From the very beginning, I knew what I was getting into with The Promised Neverland. Try as I did to avoid spoilers, somehow even someone who is not involved in social media like myself had the first episode’s twist spoiled before watching the episode less than a week after it aired. Indeed, the crown on its thumbnail on Crunchyroll wasn’t even gone yet before the Internet was flooded with people over saturating every anime outlet with memes about a little girl and her stuffed bunny. I went in, expecting to have the ride dampened by learning what I did. As I spoke on the AniTAY podcast recently, the effect of the twist was immensely powerful in ways I was not expecting.
Fear not, despite having the word “Spoiler” in the title, this article has no spoilers. So no worries to read this if you haven’t seen the series yet. If you haven’t seen this show yet, go watch it. It is incredible!
This series is one that carries a multitude of terrifying secrets that leave a constantly tense atmosphere as audiences watch orphans Emma, Norman, and Ray discover and grapple with the secrets one at a time. Undoubtedly a favorite amongst our writers here at AniTAY this season, every episode brings a whirlwind of discussion and theories. Even outside of my realms of anime writing, I’ve had wonderful discussions with friends at school about each week’s episode and our impressions on every minute detail. As someone who has never really been on board for high quality anime as they are airing since I usually binged series a quarter at a time, Neverland has brought a lot of entertaining discussions in recent months.
With this much conversation about a series, however, there is bound to be individuals who mistakenly share details without warning about spoilers, those who feel the need to share future spoilers since they read the source material, or just those who think they’re really clever by “guessing” details after reading the wiki ahead of time. These all, unfortunately, are examples of ways nearly every episode of this series has been spoiled for me. Despite all of this, there has not been a single episode that has not been gripping to me. There is something to be commended about a series that is so technically well executed that someone can know exactly what they are in store for and be wildly entertained.
A perfect example of this came from an episode at the two-thirds mark of the season, where a character would finally be faced with a grave fate I had known about since the third episode, over a month before. I kept watching the episode, waiting for the moment I knew that would come, and it actually did not set in until the exact time the show’s direction so clearly wanted the audience to feel the gravity of the situation set in. To put it another way, imagine this spoiler was a sports play that another team learned about months ahead of time. The other team confidently plans and anticipates this play so that when it comes time, they won’t be caught flat footed. The day of the game comes around, and before they know it the play still executes perfectly, sending a player down the court/field for a magnificent score. The coach of the team that had learned of this play sits dumbfounded at the beautiful draw-up they witness- they knew this moment would come, and yet it was still so well executed that it didn’t matter. This analogy is the embodiment of The Promised Neverland- try as audiences might to spoil the experience, this anime is so well crafted and there is so much attention to detail that it is impossible to derail the momentum it brings.
There are so many great examples to dive into with the technical aspects of this series that I am almost overwhelmed to choose where to begin with. For starters, the actual reactions the characters have are shown in response to all of these twists in such manners that are more memorable than the twists themselves (and the twists are really good, too). In the aforementioned podcast, which came out after episode two aired, I mentioned this point in that there are reactions from these orphans that really hit home just how much difficulty they’re having coping with what the show throws their way. Characters scream, cry, tremble and stare off into space and the show doesn’t rush through these emotions. There are plenty of moments where these children simply break down crying, and the show doesn’t speed along these breakdowns. It goes super far in endearing the characters to an audience. The “camera” sticks on these reactions for much longer than most anime focuses shots on, and there are no jerky cuts between faces or settings that would pull an audience out of things.
This is not to say there are not very effective transitions and zoom-ins throughout conversations, however. This is best shown with the character undoubtedly viewed as the “antagonist”- namely with how their eyes are animated. Their body language might say one thing to the characters around them, however the second the shot is on their eyes, there are daggers thrown around. In one scene, Ray is speaking to the character and unbeknownst to him, the character’s eyes are stabbing right through to him through the reflection in a glass cabinet. Shots like this take a ton of technical skill and is the exact kind of stuff that wins me over in a heartbeat.
Another example can be found in several times through the series where the smartest of the orphans, Norman,becomes lost in thought. In some instances, he simply stares at the ceiling, the “camera” focused on his eyes showing fatigue setting in clearly. Other times, his steps appear to be massive along a short hallway as he thinks. In my absolute favorite of these instances, he watches a clock as there is a slow swaying of the shot to the rhythm of the clock’s arm. The best part of this all is the audience doesn’t get an echo effect to hear his internal narration, there is nothing else besides the score (which is outstanding, by the way) and changes in his facial expressions as a result of revelations.
The setting of Neverland is a character in of itself as well- an orphanage plagued with secrets that constantly eat at and leave those who know them on edge whilst the ones with no knowledge of such horrors carry on not only normally, but also with abundant joy. This allows for some air of relief to work itself into the narrative without suffocating viewers with nothing but bad vibes and bad times. More importantly, the cheerful shots of orphans gathering for lunch, playing tag, and hugging their “Mother” all play perfect contrast for some of the darkest moments that happen either immediately preceding, following or even, in one of the most effective scenes so far,during these moments. Seeing a character stare down something horrific whilst classical music plays over a cheerful dinner scene is a breathtaking sequence that will undoubtedly stick with me for a while.
Not since watching Monogatari have I fallen for such direction as I have this series. Whereas Shaft made their bread and butter exploring gorgeous abstract art pieces of shots during conversations, Neverland chooses to use grounded details to hit home excellent direction. There is never too much scenery, but whatever is available is utilized to its maximum potential- corkboards displaying crayon illustrations, clothing fluttering on line dryers, small oil lantern lamps in the dead of night shading everything with just enough light. Comparing the two might be apples to oranges, but the common theme between them is excellent direction worth praising.
We are still just in the dawn of 2019, but there is already a champion to beat with The Promised Neverland. This is the exact kind of anime I will be able to watch several times over the next few years and appreciate all of the little things it does without any fear of knowing what happens next. Why? Simply put, this is an anime that is too good to be sunken by spoilers.
What are your favorite anime this season? Let me know, and have a wonderful day!