The Promised Neverland
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Promised Neverland ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Promised Neverland ?
From the moment the series opens on Emma's face pressed against the cold steel bars of the gate, The Promised Land presents itself as a sort of fairy-tale – the older, darker tales that people once used to warn children about the monsters that awaited them out in the world. When Emma, Norman, and Ray encounter that cold and imposing barrier on the forbidden borders surrounding Grace Field House, Norman can only imagine what the gate must be protecting them from. Emma is eager to ride a giraffe and find all the other wonderful things waiting for her on the other side. But their Mama knows better, and so do we.
The premiere of The Promised Neverland was a nearly perfect adaptation of its excellent source material; Studio CloverWorks managed to preserve the fraught suspense of Kaiu Shirai's story and Posuka Demizu's artwork, while also taking advantage of anime's unique strengths as a medium. The direction, editing, sound design, and score all worked in tandem to augment The Promised Neverland's already riveting opening, and its second episode carries that momentum without stumbling for even a moment.
“131045” has the unenviable task of covering four chapters worth of content in the same amount of time it took the premiere to cover one, but it manages to stick the landing effortlessly. One of the most unique aspects of Neverland's storytelling is how much it relies on its characters' wits and scheming to fuel its action. Instead of training for intense battles or grand conflicts, one chapter will have Emma and Norman investigating the giant wall surrounding their home and figuring out how to make a rope long enough to scale it, while another will show them discovering Mama's use of tracking devices to keep tabs on all of her “children”.
In the manga, we get a lot of narration and some truly inventive artistry to keep these otherwise static scenes interesting, but Mamoru Kanbe and his crew understand that what works in a comic doesn't necessarily translate 1:1 in animation, so they make some inspired directorial choices of their own to get the audience to the same place emotionally, while making sure the story shines clearly in this new form. For instance, when Emma awakens on her first day of knowing the truth about Grace Field, the manga has her and Norman exchanging innocuous greetings, while narration and a flashback explain that they're putting on a façade to keep Mama in the dark. In the same scene in “131045”, Emma's face contorts with grief and sorrow as she reckons with her family and the woman who betrayed them all, and Norman gives her his advice to act natural in real time. It's a small change, but the effect is noticeable, and it communicates the exact same information in a way that works much better than a more literal adaptation would have.
Or consider the scene where Mama and Emma have their first unspoken confrontation. The two kids have discovered that Mama is using a tracking device to keep an eye on their movements, which means she must know what they've been up to since discovering Conny's fate. Emma puts on a performance in an effort to suss out the extent of Mama's knowledge, and she and Norman think they've almost gotten away with it until Mama stops them dead in their tracks to ask if they've been exploring where they shouldn't. The manga uses expressionistic line work and canted angles to freeze the kids' panic in a moment of time, and it works.
“131045” takes the same exchange and transfers it from a hallway to the house's main staircase. The camera isolates Norman and Emma, emphasizing their smallness compared to their Mama. Then, the scene cuts to Mama's view from above the children, which is a classic but effective way to highlight just the sheer danger of her inscrutable expression. Later, Emma collapses in shock, and Norman has to help her to her feet. In the manga, the children are framed in claustrophobic panels that emphasize Emma's reaction. The anime inserts a beautifully framed shot of Norman offering Emma his trembling hand; it's an affecting little moment of characterization that serves as a great example of how the kids' relationships with one another steadily growing.
I promise that these reviews won't spoil any future plot developments from the manga; they're meant to work for existing fans and newcomers to the series alike. I only bring up these specific comparisons to The Promised Neverland's manga to illustrate all of the little things that make this anime great so far, already one of the must-watch series of the year. By the time the episode ends, Ray has joined in on the plan, and a new caretaker has arrived to Grace Field House: Miss Krone. I'm thrilled to see the story ramping up so quickly.
My favorite exchange from these two episodes occurs late in the second one, where Ray is berating Norman for going along with Emma's plan to not only escape, but also rescue all of the kids while they're at it. Ray argues that it's suicidal and Norman should know better – Norman agrees of course, but he loves Emma, so he's willing to follow her instincts, even if it means they're both crazy. These kids shouldn't have to balance the lives of their family against the monsters clawing at their doors, but Emma and Norman took a step beyond the border, and this burden of responsibility is the price they have to pay. Emma believes that they can save the orphans of Grace Field without having to sacrifice a single child, and we should know better than to think that's possible. But we come to see Emma the way Norman does, and despite the horrors that are surely waiting for them on the other side of that wall, we can't help but believe in her too.
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