By Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu. Released in Japan as “Yakusoku no Neverland” by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Satsuki Yamashita.
This review, out of necessity, talks about the first volume of The Promised Neverland. If you want to be unspoiled, go read it first.
Holy Mother of God. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had a manga, particularly a Jump manga (which tend to be slow starters), make my jaw drop quite as much as The Promised Neverland did. Everything seemingly comes together in this. The art style fits with the writer perfectly, there are many, many page turn reveals and amazing facial expressions. The three leads are likeable, whip-smart and yet not perfect, and you really, really want them to win out. There’s also a love of friendships and family that I will always adore when it’s handled this well. And yes, let’s just get it out of the way, there is some amazing horrific stuff here, with most of the book being a tense, nail-biting thriller but occasionally dipping its toe very effectively into pure horror. The Promised Neverland is RIVETING.
The cover and first couple of pages might lead you to believe that we’re going to be seeing some sort of warm, fluffy, Anne of Green Gables style story. We meet Emma and get her POV of the orphanage she’s spent most of her life in. Sure, the title page may look a little grim and ominous, but let’s disregard it for now as she seems so happy! Emma is one of the oldest in the orphanage, and along with her best friends Norman and Ray she spends the day herding the younger kids, having immense amounts of fun, and taking the DAILY TEST, the first of those page-turning reveals I mentioned above. At this point, the reader knows something grim is coming. Still, it’s not until we hear that one of the youngest kids is leaving that day that we think “uh oh”. And sure enough, soon we’re up to our neck in mysteries, from “what’s outside the orphanage?” to “why did that happen to Conny?” to “why are we still here even though we’re all 11 years old?”. Now Emma, Norman and Ray have to outsmart the adults – something easier said than done.
I feel like going on and on about the things I loved in this. Ray’s cynical intelligence and Emma’s boundless emotional enthusiasm are balanced nicely in the middle by Norman, and honestly I’m glad Emma is not beaten down by this (yet), as without her the title would be even grimmer than it already is. I also love the fact that Emma refuses to simply try to run away with just Ray and Norman – she absolutely won’t save herself at the expense of all the younger orphans. Again, there are some nice themes of family throughout this volume, and I appreciate that Emma’s viewpoint was allowed to carry the day. We hear that the three kids are incredibly intelligent, and see this displayed throughout the book… except they’re also outsmarted quite a bit by adults with more experience than they have.
Flaws? Well, Krone skirts the edge of being a racial stereotype, but part of that may be simply due to the fact that she’s meant to be a villain, and honestly compared to some other ways Jump has treated black people I’m willing to let it pass for now, especially as I enjoyed the way the cast is multiethnic. Mostly, though, The Promised Neverland hits it out of the park. I want it to be February already so that I can read more. Highly recommended (unless you really hate horror-based stories – it’s pretty damn dark, trust me).