The Promised Neverland Season 2
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Promised Neverland (TV 2) ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
The Promised Neverland (TV 2) ?
In the decade or so that has passed since The Promised Neverland wrapped up its first season in 2019, I sure have missed getting to relive the perilous adventures of Emma, Ray, and the rest of the kiddos from Grace Field House. The second season's premiere was a very welcome return to the world of TPN, and it says a lot about the current state of things that diving headlong back into a nightmarish realm filled with child-eating demon monsters is an experience that one could describe as “cozy.” Yet that's exactly where I was last week when The Promised Neverland's second season dropped, in my anime happy place, with memories of Emma and Co.'s thrilling escape from Grace Field surfacing in my mind bit-by-bit as the kids made their way through the seemingly endless forest that lay beyond their former home.
The premiere doesn't spend a whole lot of time with explicit recaps of what happened last season, but that actually works out fine, because you don't exactly need to remember the nitty-gritty details of the kids' cat-and-mouse game with their “Mother” Isabella in order to follow along with this new adventure. In a way, you could almost describe the entire first season as a kind of prologue to the larger story of the Grace Field Kids' attempts to survive – and possibly even escape – this hostile land that is filled with so many creatures lurking in the shadows. What details that do matter are recapped handily in the premiere: Emma and Ray are the leaders of the outfit, the kids have years' worth of eclectic reading habits and training to provide them with just enough sense and skill to survive their first night in the wilderness, and some guy named William Minerva has left the runaways a fancy hologram-pen and a ton of escape-room style clues to lead the way towards what we can only hope is salvation.
Except it only takes the audience a couple of minutes to realize that all of the precocious spunk in the world won't be enough to get these children through being actively hunted by demon creatures from hell while also trying to survive a basically alien environment that wants to eat them all just as bad as the sentient monsters do. That's where Mujika and Sonju come in, two ostensibly friendly demons that rescue the kids from the hunters and offer them shelter, food, an improvisational curriculum in The Ancient Demon Art of Not Dying Horribly in Weird Monster Lands, and all the exposition that Emma, Ray, and the audience could hope for given the story's very sudden shift in setting and tone.
This is where fans of the manga who somehow avoided the first season will begin to catch on to the ways in which Mamoru Kanbe and the crew at CloverWorks have managed to faithfully adapt the wonderful story of The Promised Neverland while diverging very noticeably from the manga's trademark expressionistic style. Everything in the Nice Demons' lair is bathed in soft greens and yellows, with the lighting achieving a realistic quality that enhances the texture of the art while keeping it grounded firmly in the sensory realm, instead of the imaginative. Where Mujika and Sonju retained the uncanny and otherworldly vibe of their demonic counterparts in the manga, here in the anime they feel decidedly more, well, human. This isn't a bad thing, I don't think, as it maintains the throughline of uneasy friendship that builds throughout the scene in way that works given the style that Season 1 established.
Or take the scene where Sonju regales Emma and Ray with the story of how, a thousand years ago, the demons and humans of Earth made a “promise” to put a stop to their endless war and segregate their worlds, with a remaining population of people left behind to farm and harvest as a kind of “gift”. In the manga, this sequence has all of the hallmarks of dark fantasy and suspense that made The Promised Neverland stand out so much when it debuted in 2016: We see visions of the mythic past that are paralleled with Emma and Ray's half-panicked, half-elated reckoning of it, which all climaxes in their triumphant, defiant glee in the face of their impossible new task. They will break the very foundations of this demon/human treaty and fight to ensure that every Grace Field Kid can cross the barrier back into the human world to live a life free of the demons' gluttony.
Except Mamoru Kanbe's Promised Neverland doesn't do fanciful story-time flourishes, and it definitely doesn't do inner-monologue, so the entire sequence plays out completely differently: Sonju gives the kids the strange, scary facts as he understands them, with the camera never cutting away from the four bodies in that underground room. We watch as Emma and Ray's faces are overcome with puzzlement, worry, and then finally that same spark of mad glee, which I think lands just as well even without all of the manga's embellishments. In the hands of lesser artists, I don't think the anime's style would have a hope of matching the manga's, but CloverWorks has been able to make it work so far, so I can only hope they keep it up.
Another thing that I hope CloverWorks can keep up is this pacing, which also feels just right to me at the moment, even though the show is burning through manga chapters like they're going out of style. For reference, the first season averaged between 1-3 chapters per week, covering 37 total across its 12 episodes. By my count, we've already spanned Chapters 38-49, which is practically doubling the pace of the story. This is another instance where, in the hands of another creative team, I'd be worried, but CloverWorks has actually enlisted the manga's author herself to supervise this season's adaptation and even to write some original material. This gives me hope that the more interesting and important details that this episode skipped will be revisited or reincorporated into the story in a way that makes sense as the season proceeds.
What made The Promised Neverland's first season so remarkable is how deftly it captured the heart of the story, and the visceral emotions that came from watching the kids try to defy their fates and find freedom in a terrifyingly strange world. So far, Season 2 is doing a great job of continuing that trend, with the beating heart of the series coming in as loud and clear as ever. We end TPN's reintroduction with one of my favorite scenes from the whole series, when Emma asks Sonju to teach her how to kill and make use of a living creature. She is fiercely protective of her family, so no matter how much she wants to avoid killing, she knows that they will all have to be able to defend themselves and find sustenance, and this is not a world that suffers pacifism lightly. So Sonju takes her on her first hunt, and she ably strikes a bird from its branch, but the real weight of the hunt comes from getting close to the prey. From claiming the kill.
Sonju shows her how to use that peculiar vampiric flower, the vida, which is used in a ritual called Gupna that drains the prey of their blood and dedicates the food to the demon's gods. Emma knows what she has to do, and she even offers up her own prayer: “We don't want to be eaten. We want to live. But we're eating others too. And if we can't keep eating, we can't survive.” It still makes her sick in her stomach, though, since the last time she saw the vida, it was pierced right into her sister Conny's heart. When she comes home, the kids all know that something isn't right, that Emma has changed somehow. She tells them all that everything is fine. It isn't, of course, but it doesn't matter. She has to press on. They all must, if they want to survive.
Odds and Ends
• The new OP is great, with haunting visuals that match perfectly with Kiiro Akiyama's “Identity.” Myuk's “Maho” is a fine song for the ED, too, and I like how the visuals inject a little bit of that expressionistic flair that the show usually restrains from indulging in. I haven't gone back to Season 1's OP and ED since 2019, but I think these new ones are both even better than their predecessors.
• I can't recall the name of the blonde boy with the onion hair, but he gets the line of the episode when he dunks on Ray, “who always tries to run off and die if you don't keep an eye on him.” Roasted.
• Some extra brownie points for Gilda, who gives Emma the scolding of a lifetime, and is coming into her own as possibly the only one of the older kids who isn't a completely reckless doofus. It's about time the kids get a mom that isn't, you know, actively trying to sell them off as living meat pies for demons.
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