Reviewby Nick Creamer,
The Promised Neverland
With both their “mother” Isabella and Sister Krone watching their every move, Emma and her friends are closer than ever to death - but also that much closer to freedom. Now, with their shipment date approaching and only a few more details of their escape plan to be resolved, Neverland's game of cat and mouse reaches a fever pitch, as strange alliances are tested and secrets continue to be revealed. Can these kids possibly escape the brutality of the fate set before them, and even if they escape, is there a better world waiting on the outside?
The Promised Neverland hits the ground running in its third volume, opening with new allies Gilda and Don staging a daring and likely ill-advised break-in of Isabella's secret room. Their extremely rash choice leads to both discord within the main group and a new opportunity for Sister Krone, and exemplifies this volume's overall expansion of Neverland's drama. Though the story was initially tightly focused on just three kids and their antagonistic overlord, as new allies emerge and ambiguous alliances form, Neverland is able to draw more and more satisfying conflicts out of its inherently thrilling premise. Neverland has hit its stride at this point, and seeing this thriller in action is a marvelous thing.
Sister Krone in particular really makes the most of her material here. While the motives and positions of both Isabella and the children are fairly concrete, Krone is able to move between the two, taking advantage of whatever opportunities present themselves to further her own ambitions. “The adults can't figure out our secret” is a binary conflict without much room for complexity, but Krone isn't truly Isabella's ally, and her actions add cracks of nuance to the adults' side, just as Gilda and Don's relative naivety adds fragility to the kids'.
Krone's arc across this volume also reflects back on the social commentary that made this manga's first few chapters so gripping. Taught from an early age to “compete - that is how we survive,” her story humanizes complicity in this awful system. “Those who succeed do so because they worked the hardest and earned it, those who suffer just didn't try hard enough” is how we justify any scale of injustice, but Krone's subtle assistance of the children contradicts that cruel philosophy. Krone ultimately reflects a battle-hardened humanism at the heart of Neverland, a faith that even if we've taught all our lives that competition is the way of the world, there is still some spark inside us that believes we owe each other kindness and support.
But Krone's story is just one of the many great elements of this terrific volume. With so many key characters to play with, Kaiu Shirai's skill at crafting thrillers is clear throughout these chapters, as fortunes shift and plans change at a moment's notice. There are desperate negotiations and races against time and unexpected betrayals, all leading to a second half where it feels like every possible thing that could go wrong does. It is remarkable how consistently and impactfully our heroes lose in this volume; at virtually all times, it feels like a noose is clinching ever tighter around their necks.
Posuka Demizu's wild art matches Shirai's narrative ferocity, offering plentiful highlights in spite of this volume not really featuring natural visual setpieces. As usual, it's the chapter covers that steal the show, with Demizu's skill as an illustrator telling full stories across her dramatic title spreads. But the panel-to-panel storytelling and expression work also seems improved here, as Demizu gets more comfortable drawing nuanced expressions out of her wavering lines. And at this point, the wobbly weirdness and scale inconsistency of Demizu's style actually feels like a genuine strength - Demizu may not be the best at conveying realistic movement or consistency of design, but her wild posing and exaggerated outlines for Isabella and Krone make each of them terrifying in their own right.
On the whole, The Promised Neverland's third volume feels like a marked improvement over the second in virtually every dimension. The storytelling is more gripping, themes more naturally interwoven into the narrative, and art both more monstrous and more expressive. On top of all that, everything that happens here feels deeply consequential - there's a real sense of urgency at all times, and the story continues to shift its fundamental variables in meaningful and electrifying ways. Neverland continues to be one of the most unique and gripping shonen tales around.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Sister Krone and Emma's new allies add thrilling complexity to a story that's both tightly plotted and thematically biting
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