A First Look at The Promised Neverland

Crack pacing, crisp artwork, and a shocking plot twist in chapter one — those are just three reasons to pick up The Promised Neverland when it arrives in comic shops on December 5th. The first volume is a masterful exercise in world-building, introducing the principal characters and the main conflict in a few economic strokes, avoiding the trap that ensnares so many fantasy authors: the info-dump introduction. Instead, the writer-artist team of Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu allow the reader to figure out what’s happening by revealing important plot details as the characters uncover them, and letting the artwork establish the setting. That makes the very earliest pages of the story flow more like a rollercoaster than a Star Wars screen crawl, making every page turn feel like an urgent necessity.

The story begins at Grace Field House, an orphanage plucked from a Victorian novel: the main building is a homey Tudor villa that’s surrounded by open meadows and lush forest, perfect for a game of tag. Our first hint that something is amiss comes just six pages into the story, as Emma, the narrator, makes a mental note of all the things she’s grateful for: “a warm bed, delicious food” and “an all-white uniform.” Before we can ponder the significance of the uniform, however, Demizu inserts a panel revealing that every resident of Grace Field House has a number tattooed on her neck, a sure sign that the orphans are more prisoners than temporary wards:

A smattering of other clues — including a series of daily IQ tests and a fence encircling the property — reinforce our perception that Emma and her friends Roy and Norman are in grave danger. And while the earliest chapters occasionally bow to Shonen Jump convention with on-the-nose narration, it’s the artwork, not Emma’s voice-over, that makes each new revelation feel so sinister. Consider the panel that introduces the testing ritual:

In the first ten pages of the story, Demizu uses little to no shading to create volume or contrast, instead depicting the setting and characters through clean, graceful linework. The image above, which appears on pages 12-13, is the first time that we see such a dramatic use of tone; the students at the back of the frame look like they’re being swallowed by a black hole, while the students at the front sit under a klieg light’s glare. Demizu’s subsequent drawings are more restrained than this particular sequence, but her artwork becomes more detailed and complex than what we saw in the story’s first pages — it’s as if the setting is coming into focus for the first time, complicating our initial impressions of Grace Field House as a place of refuge.

I’m reluctant to say more about the plot, since the first chapter’s spell loses some of its potency if you know the Big Terrible Secret beforehand. (If you absolutely, positively must know what happens, Wikipedia has a decent, one-paragraph summary of the premise.) By the time Emma, Roy, and Norman realize the real purpose of their incarceration, however, the basic “rules” of the Promised Neverland universe have been firmly established, and the characters fleshed out enough for us to care whether they succeed in escaping. More importantly, the lead trio are smart and capable without seeming like miniature adults, making their likelihood of success seem uncertain, rather than preordained. That element of suspense may be difficult to sustain for 10 or 20 volumes, but hot damn — volume one is a nail-biter. Count me in for more!

Volume one debuts on December 5th in print and ebook form. Chapters 1-3 are available for free on the VIZ website; the story is currently being serialized in the English edition of Weekly Shonen Jump.

9 thoughts on “A First Look at The Promised Neverland”

  1. Aaron says:

    I read the first ten chapters when Shonen Jump started serializing it as part of its Jump Start initiative to introduce new series. I enjoyed it but it felt like it went on for interminably too long with not much happening. That being said I think it is worthy of the praise receiving I just found the pacing off.

    Other Shonen Jump titles to be on the lookout for are Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba by Koyoharu Gotouge. Which about a boy Tanjirou whose family is slaughtered by Demons and whose only surviving family member his sister Nezuko is turned into a demon. so he sets on a quest to turn his sister back into a human while fighting to defend the innocent against the demons.

    Viz licensed it and volume one is due out on July 3, 2018, and is currently available for pre-order for $7.89 on Amazon. It does really good numbers in Shonen Jump in Japan and some Anons on 4chan think it is best “Battle Manga” currently running in Japanese Shonen Jump.

    Then there’s Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs by Tadahiro Miura which is about a homeless high schooler with supernatural abilities named Kogashi who ends up moving into a hot spring inn populated by supernatural beings. including his new roommate a friendly ghost girl named Yuuna along with other residents being an Oni, a girl possessed by a cat god, and a Zashiki-warashi. An enjoyably salacious Harem series that feels like it was written in the late 90s or early 2000s. Feeling like a cross between Love Hina and Early Shaman King

    It’s one of the launch titles for Seven Seas new Ghost Ship imprint for more “mature” titles and the first three volumes are available for pre-order on Amazon with volume one starting at $11.69
    While technically not a Shonen Jump Title (it ran in the online magazine Jump +) Fire Punch by Tatsuki Fujimoto is one to look out for if you enjoy extremely dark series.

    Set in the future of a world that is nothing but bleak perpetual winter thanks to mysterious empowered being called The Winter Witch. Live two young orphans Agni and Luna who have the ability to regenerate body parts and supply their village with “meat” taken from their own bodies.

    Until the village is torched by an invading army with Agni being the only survivor and turning into a literal human torch powered by hatred and revenge and unable to die in a constant state of pain remembering only his hatred, thirst for revenge, and loss. It has beautiful art but it makes Berserk look like Strawberry Marshmellow in comparison. It’s being put out in the Viz Sig edition so nice trim size and good paper stock. First three volumes are available on Amazon for pre-order with volume one starting at $12.99.

    Finally, there are Kaguya-sama: Love Is War by Aka Akasaka a school day romantic comedy about Kaguya Shinomiya and Miyuki Shirogane two genius students who have fallen in love with each other. But can’t bring themselves to confess to one another as that would wound their pride too much despite their mutual attraction for each other and try and the other to confess so they can be the “winner.” First three volumes are available for pre-order on Amazon volume three is available for $7.89.

    Also, World’s End Harem written by Link with art by Kotaru Shouno this ran also in Jump + like Fire Punch so it’s more a “mature” quasi Seinen title for lack of a better term. Post Apocalyptic harem series.

    Where all of the men except for a few who were cryogenically frozen while the search for a cure for multiple sclerosis is found have been wiped out by a mysterious virus. It focuses on three of these men who are now tasked with “repopulating” the world. It’s salacious there is a lot of fanservice but it all just felt so incredibly sad to me. First two volumes are up for pre-order on Amazon volume two is available for $10.35.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Hi, Aaron! Thanks for the recommendations; it sounds as if there’s a lot of good content in the pipeline for 2018! I might just have to break down and get a WSJ subscription in order to stay on top of all these new series.

      1. Aaron says:

        Thanks not so much recommendations per say as shining a light on titles. Besides Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs, Kaguya-sama: Love Is War are not run in the English Langauge version of Shonen Jump.

        While World’s End Harem and Fire Punch are run on the Shonen Jump+ App which as far as I can tell has no English Langauge analog. But if you’re proficient in Japanese, should be no problem.

        But they all are coming out in paperback in English so while you may not get to experience it weekly. You do get more story per volume than you would if you bought an individual issue of Shonen Jump through Viz online.

        Although I would recomend Fire Punch and Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs the most if asked to make a recomendation.

  2. The Black Manga Critic says:

    Fantastic review! I love how you zero in on Posuka’s deft artistic hand. She really incorporates that whimsical yet dangerous feeling of Victorian children’s literature — most notably Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Kingsley’s The Water Babies. I also appreciate your withholding of key plot points; some reviewers (including myself) have a hard time doing this, so kudos!

    Again, thanks for this great review, and I look forward to reading more of them! ^_^

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      And thanks for the recommendation! I missed those chapters when they debuted last summer, but your Twitter feed made me realize that I’d missed a great debut.

      And man — there’s an awesome book to be written about the relationship between manga and Victorian children’s books! Moto Hagio’s work irresistibly reminds me of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s — especially A Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy — and Carroll has spawned a veritable cottage industry of Wonderland-themed stories.

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