Out of all the series syndicated in Weekly Shonen Jump, The Promised Neverland is perhaps the most distinct from its peers. Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu’s story of orphans struggling to survive in a world run by demons isn’t exactly an action epic like My Hero Academia or Boruto. Instead, its life-or-death conflicts play out through subterfuge and schemes. At its heart, the series is about the protagonists’ emotional struggles and astounding bravery in the face of traumatic circumstances. Vol. 4 is particularly emotionally charged, as Norman gets shipped off from the orphanage and the rest of the kids begin their escape. Is this installment good?
The first half of this volume chronicles Norman’s final days at the orphanage, which are full of emotional sucker punches. Our heroes come across a challenge they can’t overcome while ensuring the whole group’s safety, which makes for a gripping yet saddening read. Seeing Emma and Ray make poor decisions out of desperation helps to both deepen the characters and prevent them from seeming infallible. These scenes owe a lot of their emotional impact to Demizu’s art, specifically her work on the characters’ facial expressions. There are a lot of subtle emotions at play in this series, and Demizu does an excellent job conveying them all.
There are also some moving passages that reflect how victories can still be meaningful even when their conditions are altered in tragic ways. Life doesn’t always go the way one wants, and it’s refreshing to see characters shift their goals to accommodate unforeseen events. All in all, I have to give Shirai and Demizu major props for the audacity they show in this volume. It’s no small thing for a series to shake up its core cast, especially so early in its run.
This volume doesn’t end on a sorrowful note, though. Once Norman departs, the focus shifts to Emma, Ray, and the rest of the orphans enacting their escape plan. After a relatively slow first half centered around characters’ emotions and decisions, the second half picks up the pace and reminds the reader that The Promised Neverland is a suspense manga. The details of the escape are revealed in such a way that the reader gets to be surprised just like the antagonists. The action is a pleasure to follow, largely because of Demizu’s dramatic line-work. Her highly detailed renderings of smoke and fire create an intense sense of danger and excitement.
I don’t have many cons with this volume. I wish that some of the supporting cast members, specifically Don and Gilda, received more development. They’re vital to some of the plot’s major events, so it’s disappointing that they don’t get more time in the spotlight. Other than that, there’s very little here worth complaining about. There are occasional panels with iffier line-art than usual, but that’s about it.
Overall, The Promised Neverland Vol. 4 is another excellent installment in the shonen adventure-mystery manga. The characters face some of their most difficult challenges yet, and we get many poignant moments as a result. Demizu’s artwork is emotive throughout, and the second half picks up the pace with some great suspense. This series continues to be one of the best in its genre.