Reviewby Nick Creamer,
The Promised Neverland
The moment has arrived at last! With Grace Field House in flames, Emma and her siblings find themselves in one more race against time, as they attempt to outwit their caretaker and escape into the great beyond. Having made hard sacrifices along the way, all their planning has come to this, as their cherished home goes up in a puff of smoke. But even if they make it beyond the confines of their prison, they have no knowledge of the outside world, and are hotly pursued by a menagerie of furious demons. Can they escape from the forces pursuing them, and is there any hope of safety waiting for them on the other side?
The Promised Neverland has always been a relatively interesting Shonen Jump property, in that its base premise naturally implies instability and coming change. Unlike a property like Naruto or One Piece's relatively stable, often episodic nature, “our home life is a lie and we're getting shipped off as food in a matter of months” is a hook that demands urgency and implies change. Though the manga smartly embraces the tropes and appeal of pot-boiling prison break narratives all through its first arc, that arc ends in them literally burning down their prison, forcing the story to become an entirely different type of animal. So how does the manga survive this massive transition?
So far, so gracefully. Perhaps my favorite thing about this volume was how its greater range of settings allowed Posuka Demizu's art to shine. Demizu has always felt like an artist more suited to expansive illustrations than tightly compressed panels, and our heroes' journey into the dark woods provides copious opportunities for beautiful, evocative environmental spreads. The richly detailed incidental scenes of Grace Field House are replaced by foreboding visions of fairy tale woods, their mixture of flowery, inviting undergrowth and looming branches naturally embodying both the allure and terror of classic fables. Demizu is a manga artist with a rare and specific talent, and this volume's environmental shifts offer ample opportunities for that talent to dazzle us.
All that said, simply attributing this volume's visual strengths to a change in venue feels like it'd be shortchanging Demizu's accomplishments. The drama as a whole feels more punchily illustrated this time, with standout vignettes like Isabella's final reflections offering some of the simultaneously best-written and best-illustrated material yet. The balance of crowded expository panels and dramatic half-page punchlines made Isabella's tragic history viscerally real, while the narrative reveals of this sequence gave her story a surprisingly sympathetic punchline. Given this is fundamentally a story about children being raised to be eaten, I appreciate how consistently and well The Promised Neverland has acknowledged the humanity of even its most morally ambiguous characters.
As for Emma and the gang, their journey outside the farm has so far been a thrill-a-minute adventure from start to finish. Though the manga will probably have to calm down eventually and establish some new status quo, their journey is as of yet entirely consumed by the immediate necessities of escape and survival. As they're preyed on by forest predators and pursued by active hunters, The Promised Neverland demonstrates that its initial focus on tactics, preparation, and outwitting your opponent can still be applied to more overtly action-packed conflicts. Twists like the true nature of Minerva's writings offer a satisfying union of strategic complexity and fairy tale whimsy, while the group's first faceoff with an actual demon offers a natural payoff for their training so far. Outracing demons might seem like a far cry from skulking around Grace Field House, but by carefully centering its conflicts on evading attackers, The Promised Neverland is able to maintain significant dramatic congruity between its first two acts.
On this whole, this is simultaneously one of the most distinct and most satisfying volumes of The Promised Neverland yet. Though I'd feared the manga's change in both venue and genre space might find it stepping outside of its dramatic comfort zone, the story actually feels more propulsive and energetic than ever, adapting gracefully to new circumstances while still embracing the tactical appeal of its earlier material. Meanwhile, Posuka Demizu's artistry feels more impressive than ever, marrying an increasing understanding of panel pacing to a setting that really lets her greatest talents shine. The Promised Neverland is storming through an epic transition phase, and the confidence of this volume makes me eager to see where it lands.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Manages the first steps of a transition phase with grace, offering some of the most exciting conflicts and beautiful set pieces of the story so far
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