Weekly Shonen Jump it’s one of the toughest magazines for new mangakas to tackle. It is well known that every series published on Shueisha’s magazine must give bottom to all its energies from the first weeks in order to carve out a space between manga that have made and are making history. For this reason, when the preview of The Promised Neverland appeared on the pages of the well-known magazine at that end of July 2016, not many were impressed.
The series belonged to two authors, Kaiu Shirai to the script e Demizu Posuka to designs, which were by no means unknown in the industry. Both had worked on a self-contained chapter published a few months earlier on Shonen Jump +, entitled Poppy’s Wish, which was tried to test the tuning of the duo. There are no other works known for Shirai, while Posuka in the past had started working on the illustrations of the light novel Kirugumi and on some drawings published around the net.
The preview arrived on Weekly Shonen Jump in that July 2016 he presented three children drawn in light colors, a title, « The Promised Neverland« , which let us imagine a Peter Pan fantasy story, despite the sadness and melancholy inherent in the expressions of the young protagonists.
Reality is reversed
IS all of this is maintained for at least half the pages of the first chapter of The Promised Neverland, whose debut took place on Weekly Shonen Jump on August 1, 2016. Emma, Norman and Ray are three kids who live in Grace Field, an orphanage where the woman who looks after them is called mom. But little is needed to understand that this is not a particularly happy story: after discovering the complexity of the test and the level of the afternoon games, the protagonists are revealed the bitter truth, that of being only food for unknown and grotesque creatures called demons.
And above all, many members of their family are now dead thanks to the complicity of mother Isabella. Thus began an intelligence and psychology competition between children and orphanage curator, with the first looking for a place to survive without fear of being eaten.
A manga capable of reinventing itself
The Promised Neverland stands out immediately for the type of dialogues and the way the characters deal with the situation: no energy waves, colorful super moves and explosive attacks, but only pure and simple intelligence. The boys begin to fight a psychological battle that reminds us of the best dynamics of death Note. Each chapter in the initial phase is full of twists, connections yet to be fully understood and cliffhanger well prepared by Kaiu Shirai who always manage to keep the reader in suspense.
The manga manages to maintain this soul throughout the first saga, but then starting to transform. The mutation coincides with the escape from Grace Field, an event that inevitably plunges characters and readers into a completely new world, forcing both to adapt to the new environment. After all, the setting in which the children were immersed passes from a small country villa to an unknown and endless world and it was therefore impossible to think of keeping the same approach.
Cleverly, Shirai manages to turn everything around an exploratory and adventure component which mixes perfectly with the characterization of the characters. At the same time, the reader is given the answers, sipped, both on some puzzles and on the whole world. Shirai however is not satisfied and further modifies the components of his work, veering strongly towards action. And as shown at Goldy Pond, this choice also fits perfectly, with the rhythms that manage to keep the reader glued to the pages while the strategic component continues to be present.
At the same time, the mangaka decides to answer several questions in a couple of chapters, revealing most of the mysteries that have enveloped the manga so far. That’s where one starts further transformation of The Promised Neverland, but this reduction of mysteries has consequences. If during the second narrative arc of The Promised Neverland you can still enjoy a strong psychological component mixed with a lot of always well structured and compelling action, the same cannot be said for the following phases. As the manga continues in the story, there is the impression that Kaiu Shirai wants to end it all too quickly, drowning Emma and the other supporting actors in a swamp of truly daring events. These do not allow the reader to experience the story from Emma’s point of view, but only to browse it: the moment of the timeskip is emblematic which makes us fall into a further new reality, undermining any possibility of evolution of the protagonist and her shoulders, but also to allow those who follow the series to get to know the world better. Only the intervention of an old friend he manages to restore a bit of verve in a critical phase of the story, re-presenting a clash between two characters and two philosophies that makes the narrative mechanisms move again.
Unfortunately the story and the pathos are completely lost in the last 20 chapters, leaving the viewer with twists without a bite and with the choices that frustrate all the important narrative structure built by Shirai up to that moment. The writer seems to apologize for this, launching Emma in some speeches in the last chapters that seem to speak to the reader and not to herself. However, it should be stressed that Shirai, despite the bad execution of the final events, managed to link all events leaving the explanation of a few irrelevant details secondary to the reader’s imagination.
The character park of The Promised Neverland is fed, with many children and adults, both humans and demons, presented in this world. But the reality is that the truly important figures are counted: of course the leading role is Emma’s, protagonist who moves the work with his idealism. The young girl with orange hair starts out as the protagonist shonen par excellence, counterbalancing the intent of the two shoulders Norman and Ray, in particular the latter. Over time, however, Emma will become a very important character on her own, and then she will conquer the work by obscuring all the others.
The other characters in Grace Field are well sketched for what their background role is while mom Isabella and sister Krone manage to keep attention high with their character and their way of thinking. The same phenomenon applies to the arch of Goldy Pond, where there are two prominent characters and a further group of supporting actors who can support their role without too many problems. The problems in characterization start from the timeskip, where all the precarious balances in the relationships between characters are seen.
The acceleration of Shirai in the second half of the manga no longer allows the characters to show themselves to the reader: Ray becomes a simple extension of Emma; Don, Gilda, Anna and the other children of Grace Field become faces and names relegated to the background and whose only role is to give Emma people to save. The last characters who played the role of antagonists unfortunately did not prove to live up to expectations, helping to make plunging quality into the last mile of The Promised Neverland.
Many references, including quotes from Fullmetal Alchemist and the real world
Kaiu Shirai has included The Promised Neverland in addition to some vague similarities with death Note for the structure of psychological battles, also a parallel with The attack of the Giants: throughout the first arch, in fact, Emma is forced to live in a prison formed by huge walls, with a sense of oppression always present, also given by the frantic constancy of mother Isabella in blowing up all their plans at every occasion. The protagonists want to live and to do so they must escape from the walls and know what is outside, in the outside world, placing the story of Eren and Emma on similar conditions.
There is no shortage of hints and inspirations even to a very popular Shonen work, Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa, which begin to show up in the second half of the manga thanks to the graphic choices of sensei Demizu Posuka and the inclusion of similar subtrack topics by Shirai. From the Portal of Truth to the essence of God, Arakawa has inserted many philosophical concepts and one of the most obvious that has also re-appeared in The Promised Neverland is undoubtedly the question of equivalent exchange which here is translated into the relationship with the mysterious demonic god who gives and takes according to the promise to be made.
The criticism of the exploitation of food and an unsustainable system
Since the first bars of The Promised Neverland, many elements inserted have gradually taken up more and more space, making the leak leak exploitation of food, often pushed to the limit by sheer greed. Manga farms, like Grace Field and others that produce both quality goods and poor food, are a clear reference to the production system used in the real world, where the massive production of meat causes ethical and environmental dilemmas. Despite the criticism, Shirai does not fully embrace the ideas of vegetarianism or veganism, on the contrary, it gives Emma the means to be able to obtain food alone but with full knowledge of the facts, without wasting it and to be taken in moderation.
This theme becomes even more clear with the appearance of the demon people, made up of normal individuals such as the elderly, children, adults who try to carry on their life between work and family, and the appearance above all of the demonic noble class, greedy and owner of a secret that allowed to keep the clutches on society. Just at this stage a new face of this civilization is shown, with some who simply try to eat the bare minimum to survive and those who, driven by selfishness and craving, want to get their hands on more and more valuable meats.
And the artistic side?
Like the rest of the manga, Demizu Posuka also has a style with lights and shadows. The mangaka quickly became famous thanks to the excellent color pages closer to a western style than the eastern one. The use of colors and drawing methods gives covers and color pages always able to catch the eye.
However, the same does not apply to black and white pages: if the backdrops and scenes laid out on double boards manage to keep the attention high, the characters are drawn in many stages in a more approximate way, so as to turn up their noses in some moments. Another advantage is the personalization of demons, among the most graphically successful shapes and that juggle well in all the scenes in the series in which they appear.