Weekly Shounen Jump manga often get bashed for being the same thing over and over again, with a different coat of paint. But sometimes… sometimes, a Jump manga will attempt to break free of the mold while still embracing the core values of Jump and its demographic. The Promised Neverland (published in English by Viz), is one such manga.
The children of Grace Field House are as happy as can be, living under the loving eyes of their caretaker, Isabella, while waiting for their adoption. It’s just a bit weird that they have to take tests, and that they have numbers tattooed onto their necks, and that the house is surrounded by walls, and that they never hear from the kids who go out to get adopted… Yeah, something’s off with this place, and the ones who find out first are the three smartest kids in the house: Emma, Ray, and Norman. What they find out is that the kids are all livestock being bred for consumption by a race of terrifying demons. Naturally, they put on their thinking caps and figure out how to get everyone out safely.
So, in short, The Promised Neverland is amazing. Instead of screaming “FRIENDSHIP!” and brute forcing their way out, these kids have to use their wits to fight, or- more often than not- strategically retreat from combat. It is incredibly suspenseful, with new plot twists waiting just around the corner. It is amazing how it’s able to capture that familiar Jump feeling, while exploring uncharted territory for the magazine.
However… small spoiler: the escape from Grace Field House is only the first arc. After this, we begin to find out about the world that The Promised Neverland is set in, and it only gets more complicated from there. I know that critics have exclaimed that the whole story goes to sh** from here, as it becomes more about figuring out what the hell is going on than about conducting stealth operations. And to be honest… I kind of felt the same way for a while. The manga was still good, but it didn’t have that magic from the first arc.
Fortunately, things pick up when it enters its climax. Once the puzzle pieces finally start fitting together, it becomes just about as intense as it was at the beginning.. It’s a real shame that you have to go through a pretty big chunk of inferior content to get there, but if any part had to suck, be glad that it’s the midway point! There’s no doubt that critics hate the ending, but that’s to become expected of pretty much any Jump manga, especially a popular one like this. As far as most manga go, The Promised Neverland feels satisfying enough, as far as resolving plot threads is concerned.
As for characters, er… this is where The Promised Neverland is at its most Jump-like. Even though Emma is among the smartest kids from Grace Field, she’s about as abrasive and reckless as any Jump protagonist. Fortunately, Ray and Norman are much better and smarter than her. The biggest problem with the cast is that it gets pretty large over the course of the story, with some minor characters not being that memorable. There are even a lot of characters whose names I can’t remember.
The art is what brings it all together. The Promised Neverland is drawn in an elegant, storybook-like style that can go from beauty to terror rather quickly. The designs of the demons are phenomenal, even if a lot of them look the same. The panel flow is also a key factor in building suspense; something that the anime sadly lacks due to the nature of its medium.
But if there’s any truly divisive flaw with The Promised Neverland, it’s Emma. If you couldn’t tell from this being a Jump manga, she’s a bit of a Mary Sue. Late in the series, it becomes really easy to succeed in the ultimate goal, except that it involves committing xenocide on the Demons. Since she’s such a good person who’s willing to forgive an entire race that’s indiscriminately bred and eaten human beings, she jumps in (or Jump’s in, rather) and tries to offer a more hunky-dorey solution. I’ll admit, it’s annoying, but hey, I also like lighthearted junk at times.
Final Verdict: 8.9/10
It’s not perfect, but The Promised Neverland is a great manga; definitely one of the better ones in recent days of Jump. It genuinely tries to do something that isn’t mere pandering to testosterone-y boys (like Kimetsu no Yaiba), and while it stumbles, it definitely succeeds to some extent. The manga truly has its own identity. I recommend it to any shounen fans who want something just a tad different.