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Review: The Promised Neverland Anime Is A Hyperrational Prison Break Without The Nonsense

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BY September 23, 2020
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There’s a certain level of suspension of disbelief at play when watching anything fictional. Even more so when watching an anime about monsters and demons who require human children raised as food (and by other humans, no less). I mean, of course, there is. But when a show like that takes its premise and creates a story that is so ridiculously set in real-world motivations, actions, and uber-rational logic, it’s difficult not to be impressed. When I sat to review The Promised Neverland anime, I was…nervous. Instead, I got a show written so well, that I ended up buying into to every strange thing it threw at me. 

The Original Manga Series and New Anime

Manga. Image via Shueisha

The anime series comes from a manga by Kaiu Shirai, released from August 2016 to June 2020. The manga became a great hit, spawning an anime series that took aired in 2019. After its release, The Promised Neverland anime series won the Crunchyroll Anime Award for Best Fantasy, and it appears on many ‘best anime’ lists. The series recently premiered on Netflix, with more to come. The popularity and critical success of The Promised Neverland continues with an upcoming live-action movie and a live-action TV series, developed by Amazon.

The Promised Neverland Anime Has A Great Hook!

The Promised Neverland anime review Mom Image via CloverWorks.

The Promised Neverland is a very interesting anime. The story begins in an orphanage where kids are having the time of their lives. It’s not the typical sad and gloomy orphanage, but one where the kids are happy and their caretaker seems to genuinely love them. The story begins with the adoption of one of those children. It’s a happy time, naturally, as the adorable little girl will finally go to a home with parents of her own. After she leaves, two of the orphans follow her to the gates, usually forbidden to them, to return a stuffed animal she left behind. What they discover horrifies them and changes their lives.

The following paragraph will be a spoiler to episode 1 of The Promised Neverland anime but is sort of implied in the trailers and series description. But tread at your own risk. 

The two kids find their friend dead in a truck. They hear creatures discussing eating her. Freaked out, and unable to comprehend what they’re seeing, the two kids flee. They then must deal with the frightening reality of their experience. It’s an amazing hook. I’ll be totally honest, I expected a plain and simple dramatic story about orphans who discover some mysterious secret. But the brutality of episode 1 of The Promised Neverland completely pulls you in as you have to sit up and take notice. It sets the tone for the incredibly mature situations and the horror that these pre-teens deal with in the show. And that’s where the anime series really shines. 

It’s Prison Break But With Kids And Demons

The Promised Neverland anime review Trio. Image via CloverWorks.

The two orphans who find out the terrible secret of their orphanage are Emma (Erica Mendez) and Norman (Jeannie Tirado). Trying to make sense of the revelation that they’re all just food for demons out in the real world, is understandably complicated. I was able to review all of The Promised Neverland anime series, and I most loved the writing. Never once do you question the characters’ processes, reactions, or their eventual conclusions. How these young minds figure stuff out while holding their underdeveloped emotions in check is brilliant. 

Emma and Norman have to figure out what to do, now that they know the truth. Their lives, along with that of everyone else in the orphanage, some of whom are just infants or toddlers, are in danger. They devise a plan to escape the orphanage, and they do it in the most hyper-rational way I’ve ever seen in any show, much less one about kids. Unlike the Fox TV series Prison Break, there are no unrealistic or outrageous gimmicks or crazy subplots challenging that suspension of disbelief we were talking about. The planning that the kids come up with to escape the orphanage is insanely well thought out, logical, and takes into account almost everything. You’d be hard-pressed to find a plot hole that isn’t nitpicky. 

This The Promised Neverland Anime Review Highly Recommends The Show

The Promised Neverland anime review Ray. Image via CloverWorks.

On top of Emma and Norman making plans, they include Ray (Laura Megan Stahl), another orphan as well. The rest of the 12 episode season of the anime goes through many plot twists I wouldn’t dare spoil. It’s also incredible how much happens in the show in just one short season. Prison Break took things at a snail’s pace, and resorted to cheap tricks and dragged out the drama for maximum milking of the audience’s interest. The Promised Neverland, however, keeps things moving extremely fast. The status quo changes from episode to episode. They plan, hit an obstacle, then recover with a new plan. Also, they are preteens, so there’s backstabbing and betrayal, along with also reveals that we don’t see coming. And not one of those moments didn’t feel earned.

Another cool aspect of The Promised Neverland anime is how the story unfolds, not just for the audience, but other characters as well. Unlike shows where there is only one character who is a proxy for the audience, that perspective is constantly shifting in this anime. We begin with the three kids who are the leads, discovering this world as we go. But throughout the show, each of those three characters shifts perspective, as the proxy changes, based on the development in the story. It’s a unique concept that completely keeps the audience guessing, never able to predict what’s coming next. The series also shines a light on the perceived villain of the story, Mom aka Isabella (Laura Post), who is the caretaker of this orphanage, and in on the kids-for-demon-food scheme. It’s Mom that they kids have to rebel and escape from. 

The World Building Of Promised Neverland Is Just Enough

The Promised Neverland anime review Emma and Norman. Image via CloverWorks.

As if this review weren’t glowing enough, another great thing about The Promised Neverland anime is how world the story unfolds. The world is one with demons, where kids are essentially cattle, harvested when they’re ripe for consumption. We’re not drawn into long expositional lore moments nor world history. There are glimpses of what looks like a demon hierarchy, references of saving the best kids’ brains for the elite, but we’re never at the table with them. Demons are guarding the orphanage, but not a lot of demon action, as other anime would be prone to do. The story stays focused on what’s happening inside the orphanage, without going into other avenues. Which is kind of genius, given that’s exactly the scope of knowledge that the characters have as well; escape now, deal with the outside world after. 

There’s a great sequence at the end of the season finale that showcases Isabella’s journey and totally humanizes her. For a show built on the concepts of suspense, twists, and frantic energy, there are some very soft and emotionally moving moments as well. That’s kind of why I loved The Promised Neverland anime; it’s never just one thing, but ends up being a well-rounded show that constantly challenges the audience’s idea of what it really is. 

Season 1 of The Promised Neverland anime is now streaming on most major platforms such as Netflix, Funimation and Crunchyroll. Season 2 arrives in 2021.

Leave your own review of The Promised Neverland anime in the comments below. Tell us what you think about the series, and how it will translate to live-action. 

Featured image via CloverWorks

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Shah Shahid is an entertainment writer, movie critic (so he thinks), host of the Split Screen Podcast (on Apple Podcasts & everywhere else) and filmy father on a mission to educate his girls on decades of film history. Armed with uncontrollable sarcasm and cautious optimism, Shah loves discussing film, television and comic book content until his wife’s eyes glaze over. So save her by engaging him on his own blog at BlankPageBeatdown.com or on Twitter @theshahshahid.

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