Reviewby Nick Creamer,
The Promised Neverland
Though Emma has completed her trip to Goldy Pond, the greater battle has only begun. Following the clues left by Mr. Minerva, Emma and her new ally Lucas discover more secrets regarding the nature of their world, as well as the ultimate fate of their benefactor. But before they can continue their journey towards freedom, they must first fight back against the masters of Goldy Pond - the aristocratic demons currently using Emma and her friends as sport in a twisted game preserve. The powers arrayed against them are as deadly as they are numerous, but Emma's team are ready to fight back, and demonstrate just how powerful humans truly are.
The Promised Neverland has taken an exceptionally long and winding path towards direct confrontation with its demonic antagonists. Though their threat is introduced in the very first chapter, for volumes after that they are largely just alluded to, a vague and unimaginable menace hiding behind Isabella's smiling eyes. Since Emma's escape, they've come ever more closely into focus, though our heroes' priority has always been escape over direct confrontation. But here in Neverland's ninth volume, the tables at last begin to turn - as the bells ring out once more over the steeples of Goldy Pond, Emma and her friends secure their weapons and begin their counterattack.
But first, exposition. The first half of volume nine is actually relatively slow and information-heavy, as Emma, Lucas, and an unexpected old friend uncover new details regarding the nature of their world, and the current relationships between the human and demon communities. Neverland is somewhat structurally obligated to convey its exposition through major information dumps like this, given its characters are essentially uncovering one Minerva info cache after another, but that doesn't mitigate the dryness of this material. When you learn fifty new facts at once, none of them end up feeling consequential - and for a heavily mystery-oriented story like Neverland, offering a more evenly distributed breadcrumb trail of new reveals feels like it'd be a more dramatically effective approach regardless.
Fortunately, while the first half of this volume feels somewhat clumsy, its second half is pure, glorious payoff. I've repeatedly emphasized how Neverland's post-Grace Field House material has attempted to recapture the uniquely tactical, cat-and-mouse appeal of that arc, and as Goldy Pond's actual battle begins, the intelligence of Kaiu Shirai's worldbuilding offers yet another illustration of that pursuit. With their extreme agility and narrow weaknesses, the actual, physical capabilities of Neverland's demons naturally offer an imposing “puzzle to solve.” With their diverse talents, weak weapons, and ample preparation time, Goldy Pond's prisoners have been given a wide variety of tools with which to solve this puzzle. In this volume's second half, Emma and her friends set to work cracking this riddle with all the tricks at their disposal.
Sometimes, the solution to their puzzle is just “shoot a bunch of guns a whole dang lot.” The battle with Luce, the weakest of Goldy Pond's regulars, opens with a girly in a beanie declaring “eat this” before emptying twin machine guns into a crowd of demons. It's an indulgent style of action theater that felt a good bit sillier than Neverland's usual tone, but these chapters illustrate both Luce's supreme confidence and ultimate weakness with such relish that I couldn't help but cheer along.
Neverland's narrative has always worked as an easy metaphor for the dehumanizing cruelty of the modern world, with the tone, daily activities, and ultimate result of Grace Field House neatly reflecting how modern society treats the next generations. After so many chapters of society's downtrodden being crushed under the weight of their oppressors, seeing one of those oppressors at last be reduced to “it was all a game!” and “wait until my father hears about this!” is a profound thrill. The ultimate truth of societies that frame their oppression of the disenfranchised as libertarian or utilitarian is always this - the upper ranks are stocked with people like Luce, who've grown fat on suffering, are lifted up purely as a result of their social position, and can't see those beneath them as people at all.
Of course, plenty of Neverland's villains really do embody the vicious, only-the-strong-survive ethos this manga consistently rallies against. Later fights are thus defined by preparation and deception, as Emma's friends work to turn their enemy's clear lack of respect for their prey against them. The Promised Neverland might not be built for My Hero Academia-style brawls, but “how do we overcome an enemy with incredible physical agility and near-impenetrable defenses” is a question it delights in answering, constructing elaborate traps that balance Shirai's careful plotting with Posuka Demizu's dynamic layouts and increasingly effective paneling. Though Demizu began this manga more attuned to the demands of illustration than comic paneling, her work on these fights demonstrates great clarity of vision, and a keen understanding of how to visually convey combat momentum.
On the whole, though it's weighed down somewhat by its laborious early chapters, volume nine still offers plenty of thrilling spectacles, and continues Neverland's confident march into overt action territory. Give 'em hell, Emma.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : A-
+ The battle for Goldy Pond translates Neverland's core appeal into action theater, while Demizu's art keeps the fighting clear and the monsters terrifying
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