Season Premiere: Winter 2019
Number of Episodes: 12
Genres: Mystery, Psychological, Horror
Thoughts: It’s been a long time since a show had me feeling like I was standing at the edge of a cliff. The Promised Neverland kept me tense and gave me anxiety at a level greater than interacting with children in real life has ever done. This anime was set to take the winter season by storm and I believe it did a decent job.
The Promised Neverland follows the story of Emma, Ray, and Norman, three of the oldest orphans at Grace Field House. They appear to be living a happy childhood with the rest of the kids under the care of their adored “Mama”, Isabella. This, however, is a deceptive façade that conceals the fact that the children are being farmed as demon food. They are nothing more than “cattle”, raised until their brains grow to the desired size. Following this, they are shipped out to the demons under the guise of being adopted by a loving family. Once Emma and the two boys realize the truth, they are hellbent on escaping with everyone. Essentially, this is one huge psychological mind-game that encapsulates smaller games within it as our protagonists attempt to outsmart Isabella. The story unfolds like a terrifying match of chess where numerous lives are at stake.
We are introduced to a wild world where the survival of the fittest, or rather the smartest, is a reality. Emma, Norman, and Ray are all intelligent in their own unique way, and I like how Emma’s cheerful and optimistic personality doesn’t mean that she has to be dumb. She is brave, thinks big, and is easy to love. She’s a natural leader and tends to facilitate relationships by bringing people together. Norman and Ray, on the other hand, are incredible strategists, often coming up with the details of how to execute a plan. They are all creative and appear to grasp things way quicker than some adults might.
I recall being struck by the enormity of their mission when the truth about the House was revealed. How can a bunch of eleven to twelve-year-olds facilitate a mass escape with their “mother” watching them like a predator? The challenge increases when we start to become aware of the setting, and what the kids need to overcome physically to escape the House. Norman and Ray have their doubts about taking everyone, but Emma doesn’t budge and remains stubborn about escaping with her whole “family”. It’s inspiring to see how these harrowing circumstances can pressure us to take action. We see the three kids observe, think, learn, and plan meticulously.
Despite their intelligence, the anime does a good job of capturing their childhood naivety and energy. They aren’t adults in child bodies and clearly rely and depend on each other. There is a special kind of bond that forms between individuals who are fighting together to survive, which is evident between Emma, Ray, and Norman: a kind of brotherhood or sisterhood that’s deeper than friendship, where one would sacrifice themselves for another. Of course, this is different from the obvious romantic feelings Norman has for Emma. But nonetheless, the deep trust between them is an essential leading force of the narrative and is further extended when the trio let more of their peers in on their plan.
As more children, particularly Don and Gilda, become aware of the mission, more internal and external conflicts arise. This diversity gives the plot a depth that increases the suspense. I went into a frenzy several times asking myself questions like, why would they meet and discuss their top-secret escape in a random corridor!? Thankfully there aren’t too many of these moments. The plot is occasionally predictable and the twists more complicated than needed, but it’s still fun to follow.
One of my criticisms would be that the characters’ personalities don’t get a chance to develop or to be explored in any detail. Emma is the happy idealist, Ray the cool realist, and Norman the calm and cunning observer. Other than these obvious traits, they don’t have much else. Don and Gilda are given decent screen time as well as cute little Philip, but the rest of the kids are just merged into one big challenge that our trio has to deal with. It would have helped to hear the main characters’ inner monologues to understand their psyche and more of their feelings.
When the war between the kids and Isabella becomes more blatant things take a turn for the worse; for every move the children make, Isabella always has a countermove. She is portrayed as the obvious villain for co-operating with the demons but there is more to her than what meets the eye. Her backstory gives us a glimpse of her past innocence, her pain, and also her belief that her actions are justifiable. From what we know of the outside world that is crawling with these demons, it seems that Isabella thinks she is, in fact, providing these kids with a good life even if it is short.
A shoutout to the excellent audiovisuals and direction of the anime. The heavy breathing, dripping water, sheer silence…all of these effects contribute to create an unnerving atmosphere. The expert camera work as it slowly pans along a dark corridor or showing the characters’ point of view as they run and move helps us feel the fear and tension. Initially, I couldn’t get used to the art style, but it lends itself well to bring out these various emotions. When they were scared, I felt scared; when they were hopeful, I could feel it too. The animation was consistent and the background music complemented the build-ups and reveals well. I loved the catchy opening theme Touch Off by UVERworld to the point that I have it on repeat.
Overall, The Promised Neverland is a thrilling watch with some minor flaws. I’m an avid fan of the psychological genre and this anime kept me entertained. It’s a fast-paced, binge-worthy series that you’ll finish before you know. I’m looking forward to seeing where the story will go in 2020!