The Promised Neverland, Vol. 4

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.

(Note: The review of this volume involves talking about this volume. If you’re looking for reviews that won’t spoil you, don’t look here.)

Much as the plot of The Promised Neverland involves a lot of mystery, horror and mind games between opponents, I like to think that a lot of the mind games are between the authors and the reader. As the reader peruses the volume, they’re thinking: are they really going to kill off one of the three main characters? Are they really going to kill off TWO of the main characters? And wait, what’s with that nightmarish ‘beyond the wall’ scenario? Isn’t this just getting too mean? And are they really going to take EVERYONE with them? The fun with TPN is that the reader really wants to find out the answers, and thus keeps turning pages compulsively. I can’t say we get all those questions answered in this particular volume, but I can say that the reasons people grew to love this series are still here, in bunches.

The first question, which came from the cliffhanger, involves whether Norman’s really going to be sent outside to get eaten. After much fuss and tears and Ray coming up with scheme after scheme, the answer for now is yes, Norman is indeed being sent outside to get eaten. Now, I’m highly doubtful that the second part is going to happen – honestly, if it had, I’m pretty sure we’d have seen it – but it does mean that Norman is out of the main cast for now. Still, he gets a glorious sendoff in out-plotting and scheming Ray. As for Ray, the explanation for why he allied with Mom is interesting, but not nearly as interesting as his plot to get everyone else to escape, which again makes the reader briefly wonder if he’s actually going to immolate himself for the sake of the others. Here the answer is more immediately obvious: hell ne, because Emma.

The series has done a good job of selling Emma, Norman and Ray as the three main leads, but I get the sense that Emma is a bit more lead character-ish than the other two, especially when you think about the fact that this runs in Shonen Jump and she’s got the “Jump hero” personality. Of course, that doesn’t mean that she can’t be clever or scheming, as seen throughout this volume. The escape relies on Emma seeming to be completely broken by Norman leaving, but the reveal of everything that’s been happening behind the scenes while this was going on is truly powerful. I especially like the idea that the other younger kids are in on all this too, rather than just innocent bodies to be rescued.

Of course, escape is still a long way away. As Norman showed us, scaling the wall and jumping down isn’t an option. Phil seems to have been left behind, though honestly I’m pretty sure that’s also part of Emma and Ray’s plan. And is Jump ready for a one-eared heroine? We’ll find out the answers in the next book, and I can’t wait.

The Promised Neverland, Vol. 3

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 previous volumes, and likely going forward, these reviews spoil the volume in question. Because that’s exactly what reviews are for.)

I keep waiting for the moment that The Promised Neverland slows down to catch its breath a bit, but it’s become clear by the end of this third volume that that’s never going to happen. Our heroes plot, scheme, learn who to trust and who to betray, get trusted and betrayed, and by the end of the book everything is in ruins. It can honestly be a bit exhausting, and it’s definitely terrifying – there’s some real chilling horror reading this series – but it’s also completely exhilarating, and I want to see these kids succeed. Somehow. Even if what they escape to may end up being even worse. That said, I may not get my wish for a bit, as by the end of this book their plan is up in smoke, Mom knows all, Emma’s got a broken leg, and Norman’s getting shipped out to be delicious. There’s a lot going on.

Despite the presence of most of the orphans on the cover, this is very much a cast of five vs. the world, as Don and Gilda, after a tense discovery and angry confrontation, join forces with our heroes. I enjoyed all of the back and forth with Norman and Ray try to outdo Vizzini in figuring out what Mom and Sister Krone are actually up to, and how they can escape. I also like how they ultimate fail (at least so far) – a lot of clever kids think they’re being super secretive and canny when it turns out Mom has known what they’re thinking all along, and that’s what we get here, and it doesn’t take away from their extreme cleverness. I loved them looking at the books, where they understand some but not all of the code, and Emma’s intuition knowing they’re important but now quite why they’re important.

And then there’s the fall of Sister Krone, as well as her backstory. Despite Norman wondering how much of what she revealed to them was true and how much was false, I’m inclined to believe most of her backstory, especially as we get more flashbacks to it in her final moments. Despite functioning very effectively as a pure force of terror a lot of the time, particularly at the start of this volume, by the end of it all you feel is sad, as well as realizing what horrible monsters we have on “the outside”. Her revelation on how “moms” get chosen is also rather interesting, and makes me wonder if someone from Field House (not Emma, I suspect, but maybe Gilda) was being groomed for a position. That said, Sister Krone was correct – she could try to be scarier and more cunning than Isabella, but in the end there’s only one mom here.

So what’s next? Is this the sort of series that’s prepared to kill off its main cast? What about the rest of the orphans that Emma wants to save? And what *is* going on outside? This is a scary, scary volume, but I desperately want to read more. Highly recommended.

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.