The Promised Neverland (Season One)
Youngsters Emma and Norman discover (not entirely by accident) that being "adopted" out of their Grace Field House orphanage actually means being selected for a cruel fate. With the clock ticking toward their own turns to face this, they try to devise a plan of escape- but the more they add to their almost non-existent information about this place, the more it seems their adversaries have covered all the bases. Even with the cynical Ray on board, can they get away from "Mom" (a woman named Isabella, who's both their guardian and guard)? And how many of the other kids can they free as well?
Emma, Norman, and Ray seem impossibly precocious for not-quite twelve-year-olds: they make (usually) correct inferences about their opponents based on very slender evidence, and devise amazingly sophisticated strategies (and counter-strategies) that surprise the viewer as much as their foes. One would normally think that, given their intentions, their captors would prefer the kids to be kept fat and stupid, but no; we are given a rationale for the kids being allowed to develop intellectually- but wouldn't it STILL be more logical for the knowledge of certain things (like, for example, tracking devices) to nevertheless be suppressed? Instead, the place is filled with books- not only in the kids' dorms, but even in "Mom's" inner sanctum. It's fitting, though, in a way- for this show is a thinking person's thriller, and to make that work, the older kids, at least, have to reason like adults; I got the feeling that the characters are in children's bodies more to get that extra layer of concern one has for kids in peril.
And the show maintains a high level of psychological tension throughout, even though we're hit with unexpected explicit horror only a couple of times. (A third time, we sort of see it coming; and in another case the horror isn't explicitly shown at all, but that instance is perhaps the most devastating of all, for ALL the kids, but especially the principal leaders of the escape attempt.)
The characters are very well realized. The principal escape plotter is Norman, a seemingly cheerful kid- no matter how dark things get- whose amiable personality conceals a genius that has considered issues and angles that have simply not occurred to anyone else. We'll eventually learn how deep his thinking has gone. But Ray is a different sort; while also a genius in his own way, Ray is frankly skeptical about their chances- especially if they try to get ALL the kids out- and he bears a burden of guilt that the other kids don't. Both he and "Mom" (Isabella) have made concessions to the evil of the place in order to survive- one by actively embracing the evil, the other by standing by and watching it happen. Isabella illustrates that a human being cannot actually become a part of something like this without becoming a psychopath. The ambivalent attitude she's developed toward her charges is the real horror here; she's survived psychologically by- well, becoming a monster. (We'll get her story in greater detail in some later flashbacks.) As for Ray, he's also taken some psychological damage from the place, and I was wondering how trustworthy he was- as apparently his pals Norman and Emma had been wondering too- but I liked Ray nevertheless (or maybe just felt sympathy for him); his soul was clearly damaged by the place, but maybe not damaged beyond redemption. We've also got Sister Krone, who's drawn as an ethnic stereotype (part of the reason I went for one star less than a perfect score here), but despite her own ambitions I found her to be somewhat less evil than Isabella- or at least somewhat less devious. (But you can't be TOO honest in a world like this, y'know.)
Emma, though, is the steadfast one- resolute, indomitable, yet compassionate, someone who can be bent by grief but is hard to actually break, someone whose toughness of spirit endures despite some devastating developments, a true leader (and one of the most admirable characters I've come across in anime, even though here- as with Norman's plans- the depth of all this was not immediately apparent.)
Noted in passing: These 12 episodes are obviously the start of a much longer saga. I've heard that there are issues of some sort with the later chapters of the manga, but (and I'm trying not to reveal too much here) I was fairly satisfied with the story we have here. There are heartbreaking developments and moments of pure horror, but the unquenchable human spirit is in here too. I'll also note that the episode titles here are actually dates, in the format day/month/year, so the first one, "121045", is set on October 12, 2045. (Considering that we find out there's been at least one generation of these goings-on before the events in the show, however things ended up this way, it can't have started that far into our "own" future.)
The show's plot twists, and the continuing fear for the children, certainly put the viewer through an emotional wringer. Some might find the show-uh- tasteless; it's certainly not for everybody, especially considering the peril the children face (which I've spelled out in the Review, if you can find it), and my thinking here was similar to Stig's in his Elfen Lied review; if I went with my own feelings I might have rated 5 stars, but I felt more comfortable, for a wider audience, at four. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Another anime series that is inappropriate for the age group of its cast. While only a few scenes are actually shocking/explicit horror, the pervasive nature of the horror here makes this Not For Children. We'll say 16+.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll
Review Status: Full (12/12)
The Promised Neverland (Season One) © 2019 Cloverworks.
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