This one hurts, y’all.
I’ve been a huge fan of The Promised Neverland ever since the first season dropped. I was so enamored with the story that I read the entire manga on the Shonen Jump mobile app. I couldn’t wait to see Emma, Ray, and Norman’s adventure continue in the second season, with Cloverworks’ stellar art direction and Takahiro Obata’s spine-tingling OST.
All that hype, all that anticipation, and we got this.
Let’s back up a bit. Before The Promised Neverland’s second season started airing, there were already rumors of the story taking a different direction than the manga. Author Kaiu Shirai would be brought onto the production team, to supervise scripts and write an “original scenario” for the season. It’s like how in the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime in 2003, series creator Hiromu Arakawa helped take the story in a new direction that was still faithful to the source material.
I was puzzled, considering the manga was already finished by this point, but not too worried. Fan consensus was that the final arc was a bit rushed, so any opportunity to flesh out the ending would be appreciated. Besides, I actually liked FMA 2003, so I was fine with an alternate continuity as long as the spirit of the manga remained intact.
That’s not what happened. Not even close. Rather than writing a competent original story or, you know, just using the awesome story they already had, Cloverworks tried to cram everything in TPN that hadn’t already been animated into 11 episodes of anime. Altogether, that’s about 140 chapters. Three story arcs were completely skipped, including the fan favorite, Goldy Pond.
The result is a horribly paced, confusing mess of a season. Not only to several important characters in the manga never appear, but existing characters’ motivations and personalities change on a dime. Lore that would give context to what is happening is either skipped or hastily summarized in tedious exposition dumps. The tone shifts from the tight, focused suspense thriller vibes of the first season to an overwrought melodrama that is both boring and frustrating to watch. It’s the most shocking drop in quality I’ve seen in any anime series recently, and it hurts because it could have been amazing.
I won’t bore you with everything the anime cuts out. Even though I love the manga, I think any adaptation should stand well enough on its own that you don’t need to be familiar with the source material to enjoy it. But I want to explain everything this rushed pacing ruins, to give context to how much better everything could, and should, have been. (Also: I realize I’m 500 words in and this was all buildup. I’m so sorry.)
The first couple episodes aren’t bad. After escaping from the Grace Field orphanage at the end of Season 1, Emma, Ray, and the other kids soon find they are (literally) not out of the woods yet. They get chased by a giant CGI spider-demon for half an episode, until they are rescued by two friendly demons named Sonju and Mujika. It turns out these folks have special blood and don’t need to eat humans to survive – all other demons will turn into rampaging beasts if they don’t get enough of their delicious child brains.
There’s some chill scenes of the kids learning more about the demon world, and slowly uncovering clues from the mysterious William Minerva. Sonju and Mujika agree to help the kids take down the farms and escape to the human world, but they might not be as trustworthy as they seem. As the kids leave for a new settlement, Sonju reveals his true desire, to hunt humans for food and blood sport. (This doesn’t go anywhere, but it doesn’t go anywhere in the manga either, so I’ll let it slide.) Episode 4 ends with a bone-chilling cliffhanger, as we find out Isabella is still alive and on the hunt for the Grace Field kids.
But immediately after that, things go downhill fast. Instead of capitalizing on any of the tension they’d been building up to, Cloverworks time-warps a year to Emma and Ray’s reunion with Norman. The kids went from hiding out in a shelter, running from mysterious masked gunmen, to somehow living in disguise in a demon village. Where did they get the disguises from? Why can’t any of the demons smell human flesh, even though they could in Season 1? Who cares, Norman’s back, y’all!
Not only does the time skip leave a ton unexplained, it robs the reunion of it’s dramatic intensity. In the manga, we see the entire year that passed since the escape from Grace Field. It takes a long time to even reveal that Norman is still alive, and when they do, he’s clearly not the same. The gatekeeper between the two worlds, Peter Ratri, had been torturing Norman for months until the poor boy escaped and formed his own five-man band with a group of demon-killing thugs. He’s become the series anti-hero, an extremist who wants to help his friends, but has become so twisted from hate and trauma that he can only see demons as a menace to be exterminated.
All of that still happens in the anime, but we barely see any of it. Instead, Norman sums up what happened in an exposition dump that’s like an hour long. It’s the most boring way to convey this information, and it crams way too much in at once. Norman’s heel turn made sense in the manga, but in the anime it just feels cheesy and forced. Instead of considering the dark implications of his character arc, that even the best and brightest can become violent and cruel, it feels like the writers are saying, “See that kid you loved in the first season? He’s a bad guy now. Woooooo!”
And they don’t even stick the landing. While Emma and Ray are out searching for Sonju and Mujika, Norman goes behind their backs and tries to massacre the demons in the most gruesome way possible. He not only sets the whole village on fire, he disperses a drug into the atmosphere that makes the demons go primal and eat each other. Of course, Emma shows up at the climax of all this, and breaks Norman out of his rage-filled stupor right before he murders an old man in front of his child. Sure, the boy just committed several war crimes, but Emma and Ray (and even the guy he was just about to kill!) forgive him instantly, because they’re frieeeends.
Oh, and they try to tease that Norman is very sick and is probably going to die before the end of the season. And that doesn’t go anywhere either. This wasn’t even in the manga, so why bother including it?
Right, it’s the final battle. Time to take over Grace Field. Norman and his new friends start the offensive with exploding hot air balloons, which is somehow the least stupid thing about this part of the anime. Emma and Ray take down a squadron of demons and guys armed with assault rifles, using a bow and arrow. Fine, I guess. There’s a lot of action, but none of it means anything. At this point, things have gone so far off the rails that it all feels like mindless noise.
Things get tense when Isabella corners the children, and out comes the real Big Bad, Peter Ratri. His characterization in this is awful: one minute he’s crying because he had to kill his own brother in a flashback, and the next he’s monologuing and evil-laughing like a Saturday morning cartoon villain. Isabella switches sides like three times, and once again Emma instantly forgives both her and Ratri for trying to kill everyone she’s ever loved. It’s dumb, it makes no sense, it’s yet another thing even the rushed manga ending did better, but I haven’t even gotten to the worst part yet.
The ending. Where do I even begin? The kids can finally return to the human world, but Emma and Ray have some unfinished business. At this point, there’s only five minutes left in the episode, so how are they going to cram all that in? Simple, they show an entire story arc, including an epic battle where they overthrow the demon monarchy, as a still-shot montage. A montage!
It’s such a slap in the face, not just to manga readers, but to anyone who wanted to see these exciting-looking still shots to be, you know, animated. One shot has Emma talking to a mysterious demon child, who just so happens to have an awesome pet dragon. Don’t you want to know what that was all about? I know, but I won’t be able to talk about it now, because all people will care about is this abysmal rushed ending!
This season has been so disappointing on so many different levels. And it’s a shame. It’s a shame that manga readers will never get to see their favorite scenes animated, and it’s a shame that anime watchers have been robbed of the great story this could have been. The Promised Neverland manga is one of the best things Shonen Jump has done in years. It has tons of exciting twists, elaborate worldbuilding, sharp political themes without being too preachy, and a rushed but ultimately satisfying conclusion. This anime adaptation has none of that. It’s like playing a story-based RPG and skipping all of the cutscenes. Sure, the core mechanics are there, but the heart is completely gone.
I hate that this post has been so negative. I really wanted to have hope for this show. I would love get an FMA: Brotherhood-style remake some day, that fixes this version’s mistakes and stays more faithful to the source material. But I’m not holding my breath. I’m not sure if this was due to production issues at Cloverworks, or if some jerk in management just wanted to wrap up the story so they could make more harem anime or something. Either way, they failed to follow through on the first season’s enormous potential. The Promised Neverland is far from perfect, and even the manga has a lot of issues that I hadn’t mentioned. But this story, and these characters, deserved so much better than this.