The Winter 2019 Anime Preview Guide
The Promised Neverland
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Promised Neverland ?
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How was the first episode?
I'm among the fans of the original Promised Neverland manga that have been waiting eagerly for an anime adaptation, and I was equally excited and nervous to see what Studio Cloverworks brought to the table. After all, the last production of theirs that I saw all the way through was DARLING in the FRANXX, and the only series of director Mamoru Kanbe that I've watched is Elfen Lied, and those are two shows that I have very mixed feelings about.
My fears were assuaged from the first moments of The Promised Neverland's premiere, which sees our heroine Emma emerging into the foreground from the shadows to grip the iron bars that separate her family of orphans from the outside world. The contrast between light and shadow is stark and powerful, and the use of soft focus emphasizes just how important perspective is to this story. Emma, Norman, and Ray may be brilliant and resourceful, but they're children, and from the first frame of this episode, we can feel how overwhelming it is to be a child in a world that's been hidden from you for so long that you can barely comprehend it. The rest of the story that follows is equally atmospheric, perfectly capturing the tragic mix of childlike joy and unnerving horror that has made The Promised Neverland such a beloved manga for so many readers.
What impresses me so much about this episode is how it effectively uses animation to enhance an already masterful opening chapter. It isn't a panel-perfect adaptation, but the small additions and alterations are all smart choices. The ticking clock that's superimposed onto Norman and Emma's game of tag is an inventive bit of direction that serves as a perfect visual metaphor for the arc of the episode itself, and it also gives us more of a peek inside Ray's head, who is the only child who seems to be aware of how the clock is running out for everyone in the orphanage.
When Norman and Emma eventually make the horrible discovery of what happens to children who are “adopted” away from Grace Field, the anime plays more coyly with the reveal of the monsters, and I think this works in the show's favor. In the manga, artist Posuka Demizu was able to illustrate the creatures in all of their gnarled and horrific glory, giving readers a good long look at the beings who feast on human children like livestock. The anime sticks closer to the kids perspective, clinging low with them to the ground while we see flashes of bony hands or zoom in on the monsters' hideous twitching eyes. The character animation becomes more expressionistic and emotionally charged in these scenes; we see every ounce of terror on Emma and Norman's face as they realize the Mama that raised them has been the one sending them out to slaughter.
If Cloverworks can maintain the fidelity of this production through the rest of the season, I will be elated. I would have been crushed if such a refreshing and cerebral shonen series didn't get the love it deserved because the anime failed to live up to the manga's excellence, but all signs point to The Promised Neverland being one of the winter season's top contenders, and I couldn't be happier.
Hello there, nightmare fuel. I rarely get much entertainment out of horror titles that rely on excessive gore or jump scares, but The Promised Neverland looks like it'll be far more compelling than the average spook-fest. This first episode in particular does an excellent job of starting off with the vague unease of a psychological thriller and gradually ramping up into outright horror as it taps into the classic childhood fear of monsters in the closet. Couple that with expressive animation that fully conveys the characters' emotions and you've got an intensely gripping premiere.
I walked into this show with no background knowledge whatsoever, so the first half of this episode played out as a bit of a guessing game for me. As we learn more about the kids and their life at Grace Field House, the occasional hints that something's amiss allow the viewer's imagination to run wild trying to guess what's really going on. That mix of curiosity and suspicion ramps up once Emma and Norman run off to deliver Conny's forgotten stuffed rabbit, and the tension hits its first big high point once Emma looks inside the truck. From there it's a pretty standard “hide from the monster” scene, albeit one that's presented exceedingly well.
Honestly, I found a lot of the smaller details to be more compelling than the big revelation of the corpse. The show gives us enough information to figure out that the voices at the gate aren't human before we actually see the monsters, which is exactly what it ought to do. Showing the audience a monster can be a little scary, but letting the audience have that “oh, crap” moment of realizing that the monster exists is a much better way to crank up the fear level. The same goes for the aftermath of the gate sequence, where Emma and Norman's panicked attempts at figuring out what to do next emphasize just how utterly screwed these kids are. Their conversation hints at a lot of future challenges, like evading “Mom” and getting the other children to believe them, and the fact that I was trying to brainstorm along with them is a good sign.
The Promised Neverland now faces the same problem as every other horror story: the more we know, the harder it becomes to keep things scary. As the audience starts to learn what the monsters are and how they work, the show will need to keep one-upping itself without coming across as ridiculous or excessive. That is by no means an easy thing to do, but if The Promised Neverland can pull it off, it stands to be once of this season's, and perhaps even one of this year's, most compelling titles. As long as you don't mind scary stories with child protagonists, this series should be on your shortlist.
Going into this one, all I knew beyond the basic blurb was that it had more buzz surrounding it than most other titles. After seeing the first episode, I can understand why. If the rest of the series can maintain the standard set here, I can easily see this being one of the season's defining anime.
The premise is relatively standard horror fare. A bunch of kids are being raised in an isolated, heavily controlled environment without a clue that their world has very nefarious undertones. At first I was anticipating something along the lines of M. Night Shyamalan's The Village or perhaps a much darker twist, but the reveal that we get is satisfyingly grotesque enough to set up a powerfully compelling premise. How are 11-year-old Emma and Norman going to save everyone from the grisly fate that awaits them? And how much of the truth do they spill to the rest of the kids to get them to go along with their escape plan?
What makes the first episode great is less the premise and more the execution. The technical merits are sharp, with lots of detailed animation that clearly expresses the individuality of each character. The timing and storyboarding are excellent, with nary a shot feeling superfluous or excessive; almost every little detail or line of dialogue suggests something important, and I'm betting that even the game of tag is meant to be a precursor to a real-life survival situation down the road. Emma satisfyingly fills the role of the one to take initiative, while a tactician and a strategist back her up. They make for a balanced and potent combination.
Perhaps most importantly, the episode's execution nails the vague but growing sense of dread that the story is attempting to foster. The series takes a much more understated approach than something like Angels of Death for example, but the impact in key moments is sharper for it. I'm not sure if this is the kind of thing that I'll be curious enough to follow, but it's definitely a story worth getting excited about.
Along with Mob Psycho, The Promised Neverland was one of my most-anticipated titles coming into this season. What I've read of the manga was a thrilling experience, and a very novel twist on the general shounen template. Though the adaptation's director Mamoru Kanbe has had a fairly hit-or-miss career, the overall adaptation team seemed strong, and so I was eager to see this story in motion. So how does the adaptation hold up?
So far, mostly so good. The actual narrative substance of this episode is just as compelling as it was in manga form, as we're introduced to Emma, Norman, and Ray, along with all the other orphans at Grace Field House. The bulk of this episode is taken up by a demonstration of their initially charmed lives, as the relationships between the characters and threat of the outside world are illustrated through the course of a full day's schedule. Though I felt there were occasional splashes of awkward exposition (especially in the very first scene), for the most part, this episode unveiled its universe and hinted at its mysteries with relative grace.
As far as the visual design and direction go, this adaptation has done an excellent job of adapting Posuka Demizu's unusual character designs to animation, and this episode was absolutely brimming with charming, flavorful character animation. The storyboarding and shot-to-shot pacing do a great job of instilling otherwise mundane scenes with a sense of lurking dread; some shots are held just long enough to feel ominous, while others cut so quickly the viewer is immediately disoriented. Neverland's one visual weakness is one I was already anticipating from the trailers - the show's background art feels unfortunately flat, and Grace Field House in particular is rendered with such flat CG shapes that it fails to possess much inherent character. “The world itself is against us” is a key element of Neverland's appeal, so the weakness of the backgrounds feels a little bit more frustrating here than it might in the abstract.
All those complaints faded when it came to this episode's climax, though. Through a mix of evocative direction, ominous sound design, and wonderfully tense pacing, the reveal of Neverland's big secret feels genuinely terrifying, bringing us closer to the horror of this situation than even the manga accomplished. It's a killer hook, and a strong statement of purpose for this adaptation.
On the whole, while I had various quibbles with this premiere, I still greatly enjoyed it throughout, and feel it does a fine job of bringing the manga to life. The Promised Neverland is going to be one of this season's most thrilling rides, and I'm already eager for episode two.
As far as “creeping horror” goes, you don't get much better than the first episode of The Promised Neverland. Adapting roughly the first half of the manga's opening volume, the story is much less influenced by J.M. Barrie's early 20th century children's novel Peter Pan than you might think – although the “neverland” in the title does make sense. After all, Barrie's Neverland is a place where children don't grow up – and the kids at The Home are never going to get the chance to.
That's the horrifying realization that Emma and Norman come to when they finally figure out what all of the pieces of their lives have been adding up to. We as viewers are already clued in to the ominous nature of things when we see the number tattoos on the kids' necks - tattoos most frequently connected (in my family at least) to the concentration camps of World War Two. But for children raised by “Mom,” it's more the little things: letters from kids who've left that never come, fences and gates deemed as “dangerous” but that clearly aren't, odd tests that they take every day. It's really Ray, the third member of their trio, who has the best sense that things aren't right, but none of them know just how wrong they are until six-year-old Conny is “adopted”…and Norman and Emma find her corpse.
Obviously if you're sensitive to stories about cruelty to children this is not going to be the show for you. If you can stomach it (and honestly, excellent as this episode is, I'll probably just stick with the manga because voices add a dimension of horror I'd as soon avoid), this could well be one of the best shows of the season. Not only is the use of color in shaping the mood beautifully done, but there's a brilliant sense of tension built by dragging things out as long as feasible before finally letting us in on the details. Add beautiful animation and strong vocals, particularly from Norman, and this story about monstrous beings in 2045 feels like a winner.
Right now there are more questions than answers for Emma, Norman, and Ray. Literature (including J.M. Barrie's) has shown us that groups of plucky kids are often more than a match for adults who underestimate them. But Mom clearly was a child at one point – unless she's the spawn of Miss Trunchbull from Matilda, another British children's novel that feels like an influence here – and that means that she was clever enough to survive. She's not likely to underestimate Emma and the gang. Than means that Neverland may have a greater hold on them than they think.
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