Yakusoku no Neverland - Review


Yakusoku no Neverland

Yakusoku no Neverland - Review

Introduction

2019 was a big year for anime, and one of the heaviest hitters in the ring from the beginning of the year was the anime Yakusoku no Neverland.

While not the most popular anime in the year (that title, as expected, went to shounen anime like Mob Pyscho 100 II, and Kimetsu no Yaiba), it still received generally positive reviews from critics and viewers alike, and actually received the “Best Fantasy Award” at the Crunchyroll 2019 Anime Awards. Yakusoku no Neverland ran from January to March of 2019, and currently has a score of 8.68 on MyAnimeList.

Although I only finished watching the series quite recently, I actually tried to watch it a few months before and ended up dropping it for very significant reasons.

Overall, I was satisfied with the show and more than willing to watch its, now delayed, sequel, but I had several issues with it that stopped me from giving it an exceptionally high score.

Be warned: a large part of this anime’s experience is about its unexpected twists and turns. Reading this review may very well ruin the experience of watching it due to the large number of spoilers I have included for review purposes. I would highly recommend watching the show before reading this review.

Plot and Story

Interestingly enough, a non-anime series was the first thing to come to mind during the start of Yakusoku no Neverland, and that series was actually The Maze Runner.

Yakusoku no Neverland shows us the story of a group of orphans living a happy life. Every few months, one of their number is adopted by foster parents and taken away, never to be seen again.

Two things are strange about this, though. The orphanage is fenced off from the rest of the world, and the children have never traveled nor seen the world outside of the fence.

The children also take tests for intelligence on a daily basis, with the orphans often competing to see who would produce the highest score, then competing to make up for their low scores by playing tag or running around outside.

All this goes splendidly until the beginning of the show, where we focus on the main character, a young eleven-year-old named Emma.

Emma cares a lot for her siblings, and when Conny is sent to meet her foster parents at the outer gate to the orphanage’s grounds but forgets to take her stuffed animal, she runs off to deliver it to her, accompanied by her close friend Norman.

However, at the gate, they discover a horrifying truth, the orphanage is a farm devoted to growing and nurturing human beings for the consumption of a race of demons. Emma and Norman return to the orphanage in terror, having seen the corpse of Conny prepared for consumption and the bodies of one of the demons.

Later, Emma decides that they would have to escape the orphanage and journey to the outside world instead of being eaten, taking all their siblings with them.

Norman, and the third of their trio, Ray, agree with her, and the three begin to conspire under the nose of their caretaker Isabella, who works to undermine their efforts.

The premise, while borrowing elements from a variety of similar anime and franchises, is definitely unique enough to be interesting, and having the main cast of characters be a group of children under the age of eleven gave the show a unique freshness that made me interested in watching it.

Unfortunately, like many of its peers in the industry, Yakusoku no Neverland suffers from several issues in its writing that undermined my interest in watching, and eventually lead me to drop it temporarily.

The first of these issues is one of pacing. Yakusoku no Neverland is primarily about a group of children planning to escape, and the children do love to plan.

Most of the episodes feel very repetitive, with the three main characters meeting and discussing the information they have as well as the merits and disadvantages of various escape plans.

Progress is painfully slow in the first few episodes and things start to get boring without the active threat of the demons visible to the audience. The show needs real patience to get through here, although I understand the necessity for some of the slower episodes.

There is one plot component that I disagree with here, though. In response to discovering that Emma and Norman found the “secret”, Isabella puts in a request for a second caretaker to assist her at the farm, which appears in the form of Sister Krone.

Sister Krone is, in essence, a red herring. Unlike Isabella, who is a perfectly organized, driven caretaker with only the quality of the merchandise and their wellbeing on her mind, Sister Krone is driven by her desire to bring down Isabella and take her place as the Mother of Plant Three.

This causes issues where Isabella is trying to slowly infiltrate and dismantle Emma, Norman, and Ray’s conspiracy, while Krone tries to forcibly break it apart and bring enough evidence to upper management to reveal that Isabella’s methods at dealing with the conspiracy are against the rules.

Krone ends up being a useful source of information for the conspiracy but really serves as a large time sink, giving the children a source of danger to watch out for which only really removes itself at the end, when Isabella tires of her antics and pushes the management to kill her.

Speaking of information, Yakusoku no Neverland has several issues with its distribution of information. A lot of anime likes to do this, but it’s a terrible flaw in the writing.

Characters make huge leaps of judgment that turn out to be correct but only look like foreknowledge or the author feeding them just enough “guesses” for the plot to proceed.

It’s not wrong for characters to make assumptions or guesses, as long as these guesses are treated reasonably. For example, in the second episode of the show, the trio gets a glance at Isabella checking her compact mirror when she was informed that a child was lost in the woods, shortly before going into the woods and directly retrieving them.

This makes Emma, Norman, and Ray guess that all the children have some sort of tracking device on them, possibly implanted when they were infants. This is excellent. The author shows the characters making an educated guess and later confirming it.

What is poor writing is when the characters deduce that the trackers operate on radio technology, build a device to disable it, and also decide that it is impossible that the trackers, or anything else for that matter, record sound, giving them full freedom to conspire as long as they are out of earshot from Isabella.

This issue exists in Yakusoku no Neverland but doesn’t cause as much issue as I thought it would at first. What does get in the way of the anime is the excessive plotting.

Throughout the entire anime, new plans are discussed throughout each and every episode, to the point where the entire show felt like a heist movie during the second half. Plans are made, scrapped, retrieved, discarded again, and then altered at a second thought.

It gets hard to keep up with all the plots and contrivances, and although I got the general gist of where things were going, most of what the characters ended up doing throughout the middle episodes felt vague and disconnected with respect to what I thought they were doing or wanted to do.

For example, Ray reveals himself to be a spy for Isabella around the middle of the show and agrees to act as a double agent for Norman as long as Norman agrees to lie to Emma about taking all the orphans with them on the escape.

This exchange is long and tense, but it seems to have been forgotten within a few episodes since Ray has some kind of change of heart in the middle.

This is never made clear explicitly, and I can’t help but wish that knowledge was made known in a more expressive way.

Still, despite all this, when the anime finally gets on its way and the characters start unfolding their plan, things go amazingly. The final three episodes were the peak of the show, with an intense emotional payoff from Norman’s self-sacrifice through buying time for his friends to set up their escape, and the final escape sequence was exceptionally gripping.

I was a bit disappointed that Ray didn’t end up killing himself and that his death was faked. It felt a bit cheap to push Ray so far without providing a real consequence to dowsing himself in lighter fluid.

Isabella also performed well in the last few episodes, struggling to rein in all the children, and fighting to catch them in their escape, before giving up and waving to them as they leave, remembering her own past and her attempt to escape from her own farm, before giving up and joining the program to become a Mother.

Some details about the organization of the farms, as well as Ray’s relationship with Isabella, who is revealed to be his mother, are yet to be clarified, but I have hope that the later seasons will tackle that matter in detail.


Characters

The vast majority of the characters in Yakusoku no Neverland suffer from age. More precisely, a lack of it. Although all the characters in the show are below the age of twelve, most act years older.

For the most part, the younger children act their age, but whenever it’s needed, the show portrays them acting like teenagers. I don’t understand what the issue would have been with having the characters all be about five years older, but perhaps the author wanted to avoid the inevitable teen drama.

In any case, a large immersion breaker is seeing a four-year-old accept the inevitability of their being raised as a lamb for slaughter, as well as the fact that their adopted sister is leaving them isolated there as she escapes.

The eleven-year-old Ray is also unrealistically precious showing immense capability in electrical engineering as well as the ability to remember memories from before his birth, which is something most can agree to be unrealistic.

On the other hand, aside from the issues with age and Ray’s overpowered intellect, the characters are generally well spread. Each of the three protagonists has their area of expertise, and their characters are well separated by individual preferences, ideologies, and strengths.

Emma cares for her siblings deeply and values their safety over her own, Ray is the loner who cares for his friends and does whatever it takes to keep them from a terrible death at the hands of their demon overlords, and Norman is the leader who watches over all, organizing their escapes and negotiating on their behalf.

Only a few other characters are named out of all the orphans, but those who are named are uniquely established. Both Don and Gilda are interesting characters and act as good side characters to assist the progression of the plot and help maneuver some of the plans that Norman, Ray, and Emma try to build.

The episode where they infiltrate Isabella’s secret room was one I felt broken from Emma, Norman, and Ray’s more passive style of progression quite nicely.

None of the side characters are particularly deep or round, but they do flesh out the world quite nicely, and both Isabella and Krone’s backgrounds are interesting to consider and look back on through the provided flashbacks.

I do want to add that some of the unnamed characters also have a huge effect on the worldbuilding. Occasionally some of the characters will mention “the One” some kind of demon in a high-ranking possession that demands only humans of the highest quality.

It hints like these that help create worldbuilding which motivates the audience to explore.

Art, Animation, Editing, and Music

Nothing too remarkable to report here, unfortunately. The art style was very fresh, and the characters were very pleasant to look at, but nothing struck me as particularly innovative.

The animation used a lot of 3D animation, bringing in shots of characters sneaking through corridors in the orphanage and the like, sometimes a little too much.

Only a few of those shots felt helpful or building of good suspense. Others felt a little repetitive or forced. I rarely mention editing, but in Yakusoku no Neverland a few unorthodox editing techniques were tried.

During conversations, the show would sometimes sneak in frames of the character’s faces to show their shock for a fraction of a second of time, as though to keep the focus on the wide-angle shot and the appearance of the group while informing the viewers of one individual character’s opinion.

This really doesn’t work and only acts as distracting and annoying. A flash of a character’s face and a change in perspective for a fraction of a second distorts the audience’s view of the conversation than anything.

On the other hand, some of the editings were quite positive, building suspense and dramatic irony, like with the shots showing Gilda going to Isabella’s room for a report, only to have her hold the conspiracy’s secret, and the traitor turning out to be Ray or the shot in the first episode where hopeful music arises near the end when Norman and Emma decide to run away with all their siblings is sharply juxtaposed with a shot of Isabella holding evidence of their being present at the gate at the same time she was.

As for the music, most of the original soundtrack felt relatively bland to me. A few of the stronger, more action-filled moments were accompanied by jazzy melodies reminiscent of the Death Parade OST, but the vast majority of the show didn’t contain enough music to be very memorable.

The opening theme “Touch Off” is spectacular though, along with its opening video which was very cinematic, and both ending themes, “Light” and “Zettai Zetsumei” were good cool down songs, pleasant accompanying visuals for the credits.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Yakusoku no Neverland is an excellent show. It absolutely nailed its ending, which is something few anime ever do, and I am more than happy with the way it was done here.

The characters are interesting and engaging enough for me to feel comfortable following and I hope that we see a lot more of the action we saw in the last few episodes in the future. I do have some concerns that future seasons will be very different from the first season though.

In this season we saw very little of the outside world and the demons that seem to be ruling the Earth in 2045, although that will likely not be the case in season two, as it wasn’t in The Scorch Trials, where the ugly truth of the outside world was laid bare to the children who had been sheltered inside the maze for their whole lives. Still, I was more than satisfied with this show, and I look forward to its future seasons.


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