What’s it about? Emma, Ray and Norman live with their siblings at the Grace Field House orphanage. Their lives are happy, and they love their mother Isabella very much. Every day they take tests and play tag while waiting to be adopted, and there is a gate in the forest they must never ever go near.
If you’re interested in this series and have managed to avoid spoilers, I highly recommend that you stop here and go watch it. It’s truly joyous to experience with as little knowledge as possible, and this is shaping up to be a well-made adaptation of a stupendous manga.
For those who are uncertain and want to know more before committing, content warnings and more discussion are below.
Content Warning: Child death, gore, racialized imagery.
The Promised Neverland might be the most excited I’ve been about a Shonen JUMP manga in years. Its somewhat edgelord-y premise is balanced by tense, deliberate execution; its protagonist Emma is distinctive in that she fills the role of the instinctive, raw-power heart of the team that’s almost universally reserved for male characters; and it’s pretty darn talented at its judiciously deployed violence. While the central conceit of the series—children being raised as food—gives a grim undercurrent to the story, there’s very little blood and very spare usage of horrific imagery.
I can’t go back in time and un-know the twist that makes up the series’ premise, which makes it somewhat difficult to review the experience of this episode for a first-timer. But I will say that even knowing what was to come, there was a lot to appreciate in the craft of this episode.
“Subtlety” is maybe not the word for it, as the camera lingers portentously over the children’s ID tattoos and the opening scene is loaded with mentions of eating and shots of food. Long corridors are awash in both burning, hellish reds and grey scales that evoke a colorless Hades. The strings seem obvious when you notice them, but that doesn’t keep them from being incredibly striking. Meanwhile, the excellent voice cast makes it a whole new experience even if you are familiar with the manga.
The way the episode waits longer to reveal the big twist (as opposed to the relatively short chapter in the manga) also means spending more time with the children of Grace Field House. Only about six of the 37 children feel important as characters (while the rest are there to make Emma’s task more daunting), but the script splits the difference by both establishing the oldest children as individuals and working to sell the warmth of the group dynamic. We get a grasp on the concept of their family and why it’s important to Emma, even if we don’t know every single kid.
This series is on its way to being something special, a real treat for viewers who’re looking for a tense cat-and-mouse thriller with a compelling female protagonist. I might be just one more voice adding to the din of Good Series Good, but…. yeah. It is good.
All that said, there is a final important thing to note: While it’s not relevant to this episode specifically, as a manga reader I’d feel irresponsible not mentioning that the series does have serious issues in the depiction of its most prominent Black character, who can be seen in the opening credits. As always, we welcome pitches from Black AniFem readers who would like to speak more on this topic.