Reviewby Nick Creamer,
The Promised Neverland
Emma and Ray find themselves on the move again, as their reluctant guide leads them to what will hopefully be Minerva's next checkpoint. But the forests surrounding their bunker are flush with wild demons, and even darker things lie in wait at their destination. After being captured by unknown pursuers, Emma finds herself trapped in one more prison, and once again at the mercy of capricious and bloodthirsty demons. Will the skills she has learned give her the strength to fight back, or is this where the journey ends for our desperate runaways?
As I've mentioned repeatedly in these reviews, perhaps the thing most unique to The Promised Neverland as a shonen manga was its instability, and promise of change. Both Emma's cat-and-mouse trials with Isabella and the threat of Grace Field House itself were always on a strict timer, and when that timer ran out, the narrative shifted dramatically. More recently, the introduction of “Geezer,” an older escapee with a deep sense of resentment towards our stars, essentially offered a replacement for Isabella's malevolent machinations. And here in volume eight, The Promised Neverland finds itself replicating Grace Field House as well, when Emma is captured by poachers and finds herself in a new prison: a human game preserve for wealthy demons.
Volume eight is dominated by the introduction of Goldy Pond, as our heroes first journey towards Minerva's next marker, and then work to rescue Emma from the truth they find there. The early chapters maintain Neverland's novel approach to “training arcs,” as Geezer's attempts to kill off his own party force Emma and Ray to quickly learn how to conceal their tracks, and the best ways to kill demons. This material is further elevated through the ongoing argument between Geezer and Emma, an argument which speaks to the thematic core of this property. Though he's not directly aligned with the demons, Geezer embodies the same defeated appeasement that defined Isabella and Krone's stories, while Emma rallies against him as a beacon of hope. Though Emma's talents have always been clear to her closest friends, it's been wonderful to see her grow into a heroine who can inspire anyone around her, and stand as a genuine rallying cry for a human rebellion.
Once our heroes arrive at Goldy Pond, Emma is quickly abducted and dropped into the game preserve, where her new skills are immediately put to the test. The relative power disparities between the demons and their prey have always been so great in this story that classic shonen concepts like “fated rivals” have never felt appropriate - the demons could always defeat the humans at any time, and so the drama rested instead on the humans hiding their intentions. But at this point, Emma has grown enough, and the mechanics of this game preserve are accommodating enough, that directly fighting the demons is no longer a fantasy. In light of this, Goldy Pond is stuffed with classic shonen tropes like the dramatic introduction of the enemy squad, a “specialist” who longs only for a challenging battle, and even an outright confrontation between Emma and the demons.
Both reestablishing the manga's original premise and leaning into more stereotypically shonen conceits might seem like questionable or even lazy choices, but the results are so very fun that I didn't mind at all. Emma is a genuine force now, and the mechanics of this game preserve are perfectly designed to facilitate desperate battles where the humans actually have a chance. The theatrics of this volume are thrilling and horrifying in equal measure, and the introduction of a genuine rival for Emma results in some of this manga's most chilling and visually evocative sequences yet. It's unlikely that Neverland will ever evolve into a straightforward action manga, but this volume emphatically demonstrates that much of what makes shonen manga fun can still be embraced by Neverland's novel premise.
Narrative thrills aside, this is also the most visually impressive volume of Neverland in a long time. Volumes six and seven taking place in enclosed sanctuaries meant Posuka Demizu rarely had much time to stretch her illustration muscles - but volume eight is half foreboding jungle, half demented theme park, and Demizu knocks both of these settings out of the park. Her sludgy, creeping forests evoke the sense of some kind of vertical swamp, while the ostensibly friendly attractions of Goldy Pond recall the rotting smile that was Grace Field House. The new demon designs are as creative as they are frightening, and the copious full-page spreads convey Emma's trials with such acuity that the reader feels just as trapped as our heroine. Volume eight is beautiful and terrible in the best way, fully realizing Demizu's extraordinary talents.
On the whole, The Promised Neverland's eighth volume may well be my favorite volume so far. I've been wondering ever since Grace Field House if this story could truly survive the end of its own premise, but at this point, I'm no longer worried. As evocative and terrifying and thrilling as ever, The Promised Neverland has confidently entered into what is looking to be a truly captivating arc.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A+
+ Goldy Pond arc embraces both classic Neverland conflicts and shonen staples to excellent effect, Demizu's art has never looked better
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