[Hello all and welcome back to Weeb Analysis where this month we’ll be taking a look at the troubled series The Promised Neverland! Weeb Analysis is a monthly column dedicated to analyzing new anime and seeing which titles are truly the classics in the making and which ones are worthless shlock not worth your time. The question now stands: is The Promised Neverland worth analyzing, or is it a waste of your time?]
It’s not every day you get to watch a complete and utter disaster of an anime. It’s also not every day that said disaster is the second season to one of your favorite titles from 2019. That is the situation that most fans, such as myself, have found themselves in over the course of this past winter with The Promised Neverland. Bad anime is nothing new here on Weeb Analysis, but this is an entirely different flavor of bad that we’ve never encountered before.
This, my dear friends, is an abject failure.
The word “fail” gets thrown around a lot nowadays, especially in internet culture, but what exactly does it mean for something to fail? Usually, in the film world, it’s a movie or TV show that simply does not work. None of its components ever come together to create a worthwhile experience. It may have elements that work, but they can’t overcome just how aggressively bad the overall product is. It can make you mad, it can make you sad, it can make you depressed, it can make you feel a lot of feelings, most of which are negative. The Promised Neverland accomplishes all of that and makes it look effortless.
I don’t typically give review scores for series here on Weeb Analysis, as I feel that a score just undermines the attempted analysis. We’ve all done it before where we just ignore any text and zip down to a score to see what the reviewer thought of it and whether or not we agree with that digit. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, there’s no point in lying about that. Let me make this perfectly clear. IF I was giving score our to anime series, this would be a solid 2 out of 10, arguably I might put it in the 1 range because of just how laughable it gets by the end.
So what happened? What went wrong with what should have been one of the most anticipated shows of the year? Why did it now become one of the worst?
For the uninitiated, here is some context about what the series is about in as spoiler-free a fashion as possible. The first season of The Promised Neverland revolved around three orphans: Emma, Norman, and Ray. The three live happy lives with their friends at the Grace Field House orphanage where they learn, play and wait for adoption under the guidance of their caretaker, Isabella. They all are living a happy life until the three of them discover a secret in the orphanage. Once they discover what that secret is, they now have one single goal: get the hell out of there. Escape becomes a top priority and they are thrust into a game of cat-and-mouse with Isabella and the other caretakers to either escape or die trying.
If that sounds super vague it’s because the majority of the first arc is predicated on that major subversion in the first episode and your reaction to it. Over the course of 12 episodes, the first season of The Promised Neverland weaves a tense tale of betrayal, suspense, and psychological warfare that will leave you clamoring for each new episode. It was one of the best shows in 2019 and I still stand by that claim given my feelings at the time. Even now, I think fondly of the first season. However, knowing what it all leads up to, I can’t help but feel that the first season is now irrevocably harmed thanks to its sequel.
We’ve talked before about the Shonen action series and the audience that it caters to, but I want to stress just how unique The Promised Neverland was in the context of nearly everything else that was coming out at the time. It was a Shonen series with a female protagonist that didn’t portray her in a lewd or suggestive manner. Emma was a responsible and likable heroine who was able to easily carry the series, which sadly set it apart from most other Shonen series with little effort. It also focused on being more of a thriller than delivering action setpieces. It almost seemed to succeed in its market despite itself and released 20 volumes before concluding, a respectable amount of books for any series.
The anime series comes to us from one Mamoru Kanbe, who has been a director on numerous titles over several decades, most famously (or infamously) directing Elfen Leid. Kanbe has also functioned as a storyboard artist on numerous series including Cardcaptor Sakura. Kanbe is a talented veteran who knows what he’s doing. The first season was handled wonderfully as he emphasized the thriller elements, elements that the man knows how to work with given his resume. To add, the staff he had at production house Cloverworks were extremely talented. The team was well-staffed with veterans who knew what they were doing… except they didn’t.
As the second season progressed, Kanbe and crew made nearly every wrong decision imaginable resulting in the worst possible final product. The end result being such a trainwreck can be attributed to numerous problems that are all built upon each other. It’s the classic adage of “one thing led to another,” only if the crew miraculously made every conceivable wrong decision one after the other.
Let’s start off with the first problem: the tone Kanbe wanted to set. Both in the manga as well as in the anime, the series ceases to become a thriller after its first arc. It dips its toes into action, there are some political thriller elements thrown in occasionally, horror becomes somewhat more prominent. This is all wrapped in heavy social commentary about topics not present in the first season. Obviously, given just how recent the project was and how tight-lipped anime production is, we may not know exactly what went on in the mind of Kanbe here. From what I can gather, he was met with two options: either continue to directly adapt the series as it was in the manga (which differed from how he approached the first season), or he could go in an original direction and maintain the one he set with season one. He chose the latter option.
Strangely enough, the first three episodes of the second season are good. Not of the same quality as the original season due to the new status quo for our heroes, but it showed some potential for interesting plot avenues as the audience adjusts to the new situations our heroes find themselves in. By the time we got to the fourth episode, the series veers right off a cliff into doing its own thing, which immediately painted a dour picture for any manga fans. One of the most well-regarded arcs in the series, the Goldy Pond arc, is jettisoned in favor of this anime-original territory with nearly every other arc truncated or altered to the point of being unrecognizable.
In case you aren’t aware, anime-original material has a VERY negative reputation within the community. The name implies that it’s material that was not present inside of the original manga, ergo it goes against the author’s intent. The material animated for these anime-original storylines, sometimes regarded as filler, are tolerated at best and reviled at worst. While the concept of original material is often a hard pill to swallow, it doesn’t always result in a terrible final product.
Two shows immediately spring to mind; the action series Akame ga Kill! and Blood Blockade Battlefront. Akame ga Kill! has a vastly different ending from its manga counterpart, though that mostly lies in the fact that when the anime was airing the manga was not completed. At the prospect of leaving things unresolved, unsure if they would ever get a second season, the creators of the show opted to end things on their own terms, bringing about a satisfying conclusion to all of its characters instead of leaving them on a dreaded cliffhanger. Due to this, there are two radically different endings to the series yet both have their fans. One is not immediately better than the other.
As for Blood Blockade Battlefront, the director of the first season, Rie Matsumoto, decided to weave an original story in the background of each episode, tying the actions of the original characters closely to one of the main characters from the anime and manga. The plot was still progressing, or as much as it could progress in an anthology series, but it led to a story that helped to enhance everything around it. The finale was an extra-long episode that delivered high concept ideas and served as an incredible climax to a show where each episode continued to one-up itself in terms of quality. My point is, original anime content is not always bad. It can work given the right circumstances.
So clearly, The Promised Neverland did none of that. It wasn’t as if the show didn’t have any material to wait for: the manga concluded back in 2020. Season two of this series was even delayed out of 2020 due to Covid-19. The production company had the time to give the show the love it deserved. There weren’t any significant anime-only characters or scenes that Kanbe had to follow up on, he just seemed adamant to continue capturing the same tone he had in the first season, completely unaware that it didn’t mesh with the material being presented.
One interesting touch in the first season is that Kanbe decided not to include any internal narration in his scenes. It put us at a distance from the action in the plot, unaware of what the characters are thinking and what their next plans are. There are uncomfortably long periods of silence that heighten the tension. One of the best scenes in the entire show is just watching one of the characters walk to grab a drink of water. The lack of commentary and the oppressive silence make the walk harrowing and all the more impactful when the character starts to mentally break down by the time they reach it, steeling themselves when they return so that their friends don’t realize how terrified they are.
Such a decision works in a thriller, but not in scenes that require heavy exposition. We’ll often watch characters stare at each other and just exposit for what seems like hours about a character’s backstory and motivations. Some episodes are almost entirely dedicated to fleshing out the world, but none of the elements we learn actually have any meaning behind them. There’s no impact to any of the revelations made by the world-building because the show rarely seems to care about them. This exposition is included simply to pretend as if there is some semblance of motivation for characters.
There are a handful of episodes towards the middle of the season that takes place in a rundown village. Poverty runs rampant in the town as its citizens struggle to survive, only for disaster to eventually strike them. The series spends so much time building up the tragedy of what happens to this village, only to undermine it by basically nullifying the damages thanks to a character with deus ex machina powers entering the picture. Worse still, its overall impact on the plot is negligible. It stings more when you eventually realize that when the arc ends, the show only had two episodes left to wrap its finale. We spend about a third of the season on a plot that has no impact and only serves to waste the audience’s time.
Time escaped The Promised Neverland and due to a limited 11 episodes, the whole affair feels rushed. No character is given any room to breathe and major character revelations and reappearances have zero impact since the show barrels to end things as quickly as possible. People usually like to cite Game of Thrones as a series that infamously sprinted to the end of its run, but that’s not even comparable here. In a statement I never thought I would write, at least Game of Thrones and its several characters have endings that kind of match up with their arcs.
Arya and Sansa Stark probably were the most well off with endings that, maybe given a few more episodes (and a better writer), could have been justifiable and well-executed. The Promised Neverland, on the other hand, shunts all character development in favor of world-building but piles on so much of it at once that nothing sticks. Characters become bland slates of “hero” and “villain” and any and all meaningful relationships evaporate. That’s all before we get to the actual ending of the show.
The Promised Neverland’s ending is straight-up laughable by any fan of the first season or the manga. Moments that should have a tremendous impact are relegated to a slideshow. Massive character turns just kind of happen without any prior context. When character fates are revealed in still images that have no basis in any logic that was present leading up to them, something has gone terribly wrong. Compared to the meticulous build-up in the first season, rushed doesn’t even begin to describe it. It feels more like a first draft.
Funnily enough, the writing of the final two episodes actually has a bit of drama behind it. The majority of the second season was written by two people: Toshiya Ono, who was one of the main writers of the first season, and Nanao, who was not a writer for the first season but instead wrote numerous light novels -think of them as books compared to comic books- based on the franchise. Ono was the writer for the first four episodes of the season but was no longer listed as a writer after episode four. That’s officially when the series went in its own original direction. Nanao filled in afterward with the original material, but even then, they were not credited for the final two episodes of the series. In fact, no one is credited as the writer for the final two episodes. No one wanted to be associated with this ending and have it on their resume.
And those finale two episodes serve as a collective slap in the face to fans of the manga as well as the first season. It is so vastly different and radically inferior that it manages to taint any and all goodwill for the series. Like Game of Thrones, interest in The Promised Neverland nosedived after the finale, with it actually trending on Twitter for just how bad it was. It was a pathetic end to a series that retroactively made fans loathe going back to watching the first season. Why bother if it’s all building up to a conclusion as bad as this?
I can’t say I blame them. I was there. I saw it all as each episode was airing. I witnessed a meticulously produced thriller devolve into a vapid, hollow shell of itself. Something went wrong with the production here and we’re most likely not going to know for a long-time what happened, if ever. We’re only left to guess and try to understand how Kanbe and crew turned one of the most hyped shows of the season, if not the entire year, into a strong contender for the worst anime of 2021. What happened in the writer’s room? Why did Kanbe make the decisions he did? Why was the source material ignored in favor of a mealymouthed and flaccid replacement?
This post serves three functions. One, it’s personally a way to let out my grievances on The Promised Neverland. It has problems and if I have a platform to air those problems, then you better believe I will. It’s also a warning to those interesting in seeing the series to stay away from it. Don’t even watch the satisfying first season unless you like tasting bitter disappointment. Mostly, this analysis is a way to show how even the most beloved series isn’t immune from becoming a disaster. There have been anime disasters before and there most certainly will be many more to come, but The Promised Neverland hurts to discuss. It is, without any need for qualification, a failure. Will Amazon’s stab at a live-action series be any better? Well, it certainly can’t be any worse.