Updated: Aug 19, 2020
*spoilers for episode 1*
It’s been a while since I sat down and watched an anime series and I have no idea why. At my best guess, it’s probably due to the time commitment that you often need to give to a show. I’ve made the attempt twice now to watch One Piece for example, and I think I hit one hundred episodes, which may sound like a lot, but the damn thing has now crossed the 900 episode mark. I’ve resigned myself to knowing that I will never, ever, finish it.
The other problem is that there tend to be so many good looking shows being released each year, often all at the same time, that the choice of which series to sit and watch can seem to be quite daunting.
Whilst going through what to review next for the site, I thought that I’d take a look to see if there were any horror anime that piqued my interest and that’s when I stumbled upon The Promised Neverland. “Excellent.” I thought. A horror anime that’s only 12 episodes, that should be quite manageable, even if I watch it in instalments over a week whilst working on other things. Turns out that didn’t happen because, and I realise I’m giving you my opinion early this time around, but I ended up marathoning the series because, holy shit, it is good.
Based on the manga by Kaiu Shirai, The Promised Neverland (Yakusoku no Neverland) tells the tale of an orphanage that houses 38 children, ranging from babies to 11 year-olds, and of the kindly lady they call “Mom,” who takes care of them all. The children aren’t allowed to leave the grounds of the orphanage, but they seem to live a very happy life filled with light, love and laughter. They are educated, given hot meals, somewhere to sleep and the grounds themselves are big enough for the kids to run around and play in the field and forest that encompasses the orphanage. However, the kids all appear to have an identification number tattooed on their necks, which is a little unsettling. That’s the sort of thing that is more synonymous with a death camp, rather than a happy orphanage.
Despite the oddness of the markings, life goes on at the orphanage. The three oldest children Emma, Norman and Ray are excelling at their tests and cute little Conny, who’s only about 6 years old and carries a fluffy bunny rabbit toy around with her all the time, is about to be adopted.
How is this a horror? You might be thinking. Well, bear with me because this is where things get extremely dark and the horror element rears its head.
On the night of Conny’s adoption, Mom leads Conny away to meet her new family, when it’s noticed that she’s left her bunny behind. Deciding to return it to her, Emma and Norman race off to try and catch up with her and Mom before she leaves, and…holy shit! Conny has been killed! And if the horror of finding your friend’s corpse with a flower jammed in her torso wasn’t bad enough, Emma and Norman discover that the orphanage is actually a farm, and the kids are being raised as meat for what appear to be demons.
Guess all that land for them to run around on is to make them free range.
And that’s just the first episode.
What happens next I’m not going to spoil, but the tension is ramped right up as Emma and Norman try to devise an escape plan. But can they really leave without taking anyone else, or possibly even everyone else with them?
Who can they trust?
Are they being tracked somehow?
What awaits them outside the confines of the orphanage?
All this and more gives us 12 fantastic episodes that are just a pleasure to watch.
The horror elements aren’t through blood and violence but through the premise and the tension that runs through the series. The animation is good, with crisp, clear visuals and the characters’ emotions are portrayed well, often just through their facial expressions. There are no flashy action sequences, just a great story filled with tension, surprises, emotion and maybe just a little bit of hope.
The only real fault I had was with a new character that gets introduced, who does come across a little over the top at times, which detract from the tone a little bit. That being said, as the story progresses you can understand why that character is perhaps a little mentally unhinged, and those moments, fortunately, don’t happen too often.
Highly recommended, even for those who are new to anime as the 12 episodes are a really compelling watch, which (if you don’t count the opening and closing credits) are only around 20 minutes each. About 4 hours of your time for a great series and, as the manga is currently over 150 episodes and still going, we’ll hopefully get another season.