The Promised Neverland, Vol. 2

By Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu. Released in Japan as “Yakusoku no Neverland” by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Satsuki Yamashita.

(As with Vol. 1, and likely going forward, these reviews spoil the volume in question. Because that’s exactly what reviews are for.)

After all the revelations of the last volume, I had expected this one to slow down, and it does a bit, but that does not mean there are not still jaw-dropping moments within. One of the strengths of this series is its ability to pull the rug out from under the reader and make them want to reread everything that’s gone before with the new information in mind. There’s also a wonderful depth of character, something which you do normally see in Jump series, but rarely this early on. A lot of this book comes from Norman’s POV, and shows off how clever he really is, a balance between the cool and logical Ray and the impulsive, naive Emma. In fact, Emma’s naivete is explicitly called out as her weakness. So it’s also wonderful to see that she hasn’t just been saying the most idealistic option without trying to think of ways to make it happen, including the best tag game ever.

Planning a mass breakout of thirty-five or so kids, most of whom are somewhere between four and six years old, is a tough job. Ray is right – it would be so much easier for only a few kids to escape. But Emma is even more right – they can’t escape and leave other innocent kids behind to get killed or eaten or whatever it is that the things outside are doing to them. The tag game is Emma’s way of toughening the kids physically and also forcing them to think on their feet and trust their impulses (which is Emma’s greatest strength). Of course, the game of tag does not only help develop the kids physically, but shows off more of Krone as a character, after she decides to join in in order to prove to herself that she’s the one who has the upper hand. Krone can be terrifying, but I found her a bit less discomfiting than last time, mostly as she’s gained added depth – her war with Mother to see who’s in charge going forward is chilling, as is her scene with Gilda.

And then there’s Ray, who pretty much steals the volume by design. I had expected the “who’s the traitor?” question to be spun out over a few more chapters, but if the reader thinks about it, the traitor has to be someone the reader is already very familiar with, which narrows the list of suspects exponentially. As for Ray himself, I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s going to be headed for a fall in a volume or two – being a double agent is just as difficult as it sounds, and something else is going to go wrong – possibly right away, if that cliffhanger involving the impulsive Don is anything to go by. I also loved the scene with Emma interrogating him – like Norman and Ray, the reader assumes her to be the “Luffy” of the group, an optimistic bright shining light who’s nevertheless a bit simple. But she’s as smart as they are, and her deduction of how he figured out the tracking devices is topped only by her chilling response.

I haven’t even gone into the artwork, which is wonderful, be it the detailed, almost Escher-esque backgrounds or the gloriously silly expressions on Emma’s face. For those who worried that The Promised Neverland couldn’t surpass its first volume, the second book should show you that it’s still a cut above. Highly recommended.

The Promised Neverland, Vol. 1

By Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu. Released in Japan as “Yakusoku no Neverland” by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Satsuki Yamashita.

This review, out of necessity, talks about the first volume of The Promised Neverland. If you want to be unspoiled, go read it first.

Holy Mother of God. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had a manga, particularly a Jump manga (which tend to be slow starters), make my jaw drop quite as much as The Promised Neverland did. Everything seemingly comes together in this. The art style fits with the writer perfectly, there are many, many page turn reveals and amazing facial expressions. The three leads are likeable, whip-smart and yet not perfect, and you really, really want them to win out. There’s also a love of friendships and family that I will always adore when it’s handled this well. And yes, let’s just get it out of the way, there is some amazing horrific stuff here, with most of the book being a tense, nail-biting thriller but occasionally dipping its toe very effectively into pure horror. The Promised Neverland is RIVETING.

The cover and first couple of pages might lead you to believe that we’re going to be seeing some sort of warm, fluffy, Anne of Green Gables style story. We meet Emma and get her POV of the orphanage she’s spent most of her life in. Sure, the title page may look a little grim and ominous, but let’s disregard it for now as she seems so happy! Emma is one of the oldest in the orphanage, and along with her best friends Norman and Ray she spends the day herding the younger kids, having immense amounts of fun, and taking the DAILY TEST, the first of those page-turning reveals I mentioned above. At this point, the reader knows something grim is coming. Still, it’s not until we hear that one of the youngest kids is leaving that day that we think “uh oh”. And sure enough, soon we’re up to our neck in mysteries, from “what’s outside the orphanage?” to “why did that happen to Conny?” to “why are we still here even though we’re all 11 years old?”. Now Emma, Norman and Ray have to outsmart the adults – something easier said than done.

I feel like going on and on about the things I loved in this. Ray’s cynical intelligence and Emma’s boundless emotional enthusiasm are balanced nicely in the middle by Norman, and honestly I’m glad Emma is not beaten down by this (yet), as without her the title would be even grimmer than it already is. I also love the fact that Emma refuses to simply try to run away with just Ray and Norman – she absolutely won’t save herself at the expense of all the younger orphans. Again, there are some nice themes of family throughout this volume, and I appreciate that Emma’s viewpoint was allowed to carry the day. We hear that the three kids are incredibly intelligent, and see this displayed throughout the book… except they’re also outsmarted quite a bit by adults with more experience than they have.

Flaws? Well, Krone skirts the edge of being a racial stereotype, but part of that may be simply due to the fact that she’s meant to be a villain, and honestly compared to some other ways Jump has treated black people I’m willing to let it pass for now, especially as I enjoyed the way the cast is multiethnic. Mostly, though, The Promised Neverland hits it out of the park. I want it to be February already so that I can read more. Highly recommended (unless you really hate horror-based stories – it’s pretty damn dark, trust me).