The Promised Neverland – 12 (Fin) – A Nameless Song

As the kids begin their ascent up the wall, Emma informs Ray of a change in her plans: rather than rescue everyone tonight, she’s leaving all the little ones four and under behind, and is committed to coming back for them, and everyone else in the other plants, before their various shipping dates arrive. It’s a tough choice, but one that had to be made to ensure that the group of fifteen older kids survive the escape.

That’s why little Phil is with Mama as the house burns: turns out Phil is in on it, and even though he’s only four, he now understands what it means that Norman, Connie and the others were “harvested.” Emma leaves him in charge of training the next “wave”, his fellow younger kids, and getting him ready for when she returns.

But first things first, getting across that great yawning cliff. There’s another wrinkle in the plan for which Ray was kept in the dark, which meant Mama was kept in the dark: they don’t use the very obvious bridge to cross the cliff. Instead, Don heaves a stone across a narrower portion of the cliff, and the rope wraps successfully across a tree. He ziplines across, secures the other end of the rope, and secures the second and third ropes two of the kids use water rockets to launch across.

It’s a wonderful use of ingenuity and intense training, and the kids pull it off with aplomb. Phil also succeeds in distracting Mama just long enough so when she sounds the alarm the monsters go to the bridge, and when she realizes they’re not at the bridge, she doesn’t get to their location until Emma is the last person who hasn’t made the crossing. Emma flashes one last defiant look at her former Mama, and says goodbye before ziplining across. The lines are cut; Mama is beaten.

In her moment of defeat, we learn more about who Mama—who Isabella—was, thanks to a supremely affecting flashback that really humanizes her despite the monstrous things she’s done for her superiors. Isabella had a “Norman” of her own in Leslie, who played a beautiful lute and wrote a nameless song she loved. But Leslie’s shipping date came, and he said goodbye, and Isabella was devastated.

She used her ingenuity and athleticism to climb the wall, only to find the cliff and despair as Norman must have done when he first saw it. Her Mama comes to bring her back home, and eventually Isabella is given the same offer she’d later give Emma.

Only while Emma refused, Isabella accepted. She was trained to be a Sister, then a Mama, and even gave birth…to Ray. A younger Ray hums the same nameless song Leslie used to play, because Isabella hummed it when he was in the womb. Ray realizes Mama is his birth mother, asks why she gave birth to him (survival, plain and simple), and their “collaboration” continued from there.

If Leslie’s song were to ever have a title, one possibility could be “The Path Not Traveled,” as it’s the song Isabella held close and never forgot from her time as one of the same kind of kids Ray, Norman and Emma turned out to be, but it’s a song that reminds her that she chose to survive by joining the system rather than rebelling. In the end, Mama seems more proud than anything else that her beloved children outwitted her. Now that they’re beyond the wall and cliff, she wishes them good fortune.

Another title could be “The First Morning”, such as the one Emma and Ray encounter. The sun rises out of the horizon for the first time since they gained their hard-earned freedom. Seeing them silhouetted against the dawn’s light is one hell of a beautiful parting shot.

While I’m terribly worried for what might come next, or what dangers await them in the wilderness beyond, there simply wasn’t time to explore that in twelve episodes. But just the fact they managed to get out of the farm that was going to ship them off to be demon food is more than enough.

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The Promised Neverland – 05 – The Sheepdog

When Norman confronts Ray about being Mama’s spy, Norman stays calm. In fact, he’s even a bit amused he was found out, like he knew this time would come one day. Norman’s just too smart for his own good. For his part, Ray doesn’t deny anything, but he does explain that he did it because it had to be done.

If we’re to believe his explanations (and for now, at least, I do) Ray has been playing a very long game with Isabella, which has netted him information that would be vital to any possible escape plan. He knew someone would have to be in Mama’s pocket in order to learn what needed to be learned and gain her trust (as much as anyone can gain her trust).

Taking a page from Emma’s Book of Compassion, Norman agrees to forgive Ray as long as he agrees to be his spy as well. Ray agrees, but only if Norman tricks Emma into thinking they’re taking everyone. Other than Gilda and Don, the little ones will be a burden, both during and after the escape, and Ray didn’t spend years being Mama’s informant for everyone to get killed in a futile attempt to get everyone out.

Immediately his meeting with Norman, Ray meets with Isabella, telling her the others continue to use tag as practice, but focuses Mama on Sister Krone as the primary threat. Ray is well aware Krone was brought in as an insurance policy on Ray, but if she’s not watched closely and her ambitions stamped out, Isabella may be in big trouble. For her part, she doesn’t seem to consider Krone that much of a threat. Ray might be able to use that.

As for Norman, Ray’s insistence not everyone can be saved triggers a nightmare for Norman, in which everyone, including Ray and Emma, are killed and have flowers sprout when they attempt the escape. Not the most confidence-building dream!

Still, Norman plays ball, even as Ray just comes right out and admits to Emma that he’s Mama’s informant. Rather than get mad at Ray, Emma is sympathetic to the burden he’s had to bear, allowing child after child to be shipped off as he played his role.

It’s notable that while Ray has “endured” six years of shipments, Conny alone was enough for Emma and Norman. She doesn’t ask Ray for details of exactly how many he allowed to be sacrificed to learn how to disable the tracking devices, but takes firm hold of his hand and tells (warns?) him not to do it again.

Gilda and Don feel left out of most of the private convos between the other three, but Gilda and Emma start observing Mama more closely, and Emma discovers there’s a secret room where she does…something (Ray suggests it’s where she contacts HQ). Don is itching to get in there, but Ray urges caution, and Norman agrees.

But Don doesn’t feel like caution. He doesn’t know Conny is actually demon food, and so he wants to escape and save her ASAP. To that end, he and Gilda enters Mama’s room, and Gilda slides a bookshelf aside to reveal a locked door…just as someone else is about to enter the room and catch them red-handed. Too rash by half, Donny!

The Promised Neverland – 04 – The Merit in Betrayal

If there was any doubt that Isabella also considers this a game of chess against the smartest of her stock, she makes sure Sister Krone understands that her role doesn’t extend beyond that of her pawn. Informing her that she’s well aware of her behind-the-back plotting, Isabella  promises Krone that if she cooperates, she’ll be a Mama of her own. Predictably, Krone privately fumes and resolves to unseat Isabella rather than wait to be promoted. No doubt Isabella knows she could still be betrayed.

Meanwhile, Emma, Norman and Ray continue escape practice thinly disguised as tag, only this time in teams led by older kids rather than everyone on their own. There’s a lot of attention paid to the hierarchy of the teams and the patterns of their movement; Ray insists Emma memorize all 100 formations he’s devised, and while Emma seems initially reluctant, she responds with “Easy Peasy,” because it most certainly will be easy peasy compared to escaping the farm for real.

It’s not lost on the trio that there’s a traitor in their midst, and they’ve already cast most of their suspicions on Gilda and Don. When Ray tells Emma to go against her kinder nature and suspect them, it isn’t long before everything they do looks suspicious to her. How will the escape ever succeed if they can’t trust everyone escaping?

It’s for this reason that Norman uses one card only they can play: the element of surprise, not in that they’re escaping, but when. With the pattern of the schedule, Mama has basically dared them to use all of the month-plus they have left until the next shipment. But Norman knows they can’t go by the schedule they’ve been handed; they have to escape sooner…much sooner, in just ten days.

To achieve that, they need to start filling in the other older kids, starting with Gilda and Don. The POV animation of the three slowly climbing the stairs to the library really transported me into their shoes and added to the tension and stress with each creaky footstep.

At first Don thinks it’s a big joke, but Gilda knows Emma well enough to know she’d never joke or lie about such things. Norman lies that the kids who left were victims of human trafficking, since the cold reality might just be too much. Gilda and Don ultimately both agree that an escape attempt is the only choice.

Ray doesn’t like how Norman left out the truth to Gilda and Don about all the kids dying and being eaten, but for Norman the escape must come first; he’ll deal with the backlash from bending the truth once that objective has been completed. He’s also set traps for Gilda and Don by giving them different locations for their escape rope.

That night, Emma pretends to sleep and watches Gilda sneak out of the bedroom. What Emma can’t see through the door is that someone I initially believed to be Gilda slips a piece of paper under Isabella’s door with the location of the rope: under Norman’s bed. It must be noted that Norman told Ray that he’d tell Don it was under the bed, not Gilda.

After the paper is delivered, Gilda visits Krone’s room, and Emma listens in from behind that door. Things get a little tense in there, with evidence wavering between Gilda being Krone’s informant and not, but in the end, Gilda does what Emma hoped for and refuses to give up any information.

The next day, Norman wonders out loud why someone would betray their family; Ray tell him there must be some kind of incentive, like being promised they’ll be allowed to live and grow up to become an adult.

Later, Norman asks Emma if she’d let the traitor escape with them even if they betrayed them; Emma predictably and quickly answers that of course she would. She wouldn’t consider the traitor a bad person, because none of them are bad people. Again Emma proves she’s the emotional and moral heart of this show.

But when Norman and Ray search the two spots where the rope was hidden, Norman says there’s nothing under the bed, and Ray says that must mean Don is the traitor. Only now Norman is convinced that Ray has been the real traitor all along. There’s certainly already a wealth of evidence to support that, but we’ll see if Norman’s right, and if so, how Ray will explain himself. Until then, things just got a lot more complicated.

The Promised Neverland – 03 – More Chess than Tag

Isabella is already well-known by her new assistant, Sister Krone, not only for being the youngest “Mama” of a “plant” for consistently producing the finest “product” available. But she’s no doe-eyed acolyte eager to learn Isabella’s ways. Her very first night there, Krone is already planning to usurp her boss, who gave her all the ammo she’ll need: Isabella isn’t reporting the two children who witnessed a “harvest.” That could get her fired or worse if the bigwigs find out.

Meanwhile, Emma, Norman and Ray have just one more difficult variable to consider during their preparations for what’s already looking like a hopeless escape plan. When told to “think like the enemy” in finding a place where a tracking device could be implanted, she inspects Carol, the newest addition to the farm, and finds a red bump behind her ear.

I probably could have done without the demon business meeting (complete with some kind of steaming brew but no donuts), as it kinda detracts from their mystique, but at the same time, despite their frightful appearance these monsters carry on pretty banal lives; with the lower classes of demons serving the upper classes.

Perhaps the kids could exploit the inherent discord within such a strict caste system, but first things first: all the logistics required to get everyone off the farm safely. They agree that it’s too risky to attempt to destroy their ear trackers lest they trip an alarm, so they focus on getting everyone out first.

They know many of the kids will either be too young to understand or old enough not to believe a word of what they’re saying (everybody loves Mama after all), the trio decide to disguise the escape as a harmless game of tag. Emma sets to work improving the kids’ physical condition, while Norman and Ray coach them up on the proper way to survive…”tag.”

Unfortunately, their subterfuge doesn’t fool Sister Krone for one second. She’s suspicious of the three to start, and unlike Isabella intends to ship them out sooner than their official ship date so she can snitch on Isabella for breaking protocol and grab power.

Krone is also physically superior to all of the kids, being an adult in pretty good shape. She challenges the kids to a game of tag, betting she can capture them all in twenty minutes. She lures most of the younger kids out of their hiding spots by making cute cutout shapes in leaves.

Once she’s spotted Emma, it’s only a matter of exhausting her and forcing her to find a hiding spot. It’s a place where there are only so many such spots, and Emma has the disadvantage of having tried to run with two young ones in her arms. The moment when Krone’s voice suddenly grows louder and clearer as she suddenly looms over Emma was…well, pretty frightening!

Norman manages to give Krone the slip, and Ray is the one to announce that her time is up. She’s impressed by the trio of troublemakers, but only insofar as she’s impressed by prime livestock. Now that she knows the actors, their strengths and weaknesses, and that there’s more to their tag than mere play she’ll be keeping that much closer an eye on them.

Not to mention she’ll have an extra set of eyes in the form of a “traitor” in Gilda. When Norman and Ray put the pieces together to determine there’s such a traitor among them, you can see Emma’s spirits plummet. All this time she’s thinking of getting everyone out of the farm to spare them the stuff of nightmares, but the adults already have at least one kid—and it could be anyone—working against her efforts, as well as that kid’s own interests.

In any case, it’s clear this won’t be as easy as a game of tag. Emma, Norman and Ray will have to think two, three, four or more moves ahead of Krone and Isabella, and even make sure the mole doesn’t see or hear what moves they’ll make. What they’re playing, then, is a game of chess, in which checkmate spells death.

The Promised Neverland – 02 – Building a Boat Out of Mud

Learning the truth of their home has shaken Emma to the core. She has vivid nightmares of Conny being served up as a fancy main course, can can barely hide her look of terror upon hearing and seeing Mama for the first time since their discovery. But Norman tells her they have to keep smiling like nothing’s wrong. Mama may know someone was at the Gate to leave the bunny behind, but she doesn’t know who.

Or rather, if she does, Emma and Norman are too valuable to kill just for witnessing Conny’s “processing.” During playtime, Emma and Norman agree escaping through the forest is the safest way, but when they cross the short fence they soon encounter a massive, seamless concrete wall. Further complicating matters, when a little tyke is lost all Mama has to do is glance at her “watch” and she knows exactly where to find her.

So, now they know that security is rather lax because they have some kind of tracking device implanted somewhere in their bodies. Mama seems to make a big show out of wordlessly warning the likes of Norman and Emma. Back at the house, while having a private moment of grief for Conny, Mama suddenly appears before Emma, wondering why she’s been “less cheerful” of late.

All Norman can do is watch in horror around the corner as Emma puts on a cheerful front for Mama. Ray ends up bailing them both out when he rings the dinner bell (likely intentional on his part), but as Emma and Norman depart, Mama asks them straight-up if they were at the Gate the previous night. They cheerfully say of course not, that’s against the rules, and continue on…but Mama is definitely suspicious. You could cut the tension in the atmosphere with a knife.

Once they’re alone again, neither can hold in their sheer terror anymore. Emma even collapses to her knees, but Norman helps her up with a trembling hand, and Emma sees she’s not alone and all hope isn’t lost. They’re going to get out of here…they just need a plan.

That plan involves stashing a bunch of table linen in a tree hollow near the wall that they’ll use to make rope when the time comes to escape (Norman figures they have two months left before the next child is taken). But someone followed them out to the wall; fortunately for them, it’s their friend Ray, who wants to know what’s up.

They tell him, and to their amazement he believes it all without a hint of incredulity, because he knows Norman well enough to know he’d never lie about something like this (Emma being a different story). While Ray is willing to lend his not inconsiderable intellect to the big escape plan, he has a big problem with Emma’s insistence that all 37 children will be escaping.

He brings up the virtual impossibility of getting everyone away from Mama and off the farm without serious or even total casualties, and something I didn’t consider: beyond that wall, it’s a Demon’s world, not for humans. Escaping is just the first step. The young, small, and weak will have to be left behind to ensure any chance of the survival of the older, bigger, and stronger.

But Ray’s way isn’t going to work with Emma. She doesn’t care if it’s impossible; everyone is being saved, and that’s that. It may be foolhardy, but Norman is with her. When Ray asks why in his otherwise right mind he’d go along with Emma’s “mud boat”, Norman explains simply that he likes Emma, and wants her to keep smiling no matter what, and that if dried and hardened it’s possible for a mud boat to float.

I have to say, I’m kinda with Ray on this one: if the sole purpose is to survive, not merely escape, they can’t take everyone. But at the same time, you can’t eliminate emotion from the equation, because these 12-year-olds are going to have to be able not just to live, but live with themselves once they gain their freedom. So mud boat it is!

Yakusoku no Neverland – 01 (First Impressions) – Green Acres

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

Look at how happy everyone is at this country orphanage! Clean white clothes, soft, warm beds, good food, plenty of friends, and fresh air…and a “Mama” that loves and cares for them all! What’s not to like?

Three 11-year-old “elite” orphans named Ray, Norman, and Emma distinguish themselves with their smarts and athletic ability. These three are the oldest at the “House”; everyone leaves the orphanage at age 12, but no one has a clear idea where they go and what they do.

All they know is, no one has ever written back. Ah well, they’re probably having too much fun, right?!

The boundaries of the orphanage are not particularly stout, but a warning from Mama is enough to keep even Norman, Ray and Emma from crossing them. And while she’s not yet 12, the day arrives when lil’ Conny is to leave the House, and she gets a warm sendoff. She promises she’ll write back.

Conny has already left the orphanage, escorted by a wordless and very creepily-lit Mama, when Emma discovers she forgot her stuffed bunny. Well that won’t do at all, will it? She has to reunite Conny with her treasure! Norman decides to tag along.

They will both come to regret doing so.

Once they cross the gate (Norman says they’ll “get scolded together” for the transgression) they come upon a truck; the first either of them has ever seen. And in the back of the truck is Conny, only she’s dead, and there are flowers sprouting out of her chest.

Utterly shocked, Norman and Emma just have time to hide under the truck when monsters arrive to collect Conny’s corpse, going on about how it’s “high quality human flesh for the rich.” That’s right: Norman, Emma, Ray, Conny and all the others are free-range children. The orphanage is a farm. And they’re meat.

Norman and Emma just manage to slink away before a monster smells and discovers them, but they leave the bunny behind, so Mama, AKA Isabella, knows someone was there. They’re alive for now, but along with Ray, they’re going to be the next kids to be killed and shipped off to be eaten by some kind of well-to-do monster gourmands.

Emma and Norman return to the House, forever changed and scared out of their wits. But Norman decides that he’s not going to let anyone else follow Conny’s fate. They’re going to get out of there, along with all the other orphans. It’s just a matter of strategy, and if any kids can do it, it’s the elite three. Of course, that’s easier said than done, and I highly doubt Conny is the last victim.

Even as little hints spring up here and there in the first half that Not All Is Well, Yakusoku no Neverland is masterful at holding us in suspense until the big horrifying reveal, mercilessly upending the world of three kids. Emma’s initial face mirrored my own upon seeing Conny.

That was one hell of a start, and it’s pretty easy to root for children to escape the fate of being killed and eaten. But of course, once such a bullet is shot, it is shot; the show will have to find new ways to shock us now that we know the gist. I’m guessing they have plenty more horrors in store for us.