The Promised Neverland, Vol. 9

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.

At long last, we get to meet the famous William Minerva… or at least his echo. I liked the self-awareness that both Emma and Lucas had when they got to the elevator and went “…really? An elevator to freedom/ Is it THIS easy?” No, of course it isn’t that easy. In fact, it turns out that William Minerva may no longer be with us, though that doesn’t stop him from leaving a recording that helps our heroes to buckle down and not give up. It also reveals that this WAS meant to be a safe harbor, and it’s the demons who corrupted Goldy Pond and turned it into a hunting ground. There’s lots of odd otherworldly touches in the early part of this book, like the literal pond of gold whose water doesn’t get you wet, that reminds the reader that The Promised Neverland is as much science fiction as it is horror or mystery.

Meanwhile, I’ve been saying ever since he was removed ffrom the plot that Norman would prove to not be dead, and that is the case. That said, the chapter featuring him is one big “what the hell?” after another, and is meant to plant seeds, especially given that one of the kids in Emma’s group at Goldy Pond (who seems to have a learning disability) keeps repeating Norman’s number. How long has it been since the start of the series? Norman’s in much the same place he was at the first volume – solving tests, amazing folks with his intelligence, and trying to escape even though it’s even more impossible than it was at Grace Field. What’s more, the guy who’s his minder is the same guy who betrayed “William Minerva”. And, lest you forget that Promised Neverland is also a horror title, there’s that two-page spread of the room of experimental humans Norman walks past. In just one chapter you get about thirty things to think about.

Back at Goldy Pond, the next hunt has been scheduled early because the demons want to eat Emma SO BADLY. Fortunately, our heroes are prepared for it, and so we get a few chapters of the kids showing they’ve been holding back and taking out the mook demons. This includes one who leers at the reader and says “How Cute”, which makes me wonder if this homage to Kaguya-sama was in the original Japanese or if this is just a Viz invention. There’s lots of scenes of the kids seemingly cornered only to win out in the end, which I will happily read over and over again, and not every battle runs along the same lines, which is important in a long-running shonen title like this. That said, I doubt this series will be going to 90+ volumes like One Piece. But it is going to double digits, as the cliffhanger shows Emma confronting the strongest and cleverest of the hunting demons.

I hope I don’t need to repeat myself: Promised Neverland is consistently excellent, and I like how it’s really showing off that just because it left Grace Field (the cliffhanger to the first anime season) does not mean it’s all over. Essential.

The Promised Neverland, Vol. 8

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.

The cast of characters, and the first few volumes in general, try to give equal emphasis to Emma, Norman and Ray as the three protagonists, keeping a healthy balance. But… I think the readers tend to think of Emma as the ‘lead’, and she’s certainly featured more when Jump does a ‘one character from all our series’ picture. Emma fans will be quite happy with this volume, which definitely revolves around her. The first third or so finds her and Ray trying to desperately escape demons that can regenerate, trying to intuit how to kill them. They’re not helped by their guide (still nameless, which begins to get annoying towards the end of the volume), who doesn’t want to kill them but is trying to convince himself that he can easily let them die. He’s no match, however, for Emma’s shining beacon of hope, who talks him down by guessing exactly what happened to him and pointing out that his now dead) friends would never have wanted this. It’s really sweet.

Unfortunately, Emma is then kidnapped and brought to a hunting ground for demons, with kids as the prey. Emma tries her best here as well, and is remarkably clever, deadly, and optimistic. Sometimes, though, optimism can’t save you, and a couple of people that Emma promises the world to end up dead. For all that it’s a series about kids being raised to be eaten for their delicious brains, there hasn’t been much actual death so far except right at the start. (I continue to maintain that Norman is alive because we didn’t see him die.) It gives these deaths added impact, and Emma briefly falls into despair. Luckily, we get to meet a lot of new kids who are basically doing for the hunting ground what she’s done with Grace Field… helped by an adult who seems very familiar. This part of the book is probably the most heartwarming, and Emma, seeing that even in despair there’s still hope, is back to her old self.

There’s lots of little touches in this volume I liked. The author gives a lot of attention to the guide’s past friends, even if they’re all long dead, so that we can imagine what things must have been like for them, and they seem like a great group of kids. I am also very pleased at the series of faces that Ray makes as Emma tries to convince the guide to help them by being her shiniest – this is why Ray is Emma’s best friend, but he still can’t help going “what the hey” every time he sees her in action. (He should know, he’s seen it used on him.) And, in case you’d forgotten the horror part of Promised Neverland, the shot of Theo revealing that Jake and Monica were killed by the hunters then cuts to the demons having a delicious meal – and we can likely guess who it is. The author can still make you shiver.

This is a strong time from Shonen Jump series in general, and The Promised Neverland is one of the strongest. It should never be far from the top of your reading pile when it comes out. Also, Emma is amazing.

The Promised Neverland, Vol. 7

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.

A lot of this volume has our heroes dealing with a grumpy adult guy who’s hiding out in the shelter they’ve come to, and is trying to kick them out. He is, of course, the last remains of a different group that tried to escape years ago. I like this, as it reminds readers that Ray and Emma aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel here. Kids have escaped from the field houses before, and likely will again. That said, things are still exactly the same. How will Emma and Ray genuinely change things? They’ll need help. Moreover, they’ll need help from this grumpy guy, still nameless, who has essentially given up on the world. Fortunately, the kids are all smart bordering on geniuses, which gives them advantages others might not have. They can make bargains, use threats. And when all else fails, and Emma is about to be killed, there’s always a punch to the nads. Works every time.

The cover reminds us that the cast of important kids is expanding, even if it’s still the Emma and Ray show much of the time. That said, aside from Don and Gilda, I still have trouble remembering their names. Indeed, so does grumpy guy, who resorts to giving them all nicknames rather than bother to learn actual names. (And Emma’s ahoge, the traditional Japanese sign for someone with ‘airhead’ qualities to some degree, is of course what her nickname revolves around. I also feel bad for Anna, who is nicknamed ‘nanny’ just because she happens to look like the standard kind anime mom type despite being all of nine years old.) Grumpy guy mentions they’re a good family, and he’s right. They work well together, they trust each other. They can quickly incapacitate an enemy if need be. And they have Ray and Emma, who ARE the leaders. Emma in particular once again belies the “she’s the idiot shonen hero” argument, cheerfully telling grumpy guy that if he doesn’t help him they’ll blow up the shelter.

The volume ends with grumpy guy leading Ray and Emma to the next map point left for them by the mysterious William Minerva, though he’s also supposedly looking for a way to get rid of them. I say supposedly because, as Emma spots immediately, he doesn’t actually have the nerve to directly kill them. You get the sense that grumpy guy is a broken former protagonist rather than a villain, and I suspect he will eventually give in, learn to trust the kids, and probably be killed off in a few books’ time for drama. He also has good analysis of Ray and Emma themselves and their leadership qualities, which reminded me a bit of Kirk and Spock in Star Trek (though arguably Norman was the Kirk and Emma the McCoy before Norman left to go get his brain eaten). That said, they’re still kids. When Emma is faced with a slavering monster trying to eat her head, she freezes. Which is a shame, as there’s a lot more coming, and grumpy guy seems to be perfectly fine with indirectly killing them.

This was a volume for plot and character development, which is good as I suspect the next book will feature lots of action. The Promised Neverland still names compulsive reading.