The hunters become the hunted.
It says something about The Promised Neverland‘s stunning quality that Volume 9’s mid-way twist — confirming a long-lost character’s survival — isn’t its most jaw-dropping moment; if anything, I’d suggest it’s impossible to pick, considering Volume 9’s immaculate blend of survival and mystery renders it the series’ most riveting since the very first volume. Since 2016, readers of Kaiu Shirai’s horror thriller know The Promised Neverland never hesitates with enforcing soul-destroying despair within this demon-eat-man world, and Emma’s meeting with Goldy Pond’s resistance group — headed by Lucas, an old friend of The Man — is its grimmest poignancy thus far.
Chilling as it may be, The Promised Neverland bewitches most when it reminds us what’s at stake here, and Goldy Pond’s horror show is its most morbid yet. Whereas Grace Field Orphanage’s homely warmth masked the truth as Emma and the others plotted their escape, Goldy Pond never lets you forget it’s a living nightmare — the former sanctuary for child escapees, mirroring that of a Disneyland playground, now regularly runs red with blood as a hunting ground. As always, artist Posuka Demizu’s terrifying expressions act in tandem, raw trauma running fresh through every survivor as circus music signals their predators’ arrival. Just when we think we’ve grown desensitized from the series’ core impetus — ending the demons’ cycle of farmed children — the series stoically rips off the bandage first applied after Volume 1’s poor Connie and mercilessly pours salt on the wound.
Hence the modus operandi of this volume — pure grit. Not that the trademark mystery-solving and cat-and-mouse outwitting is absent, but The Promised Neverland yet again frames the latter in a different matter: all-out battle. Naturally, these aren’t the hot-blooded battles typically decorating the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump; it’s driven by kill-or-be-killed mentality, one all the more harrowing when carried out by Emma’s new gun-toting friends. Merely observe how Gillian — a beanie-sporting girl never without her adorable open smile — transforms into a stone-faced god of death, gunning down demonic abominations and cornering her sister’s murderer with the very same cruelty formally imposed upon her. The infectious idealism Emma continually boasts may take a backseat, but there’s no denying the adrenaline rush accompanying Lucas’s counterattack.
This ain’t the circus.
It’s a gripping clash of humanity, not the least in its shocking closer revealing these monsters possess a beating heart after all, albeit not for the sake of their dinner. Not to say we weren’t aware of these sentient demons’ sense of camaraderie — how could we forget Sonju and Mujika from Volume 6? — but the abject lack of morality these man-hunters have directed towards our young heroes screeches to a halt upon this mournful wail. With the crisis unresolved, we exit pondering morbid uncertainty — could Sonya and Sandy’s momentary shock spell doom? Furthermore, given Emma’s endless capacity for empathy, could this display of grief have implications for the story’s future? The Promised Neverland obviously cannot engage in a “who is the real monster?” debate — we’re talking about raising human children as livestock, after all — but much as we cheer for their victories, the prospect of child soldiers committing genocide plants seeds of doubt.
Of course, the volume doesn’t dive into outright action, instead wisely easing us into solving the series’ most compelling mystery: who is William Minerva? It’s an answer as fascinating as the visual appeal seguing into it: Posuka accompanies our heart-pounding anxiety with subdued, tranquil scenery in otherworldly elements dwelling within a musty cavern. It perfectly complements the world-changing secrets hidden within — even as the truths within gradually shift Emma and Lucas’s apprehension into hope, we’re still left with burning questions for the future. Does, say, the untouchable water present any immediate clues? No, but we trust in Shirai’s storytelling in elevating such a peripheral, yet fantastical element to prominence just as we trust Posuka’s outlandish artwork to will it life. Immaculate manga pair-ups are no stranger to Jump — look no further than Riichiro Inagaki/Yusuke Murata’s Eyeshield 21 — but no duo has ever continually surprised me with their compatibility.
(Speaking of hints, our closest reprieve lies within the aforementioned twist I mentioned earlier. Supposing my implications hadn’t already made it obvious, I’ll continue dancing around it, but while some probably saw it coming, that it ties into Volume 9’s most enigmatic character provides a brilliant layer upon the above paragraph — turn readers’ attention towards the hulking wonder and the reveal following his limited vocabulary, and we forget all about the perplexing water until it randomly slaps us in the face a year or two later. Oops, did I just ruin it? Um, forget what I said just now.)
Horrifying in both narrative and gratification, The Promised Neverland continues taking us down uncharted territory for Shonen Jump. That I remain captivated even after knowing what happens is proof of its allure, and I already can’t wait to review the next volume. Really, if this iteration doesn’t cement The Promised Neverland as one of the magazine’s all-time greats, I don’t know what will.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a review copy provided by VIZ Media.