The Promised Neverland, Vol. 5

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.

One of the questions I asked last time is answered fairly quickly in this new volume, which is: will our gang of children really escape with everyone, including the little babies? And the answer is no, they won’t. There’s being idealistic and then there’s being realistic, and even Emma knows that. And what’s more, she and Ray actually trust Isabella enough to know that she’s not simply going to do anything to the little kids left behind out of spite. We see a flashback showing us Isabella’s past, and it’s somewhat like you’d expect – she believes there’s no escaping this, so she’s doing what she can to make everyone as happy as possible before they’re taken away. It’s a decision made with love, even if I disagree with it. And it means we leave Phil and company behind (and very nice scene of him understanding what’s going on) and make their escape.

The escape involves a nice fake-out: since the only way to escape the compound is the bridge, every security measure will be there. So the kids instead actually do go over the wall, using rope and various klugded-together implements to cross the chasm and enter a forest beyond. (As a side note, I love your multicultural cast, TPN, it’s really great, but: Jemima? Really? No one called you on that?) The difficulty, of course, is that they know nothing about the terrain beyond the orphanage, and it turns out that the forest is a lot more alive than they’d really like. Oh yes, and they also have to avoid demons. And the main bad guys themselves, who are still very much in the mood to eat their delicious brains. The Promised Neverland always seems to have a fresh new crisis at hand, which is good, as the premise is basically “jumping from crisis to crisis”.

I think the series spent just the right amount of time in the orphanage and planning to escape it, and now, five books in, I look forward to seeing where Emma and company manage to wind up. Of course, that company is getting a bit smaller, as this time it’s Ray who has to sacrifice himself so that the others might move on. It’s amusing seeing Ray do this given all the times he’s tried to in the past and been stopped, but as he himself says, this time he doesn’t plan to sacrifice his life. But that does mean that the group is now led by Emma… who is realizing that being a child, planning a daring escape and also cutting off your own ear can possibly lead to sickness. Fortunately, there’s a robed stranger who is NOT AT ALL SUSPICIOUS to help the rest of the kids. Can Don and Gilda carry on while Emma is ill?

This series is a sort of high-wire act, as you’re never quite sure when its thriller logic is going to run out. But for the moment, it remains one of the best Jump series out there.

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.