Alright, so, customary Spoiler Warning — we’re gonna dive right into The Promised Neverland Volume 14’s big reveal. Like, no, really: we’re gonna start divulging classified info by the next paragraph. While I imagine most readers would’ve already perused this latest volume, it’s only fair I warn you in advance, so get reading if you haven’t already! (Granted, it’s not like everyone and their dog didn’t see this twist coming; I mean, come on, the cover spells it out just above!)
The trauma, fear, and ragtag companionship that’ve composed Emma’s years-long struggle haven’t just stemmed from her utopian vision of rescuing humanity from this demon-eat-man world; nay, her rock-solid foundation’s bolstered from the regret of losing her rock in Norman. Time and time again, even as she and her band of Grace Field/Goldy Pond escapees achieve victory over man-eating demons and complicit human caretakers, they’re continually crippled by losses in their ranks: from leaving behind Phil to losing Yugo and Lucas, practically every win’s setback by a soul-crushing sacrifice echoing Emma’s original mistake — an unforgivable compromise she promised herself she’d never repeat again. Yet with the The Promised Neverland‘s meticulously-cruel food-chain repeatedly dousing cold splashes of reality upon our pre-teen heroes, writer Kaiu Shirai throws them a bone in a heart-stopping reveal: Norman was alive this whole time, and he’s been posing as William Minerva whilst leading a resurgence militia against the demons.
Again, this was obvious: we already knew Norman survived in a previous volume, and it’s not like the obscured “William Minerva” we witnessed burning down farms and addressing adoring subjects didn’t possess uncannily familiar features. Nay, what’s important is the expert timing: after the heartbreaking events of the previous couple volumes, this is the exact feel-good reprieve we need from The Promised Neverland‘s sobering reality — tears are shed, hugs come a-‘glomping, and infectious smiles spread across those beloved cherubic faces as artist Posuka Demizu gently coaxes us into another faux-sanctuary as Emma, Ray, and the rest of Grace Field relish in Norman’s miraculous survival.
As opposed to our encounter with Mujika and Sonju, however, Volume 14 is quick to shatter their carefree illusion: there’s the deadly encounter with the medicine facility just beforehand, for one thing, but even if we were to dispense with the grueling experimentation flashbacks (which is impossible — just as Demizu excels illustrating wholesome warmth, she can flip into humanity’s dark side on a dime and express passive apathy on behalf of the demon’s human beneficiaries; in this case, scientists stoically scribbling away as child test subjects are eaten alive by ravenous demons. Augh, I just wanna strangle them!), the hints of Emma’s evolving idealism have coalesced into a direct opposition of Norman’s own: whereas the latter desires to exterminate all demons, Emma knows that’s the wrong path.
No, seriously, who is that?
Just as we knew this path was inevitable since her budding friendship with Mujika, the mere suggestion of reconciliation between species would be a thorny path to take; for one thing, the innate peer pressure among her comrades new and old would prevent her from speaking up, as how could she even begin to convince her traumatized friends from Goldy Pond’s barbarous cat-and-mouse game to follow her lead? Their latest compatriots in Norman’s elite Irregulars also don’t seem too keen on the idea of demon reconciliation, not the least in Barbara — a club-wielding woman who turns the series’ premise on its head by ravenously chowing down on demon meat. Most of all, could such a far-fetched plan turn away their just-revived relationship with Norman, who was revealed to be alive this whole time?
With further questions feeding into this conflict via world-building — why do demons revert after eating humans, for instance, and what could become of Norman’s non-human contacts? — The Promised Neverland continues displaying compassion on its sleeve. From the very beginning, the series wasn’t interested in framing itself as a cold-blooded revenge story; yes, the liberation of Goldy Pond was an electrifying comeback, yet with the series’ insistent themes of “liberation” and “escape”, it’s only natural Emma’s exposure to the outer demon world would gradually direct her focus not upon a demonic hive-mind of child-eating gluttons, but rather a totalitarian government exploiting the hunger of an otherwise mild-mannered race with lives and families of their own. Ray’s pragmatism has also evolved; he, as one of countless pawns from the human farms, may be content with Norman’s genocide, but doesn’t just recognize Emma’s hesitation could potentially could blow up their plans — he’s long since known Emma’s leadership and idealism has achieved the impossible countless times, and, as we’ve mentioned before, may’ve unknowingly picked up on her hopeless optimism, as his respect for Norman’s friendship allows him to objectively mediate flaws and holes upon both plans.
With Volume 13 setting itself aside as expository build-up, how The Promised Neverland yet again establishes another firm foothold into a tantalizing arc. Ever prime for theory-crafting and chapter-by-chapter breadcrumbs, those of us who’ve long been in the Shonen Jump game know where it’ll inevitably end up (or, well, if you’ve been following the Shonen Jump serial, anyway), but as the series immerses itself ever deeper into all-too-real themes, we might’ve not even noticed how much Emma’s infectious idealism tapped into our critical thinking lobes. Is it far past time for forgiveness, or can we learn not to punish an entire species for the sins of the corrupt?
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a review copy provided by VIZ Media.