The Promised Neverland shocked the community with its beautiful storytelling, plot twists and suspense. As one of the top shows kicking off the 2019 anime year, Aniplex of America brought the show to Anime Expo 2019. We had the honor of interviewing director Mamoru Kanbe, producer Kenta Suzuki and animation producer Yuichi Fukushima.
The Promised Neverland was extremely successful in the West. In fact, on our weekly charts, The Promised Neverland never left Top 4 among our fans. Did you ever hope that it would become so popular in the West, and what decisions during the creative process may be responsible for that?
Mamoru Kanbe: If we knew the secret, it would be such an easy job for us.
Kenta Suzuki: The original work itself, in the content, was very interesting to begin with, and we knew that this would probably go well with anybody, worldwide as well as the content. So we just basically followed the content of what the story basis was, and here we are. It’s kind of how we succeeded.
So there was this kind of drive to keep with the original work in a way?
Yuichi Fukushima: Basically, we did try to stay true to the original work. However, because it is a manga and there is still pictures, there are certain things that cannot be conveyed as well or as easily if it’s in an animation. Or if there’s certain things that are missing because it’s still, they’re still pictures from the manga, so in those parts when there’s certain things like storyboards, and Director Kanbe added certain elements in it to make the world look alive.
Such as in any of the scenery, Isabella, what the children looked like, how they actually live in and how they interacted with each other. Director Kanbe basically came in and put life into the still pictures of the manga in the original works, but while we were still trying to be faithful to the original work, we made our own, in an animated way, to make it into a living work.
Were you involved with any of the casting decisions, and what drew you to Morohoshi-san, Ise-san, and Uchida-san’s performances?
Suzuki: It was basically an audition. So, it was basically an audition format, and everybody, Morohoshi-san, Uchida-san, Ise-san, all auditioned for their respective parts. However, what’s funny is Ise-san and Uchida-san actually tried out for their actual roles opposite.
Ise-san who plays Ray right now actually tried out for Norman, and Uchida-san actually tried out for both Norman and Ray. After the casting was set, they talked to us. Ise-san revealed that she really wanted to play Norman, and Uchida-san auditioned, hoping for Ray.
Fukushima: Norman was the first person we selected.
Suzuki: Ise-san actually didn’t try out for Ray initially, but we kind of just on the spot told her to try Ray, and that’s how the audition process was. She was perfect.
Images courtesy of Aniplex of America
Fukushima: Uchida-san usually isn’t known to do younger boy voices, so that was kind of refreshing to us and probably to her as well. That’s something to think about right there.
Camera work is especially important in suspense anime series. But because you do not actually use a camera in directing anime, how did you direct the team to accurately portray the anxiety and fear of climbing up staircases or turning around a corner so well without any usage of cameras?
Kanbe: Obviously as you mentioned there’s no camera, but the way I kind of imagined or the way I kind of envision as if I am actually using a camera. That’s how I kind of envision the planning and directing the suspense. Inside the house, many of the scenes are inside the house are rendered in 3D, and one of the others that I keep: what we had unique was lighting.
So, we had the front portion to be light while the back is dark to put more dimension in it. Some of these effects were not able to be done if it’s a hand drawn animation, but because it was 3D, we were able to do such effects that potentially hand drawn could not have done.
Music is also very important to building the atmosphere and tension in a suspense series. What creative decisions did you make in building the music and soundtrack to best affect and increase the viewers’ sense of urgency and fear?
Kanbe: We actually don’t have that much instances of music that we used throughout. What we used was the moment of silence. We emphasized the moment of silence. When we did use music, we used the entire music, not just clips of it. So, in a way it’s kind of like how a live action movie of the songs used. Maybe that’s probably what kind of helps renders the suspense.
The Promised Neverland is unique in the fact that the team of protagonists and supporting characters are actually very young. Do you think there are any advantages to the storytelling when it is told through the eyes of younger characters?
Kanbe: In Japan actually, there’s a lot of animation, a lot of works that kind of just focus on children, too, so to us it’s not that unique. We don’t think there’s anything different. To tell you the truth, when we actually do film it or create it, we forget that they’re children.
Fukushima: Because they’re so smart.
Kanbe: Later on, we just realize “Oh. Phil is five years old.”
We really love Phil. He’s an adorable character, so we look forward to him later on.
Fukushima: Phil is Director Kanbe’s favorite.
Fans are already beyond excited for the announcement of a Season 2 set to air in 2020. What do you think the fans should prepare themselves for in the second season?
Kanbe: The part where I’m agonizing over.
Suzuki: Hopefully, we won’t have that much change in the character arc of our beloved characters, but what we’re trying to convey is what the children are going to do outside after they escape and how they’re going to be expressed, how they’re going to interact with each other, and they promised they’ll come back but will they really come back?
So, those are the things that we’re definitely going to focus on and express.
Special thanks to Aniplex of America for the opportunity. The Promised Neverland is currently available on Crunchyroll, FunimationNow, Hulu, and HiDive.
©KAIU SHIRAI,POSUKA DEMIZU/SHUEISHA,THE PROMISED NEVERLAND COMMITTEE