The orphans of Grace Field House seem to have a perfect, carefree life. They live in a beautiful old manor surrounded by picturesque fields and forests, where they can play and explore to their little hearts’ delight. Every one of their needs is seen to by their loving caretaker Isabella, who serves as their cook, nurse, teacher, and surrogate mother. The only rule they must follow is to never venture beyond the wall or gate that bounds their little world.
That idyllic life comes crashing down, however, when two of the oldest children — Norman and Emma — stumble across the horrifying truth of their existence. The children of Grace Field House aren’t being raised as orphans that will eventually be adopted into loving families; they’re actually being raised as food for the monstrous creatures that rule the world beyond the wall surrounding their little existence.
The Promised Neverland — adapted from Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu’s still-running manga — has one of those premises that immediately jumps from the page when you read it thanks to how twisted and bizarre it seems. And thankfully, the series fully delivers on its promise, with the result being one of the best, most entertaining, and most suspenseful animé series I’ve seen in quite some time.
Some might characterize The Promised Neverland as a psychological thriller, and that’s not entirely wrong. Much of that is due to the cat-and-mouse game between Norman and Emma, and Isabella, who is fully aware of the childrens’ plight and actively working with the monsters. Thankfully, Norman and Emma, along with their friend Ray, are child prodigies — the monsters prefer to eat only the very best brains — and in a delightful little twist, the very thing that makes them so desirable as food may be the very thing that can save them.
But the series never forgets that its protagonists are children; despite having considerable IQs, they’re still immature and prone to breakdowns, tantrums, and foolish decisions. Furthermore, Norman, Emma, and Ray are constantly torn concerning whether or not to break the news to their fellow orphans, most of whom are considerably younger. On the one hand, it seems only fair that everyone know the truth, but on the other hand, the younger children might not be able to handle it. Worse, they might run blabbing to their beloved Isabella and ruin everything.
All of this adds considerable stress and suspense to the series, which is not without several big twists once the children begin to enact their escape plan even as Isabella seems to know more than she’s letting on. The arrival of another caretaker adds some wrinkles, as does suspicions of a potential traitor amongst the children. The series’ intensity and cleverness remain constant right up until the final episode (which sets up the second season that’s currently in production).
Style-wise, The Promised Neverland is a blend of cel and 3DCG animation. The blend can be a bit jarring when the cel-animated characters are placed against CG backdrops; the two don’t always mesh well. And for all of its advances, CG animation just doesn’t have the richness or texture of cel animation. But the CG animation is decent enough, and even enhances some scenes, like an extended first-person sequence in the fourth episode that grows increasingly claustrophobic as it unfolds.
Overall, though, the animation is serviceable and nothing mind-blowing. But then again, The Promised Neverland is a story-driven series that places emphasis on interesting characters, a clever premise, and intricate plotting that keeps you on the edge of your seat. When you have those things, and when they’re done as well as they are here, you don’t really need visual spectacle.
From what little I’ve read about Shirai and Demizu’s original manga, its scope becomes a good deal larger than what’s seen in the animé. Plus, there are several details and character developments that are teased and never fully explored within the first season’s twelve episodes (which, by the way, can be easily binged during a long weekend). Suffice to say, I’ll be really looking forward to The Promised Neverland’s second season when it arrives in 2020.
The Promised Neverland is currently streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and FunimationNow.