Manga of the Month: The Promised Neverland

The Promised Neverland by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demiz

hisui_icon_4040_round Sometimes you finish all your work for the day but you will have 20 minutes before you can go home. As anyone who has ever worked in an office will tell you that is YouTube time. It is not enough time to start working on anything you need to do but it is also not enough time to waste doing nothing. Finding myself in that sweet spot I loaded up a video that caught my eye about The Current State of Shonen Jump. It was an examination of the magazine since the conclusion of Bleach and Naruto. It is a solid emanation of the state of the magazine after they lost two of the recent Big Three titles. The thing that caught my attention the most was mostly just a footnote in the greater context of the video. One of the most popular titles in the magazine was currently The Promised Neverland. Other than Hinomaru-Zumou I was fairly familiar with all the other titles on the list. Hinomaru-Zumou is a sports manga about sumo without an anime so it is essentially invisible to the English-speaking fandom. I was far more surprised that I had never of heard of The Promised Neverland. That made me immediately buckle down and do some research.

The more I looked into The Promised Neverland the more I was surprised I had not heard at least a bit of buzz about it. Now it started in the middle of the pack rankings wise in Japan s really jumped up in popularity as the series has gone on. Carl from Ogiue Maniax described it has Death Note with tiny orphans. While it is hardly a perfect description it works perfectly as an elevator pitch. Demonic Seraph of the End or a cat and mouse version of Attack on Titan also work as broad overviews that sort of hint at what the series is about. Sufficed to say much like Death Note it feels a little different from the normal fare found in Shonen Jump. If you find that intriguing like I did then you definitely want to read the rest of this.

The Grace Field House seems like the only happy orphanage in manga. Outwardly it is neither a hellish prison filled with sadistic wardens or a kindly home of the brink of bankruptcy. The children are all well-fed, well-educated, and loved. In fact, their schooling is almost scarily top-notch. But because this is not a healing manga that means there is a sinister angle to all of this. The Grace Field House is secretly a farm for demons who wish to eat the tastiest artisanal free-range organic children. And what they want most of all are children with delicious big brains. When three of the orphans learn what is going on they have to find a way to escape the Grace Field House and see what lies beyond the walls of their enchantingly pampered prison.

I’m actually a little surprised that this series is not in Jump Square. It has the level of darkness that I expect from something from the slightly older targeted monthly anthology. While it is generally not that bloody for a series about people being farm animals there is a disturbing amount of children being murdered for it to be in the mainline magazine. Part of me wonders if the success of Death Note plus the possible want to have something to compete with the Juggernaut that Attack on Titan has become in the shonen world. It wisely feels very different from Titan so it does not feel like a mockbuster also-ran of a much more popular title that came first while still filling a hole that the magazine has.

But you can hit all of the prime demographics for naught if the title itself is bland. Carl’s assessment of Death Note with little orphans hits on a key appeal of the series which is the mental games of the children against the people who wish to ship them off to be demon chow. Since the children are at such a tremendous disadvantage they have to be twice as clever as the people against them. Their opponents have some serious shackles as well (otherwise the series would just be tragedy porn) but they always have the high ground in their confrontations. In a way that makes it almost the reverse Death Note as Light always had the advantage and it was a question of if anyone could actually catch him. Here the main trio must constantly overcome the odds stacked against them.

There is an interesting dynamic of the main characters. Emma is distinctly lawful good (and thankfully mostly skipping the tropes of lawful stupid), Norman is mostly true neutral with some leaning toward lawful good because of Emma, and Ray is lawful evil to balance the other two out. This means that while the trio works well together they are also often pulling in slightly but vitally important different directions at the same time. It gives the cast a little extra spice that might not be present if the three of them were all on the same page.

Right now the series is fairly new and moving at a decent pace. In many ways what I have read so far distinctly feels like merely the first act of a longer story. So I am very curious what happens when part two really kicks in. Where the manga goes from there could easily make or break the series. I still feel the opening premise is interesting enough to warrant reading the first part of the manga no matter what happens next but I did want to give this disclaimer here just in case the series soon goes off the deep end. (I’m looking at you Death Note.)

As I write this conclusion Shonen Jump just had its circulation dip below 2 million. Now that has a lot to do with a general downturn in the manga market but it is clear that it might also be time for a little change in the magazine as well. I love series like One Piece or My Hero Academia but they follow a very stratified if satisfying formula so I am curious to see how something a little outside the norm shakes up their lineup. The Promised Neverland might just be what Shonen Jump needs now and it also might be what you need now when it comes to manga.

-Alain

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