The die’s been cast: Emma and the Grace Field Orphanage kids have launched their escape, with both Mom and predatory demons hot on their heels. However, as evident by last volume’s last page twist, we learn it comes with a sacrifice: all toddlers four and under won’t be making the journey, left behind to slow down Mom. This choice wasn’t born out of heartless self-preservation — the decision was made only in knowing they won’t be shipped out for another two years, and 4-year-old Phil was not only privy to the “we’re all being raised for consumption” conspiracy, but willingly volunteered to keep watch — yet it’s a twist opening that leaves us reeling. Once again, Kaiu Shirai’s The Promised Neverland pulls no punches in its child-against-adult mind games, masterfully sweeping us into its constant life-and-death struggle.
Consequently, their escape’s rendered a bittersweet victory in a stark reminder, namely in that Emma’s idealism cannot achieve survival by itself. The rationalism of Gilda and Ray are necessary for victory, and with their combined brainpower, she settles for the next best thing: letting her idealism bear fruit in two years, right before Phil and the rest are harvested. How this’ll come into play is anyone’s guess, but a recent development in the ongoing serialization may provide a clue…
Others are licking their wounds as well – namely, Mother Isabella. Her flashback reveals something of a crumbling facade, one burgeoning since volume one’s reveal that she, too, was once raised as food. With her defeatist goals now dashed to pieces, there’s no need to pretend anymore, and so she resigns herself not merely in her deepest wishes but in the smallest of ways to assist their escape. Her loss follows only common sense — what other fate is there for the defeatist, other than eventually becoming the defeated?– but be it through punishment or as an unexpected ally, we can certainly expect to see the true Mom in the future.
Still, it’s hardly all bad: Ray himself channeled Mom’s defeatism by being her mole, but his newfound resolution in living already has him walking on a different path, literally and figuratively. Much as his cynicism serves as a foil to Emma’s idealism, it’s in his declaration that he’ll keep living and protect his newfound family that we, as readers, can depend on him as a reliable ally in ending this tragic cycle. If anything, he’s hardly as rational as he seems: his hallucination of Norman affirms Ray secretly admires Emma’s capability in defying the impossible, birthing his own motivation to live because of her genuine desire to save everyone.
The pieces are still coming together.
Regardless, our young band of escapees are hardly out of the woods; in fact, they’ve wandered into a den of carnivorous plants. True to The Promised Neverland‘s suspense genre, Shirai doesn’t give us so much as a moment to breathe, with both deadly wildlife and the kids’ demon pursuers in pursuit. Even as they escape from the jaws of a wild demon, mysteries are born: despite their fondness for human flesh, exactly how did a difference arise between both primitive demons and those capable of speech? Whatever the answer, it’s not knowledge that’ll currently serve any use: we leave this volume in both Emma and Ray wedged in tight pinches, and it’ll take some unforeseen help to get them out.
As always, none of this would be half as effective without Posuka Demizu’s stunning art. Of course, Isabella’s silent encouragement may’ve been a tough pill to swallow were it expressed by a less competent storyteller, but on-top of Shirai’s excellent foreshadowing and character development, her pleas are rendered instantly believable in her shifting emotions, be they serene contentment or — in what’s one of Demizu’s best countenances yet — triggered anxiety upon encountering an unanticipated reminder. Demizu’s demons are also still super scary, be they feral or intelligent; granted, the kids recognize the former’s not such a big threat given its obvious lack of intellect, but I’d still rather not cross paths with what passes as The Promised Neverland‘s wildlife.
The cycle begins anew in Volume 5 — we are, yet again, left off on a surprise cliffhanger, and so we’re left waiting another two months for the next installment. Already questions are raised: who is this person? Are they friend or foe? Human or demon? If demon, why are they assisting humans? Do they know Mr. Minerva? Even if they do, will he ultimately be beneficial? As we’ve known since its inception, nothing is ever certain in this manga, and that’s how The Promised Neverland keeps us hooked. News of the series reaching its final arc leaves me saddened, but I can rest easy knowing the series will go out in its prime.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a review copy provided by VIZ Media.