Every so often you come across an anime that really startles you, especially when, like me, you only watch the anime and don’t read any of the manga or light novels. I’ve certainly run into my fair share of surprises in my extensive 6 months of anime experience, but I think The Promised Neverland (Yakusoku no Neverland; 約束のネバーランド) is the first one to do it in such a startling fashion so early on. Spoilers ahead for the Pilot.
After a brief introduction about a dangerous gate encountered by what are sure to be our three main protagonists, the anime opens up innocently enough on an almost picturesque building in the middle of a bright green field. The clock strikes 06:00, and it’s time for the children to wake up. They are orphans and this is the only place they’ve ever known. They are looked after by a single nanny named “Mama.” Here they receive healthy food, a good education, and plenty of exercise in the field (tag appears to be their favorite game).
The place is a seeming utopia for these orphans, certainly better than anything I’ve seen. But the story wouldn’t be interesting if everything was exactly as it seemed, now would it? You know as well as I that there has to be some sort of catch, or they wouldn’t classify it as part of the Horror genre (as well as Sci-Fi, Mystery, and Shounen).
As with any orphanage, kids don’t live here forever. At this one in particular, the age cut-off is 12 years old. The kids know it, and look forward to life outside of the orphanage, where they can experience everything from buying new clothes (they are all provided with a single style of uniform) to riding on a train. Today happens to be the last day for an orphan named Conny and that evening, Mama takes Conny away from the orphanage for the last time.
Emma, one of the remaining children, soon realizes that Conny has left her favorite teddy bear behind, and with a little encouragement from Ray and Norman, two other kids at the orphanage, Emma and Norman race out to deliver her teddy bear before it’s too late, running towards the forbidden gate. There they discover a solitary truck and no Conny or Mama.
Since nobody is around, Emma decides the best place to leave the teddy is in the back of the truck. But when she opens the canvas to put the teddy in, she’s met with the last thing she was expecting, and soon, Emma and Norman are racing for their lives (I won’t spoil the ending).
After 2018 being such an incredible year for anime, I was apprehensive about what would be waiting for us in 2019. I’m happy to say that I am not in the least bit disappointed by The Promised Neverland. Based on what we saw in the pilot, I think we can expect great things from Ray, Norman, Emma, and the rest of the orphans. These children have only ever known each other, and their chemistry shows it, even in just an introductory pilot. Everything about this anime, from the pacing to the art to the hauntingly beautiful music, felt precise and calculated, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of The Promised Neverland.