The Promised Neverland Volume 1 begins in Grace Field House, which looks like a new age temple and Miss Hannigan’s School for Girls were blended into a frothy cult of clean living. The orphanage matrons ‘teach to the test,’ provide white uniforms from the J Cult catalog, serve food worshiped by their charges, encourage play and exercise, administer daily tests, and every now and then, pickle one of the kids to feed their alien employers.
I hesitate to call them alien overlords when they’re just as much alien absentee landlords, issuing their will by proxy through their human minions, as if the aliens are too timid to show their face. The aliens’ chief puppet at Grace Field House is Isabella, aka “Mom,” a witch cut from a Hansel and Gretel cookie cutter, though she flirts with her wicked role like River Song, comports herself like Mary Poppins and we wish she’d break into song. Since the test scores that determine grade A brain also qualified Isabella to become a matron, she was spared and returned to Grace Field House, where she sends on the kids that are past date. While we don’t see her do the deed, since we only see alien transport drivers and diners, there is a strong implication that Isabella killed and pickled one of the girls between panels.
Though this is equal parts nightmare and horror, The Promised Neverland has a surprising amount of sunshine, mainly in Emma, Norman, and Ray, a circle of friends that see their future on the dining table and decide to wage war on the menu. While Norman and Ray are the smartest students, the protagonist Emma is grouped with them due to perfect test scores that stem from her superior learning ability. She is mainly exceptional due to her compassion and determination, however, for she is unwilling to accept rational escape schemes that involve leaving behind even one child from their orphanage family. Additionally, she serves as the moral compass for her group, the author, and the readers.
Ray is the cucumber-cool nerd that knows the monsters by their Monster Manual page number, and Norman is the calm, compassionate Mind Flayer whose oxymoronic nature is the fabric of his reality. Confronted with the reality of their horror, Ray instantly decides that his orphanage family are liabilities in any escape, and tells Emma that only some can be saved, or all will die. Norman is a bit of a monster himself. At the sight of their friend Conny’s pickled corpse, he holds it together a little too well, and like Ray, isn’t disturbed by the thought of leaving their orphanage family behind. However, though saving everyone is hopeless, and he will likely die, he is a smitten romantic, and goes along with it to please Emma.
The Promised Neverland is as much fairy tale as science fiction. While I’m reminded of John Christopher’s The White Mountains, unlike that kidlit classic, the kids of The Promised Neverland aren’t fighting to save their identity, but their flesh and blood, which is scheduled for consumption. When Emma and her friends discover that they’re groceries, it recalls Hansel and Gretel. At the intersection of fairy tales and science ficiton, of course, is the theme of loss of self, regardless whether that takes the form of soul destruction or flesh consumption. The grim and gory heart of The Promised Neverland is that our being has an expiration date, whether it’s a body harvested by aliens or a soul sold for survival. I’m a big fan of this manga from the first volume.
The Promised Neverland Volume 1 arrived on December , 2017, and you can also order it through Viz Media.
Viz Media sent the review copy.