesn’t see Emma’s demands as feasible or logical. Ray also goes through quite a transformation, proving himself to be more caring than he initially lets on.
Norman is the biggest mastermind just behind Ray, though his skillset seems very indistinguishable from his. That being said, his role is more of the glue that holds the group together. Without his intelligence and simultaneous ability to empathize with Emma, they really could not progress and he is instrumental in helping them grow.
The rest of the supporting cast are fun to watch as a unit, especially the younger kids, who are adorable (especially Phil). Gilda and Don are presented as a big part of this plot to escape but they feel so forgettable and don’t offer much to the plot. It’s a shame because the show nails most of its cast in whatever capacity they appear. Here’s hoping they get better screen-time next season.
Oh and yeah, a second season was green-lit. I think most people are used to either sequels not getting made or disappointing sequels. These days, even if a show doesn’t have a completely conclusive ending, I am satisfied as long as the ending is conclusive enough.
What I mean is that what comes after the ending isn’t hard to assume based on what we already know. “They’ll get the bad guy” or “the world will be saved because of this. I’m of course glad when a show I like gets a sequel but I’m thankful if what I get ends like this. It’s a luxury that few shows offer and I think it is underappreciated.
This show feels particularly special because studio Clover Works has been forging their own identity after separating from A-1 Pictures. Now, after many somewhat inconsequential shows on their MyAnimeList page, most of which were A-1 collabs, they are finally making their own signature works.
The character designer, Kazuaki Shimada, created some beautiful designs for this show. They are at once beautiful but highly expressive, with some incredibly twisted and frightening expressions. Shimada seems to be pulling double duty as both character designer and chief animation director.
The sakuga in Promised Neverland is noteworthy to me not only for consistency but also the types of animation on display. There are some really difficult perspective shots and lots of extensive character animation. Character animation can be underestimated for how much it elevates a sequence of storytelling that is light on action.
A lot of the staff for this production were unknown to me, but the director stood out for having directed Elfen Lied, another well-known anime. I’ve never watched Elfen Lied, though I’m always wary of shows like it because they seem to only rely on shock value. Promised Neverland absolutely can be shocking, but it hardly ever felt gratuitous or overdone. The biggest reveals always felt like payoffs to a long puzzle. To use the comparison the show utilizes, it is a game of chess.
And it’s safe to say that The Promised Neverland is a checkmate.
The Promised Neverland is available for legal streaming through Crunchyroll and Hulu.
I’ve been watching more current anime than I have in a while. This is mostly because I have a ton of free time during study abroad but also because I genuinely believe anime this year has been very good so far. Get ready for some even greater content on the horizon.
To make up for John Wick Chapter 3 not coming out in Japan, the world has given me Promare, the new film by Hiroyuki Imaishi and Studio Trigger. I’m not gonna know what the hell is going on, but I’m okay with that. Expect my thoughts on that, as well as formal reviews of both seasons of Mob Psycho 100 and some older shows that have recently piqued my interest. It is a good time to be an anime blogger.
Tell me what you thought of The Promised Neverland and leave a comment telling me what other shows to watch. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.