Television shows like The Promised Neverland are almost the bane of existence for First Impressions posts. I want to share my initial thoughts on it and, obviously, that’s what I’m here to do but I can’t deny that optimal enjoyment may come from knowing less about the show. If you happen to have already seen the episode and you just want to know what another person thinks of it, then you’re obviously safe. But if you haven’t watched it and you are interested, feel free to come back half an hour later. I really don’t mind.
For those who would like to know though: The Promised Neverland takes place in 2045, at an orphanage seemingly in the middle of nowhere. All the kids there are taken care of by a young woman they affectionately call “Mama” (Yuuko Kaida). Everyone is fed, educated, and they all get to play fun games with each other in their spare time. The only caveat is that everyone is forbidden to venture beyond the gates and fences surrounding the orphanage. No one asks why and when someone does get sent away for a myriad of reasons, they don’t ponder what happens to them. But one day, two of the orphans — Emma (Sumire Morohoshi) and Norman (Maaya Uchida) — pays one of the gates a visit to find one of their friends and discover truths about their lives that they wish they hadn’t.
As one might infer from the synopsis provided above, Neverland takes a very dark turn by the time it concludes its premiere. Hence why I advised caution to those who really want to be in for a surprise. This sudden shift in tone is just something that works better the more uninformed you are. I say all that, however, in consideration of the viewer wanting to be shocked. To be honest, I personally wasn’t blown away by Neverland‘s true colors. Impressed and intrigued for sure but the wow factor a lot of manga readers promoted to the uninformed escapes me. Part of that is admittedly on me. I avoided watching any trailers, even the ones I embedded in my Season Preview, but I still knew the basic premise ahead of time.
Even so, I can’t help but feel that it was really obvious what Neverland‘s true colors were. The setting oddly reminds me an awful lot of Coraline with how idealized it initially feels and you just know it’s too good to be true. I figured something was up as soon as I saw how nice Mama acted to everyone and how isolated the orphanage appeared to be. Everyone having serial numbers tattooed on their bodies, not to mention there being a dramatic pause that makes sure you’d spot them, is a telling sign about their true purpose at the orphanage. Hell, who dies in this episode was extremely easy to predict based on a particular visual cue at the beginning of the episode and subsequent exchanges of dialogue. The only thing that truly caught me off guard was how otherworldly the antagonists turned out to be. I don’t know, maybe I’m just more alert when it comes to this kind of story (especially in this post-Made in Abyss world).
In the sake of fairness though, I’d argue that the fault in Neverland‘s ability to shock lies more in its marketing than the actual premiere itself. The key visual features all the kids standing on clocks, signifying the limited time they all have to stay alive. The main one at the center even has a fork and knife to denote what fate ultimately lies if the characters fail. The plot synopsis on Crunchyroll’s page for the show also says, “[the children’s] everyday life suddenly came to an abrupt end one day”. And I haven’t seen the trailers but some comments from manga readers have me to believe that they probably give away more about the plot than they should. It’s almost like the producers of the show want to give away that this show is a horror anime and I find that approach disappointing. I think it would’ve been great if the marketing truly did pull a bait and switch Madoka-style. It’d at least trick people more efficiently.
By its own merits, however, I still think this episode is quite good. I might not have been surprised but the premise is still a great hook. The setting evokes a foreboding challenge as the characters not only must oppose those in charge but also face whatever lies beyond the borders of their home. That the protagonists are all children raises the stakes even further as they are far more powerless than the villains controlling them. By the time episode is over, you’re left wondering how exactly they can make it out alive.
Speaking of the characters, the chemistry from the main trio is particularly solid so far. Norman and Ray (Mariya Ise) have a unique contrast to their personalities in that they exhibit different modes of intelligence. The former is more able to think on the fly while the latter is more methodical and tactical in his approach. Meanwhile, you have Emma at the center who excels more in athletics while still able to keep up with her best friends, as evidenced in her securing a top spot during a recent exam. It’ll be interesting to see how well these three can use their wits to repel threats much more powerful and imposing than them.
Even though I found the transition to horror predictable, I must admit that the direction in this episode is quite good. One particular early scene I really dig is when Norman is trying to catch Emma in a game of hide and seek and you have a giant clock ticking in the background. The clock is obviously a stylistic way to show the time limit of the game but it’s a fitting symbol given the real race against time the orphans will soon have.
The finest piece of direction, however, is when Emma and Norman find out the truth about the orphanage. There’s a really great shot of the two walking in the halls of the gate in which their small size, relative to a nearby truck and the walls, makes you feel tense and afraid for these characters. Following that is them finding out what happened to one of their friends. The camera is fixated on Emma’s reaction, refraining from showing what disturbs her until Norman sees for himself. The animation of the camera turning as Norman walk over to Emma is admittedly a bit jittery but it nevertheless gives the impression that things will never be the same from here on out. I may not have been blown away that Neverland is dark but it still did a great job presenting it.
As far as the watch list is concerned, I plan on watching more of The Promised Neverland. Part of me does want to call it overrated since it wasn’t as effective in shocking me as it may have wanted to. Still, this is one of the better premieres of Winter 2019 so far and could very well be among the season’s best offerings if subsequent episodes are able to follow up on the foundation created here.
OP: “Touch Off” by UVERworld
ED: “Zettai Zetsumei” by Co shu Nie
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