A pivotal turning point for the series.
In terms of Weekly Shonen Jump series, The Promised Neverland is rather unique. Sure, there are young protagonists, plenty of action scenes, and supernatural elements abound, but there’s also an intense thriller element present. Just as much conflict takes place mentally as does physically. The initial battle of wits between the heroes (Emma, Ray, and their siblings) and their caretaker/antagonist (Isabella) reaches its end in the series’s latest volume, as the children make their escape from the orphanage. With that said, there’s still plenty of danger left ahead. Vol. 5, published by Viz Media, collects chapters 35-43 of the shonen series by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu. Its official synopsis reads:
As Grace Field House goes up in flames, Emma and the other children make their run for freedom. With Mom refusing to give up and an army of demons at her call, this escape from captivity won’t be easy. Just what will Emma have to sacrifice to pull it off…?
Though this volume’s opening chapters focus on the children’s escape, they’re not the most interesting characters present. Isabella is the true star here, as she gets developed much more deeply than in previous installments. We get flashbacks to multiple scenes from her past, including her childhood and pregnancy. Learning more about the context within which Isabella grew up helps to explain her actions and motivations, and it makes her more compelling to boot. Some portions of her flashbacks here are straight-up gut-wrenching. Make no mistake though, she’s still a villain. Like Magneto, Isabella works very well as an antagonist because she can be sympathized with to a point, but she’s also a competent and terrifying threat.
As far as the children go, their journey out into the demon world gets off to an exhilarating start. They travel through a forest full of flora and fauna unlike any they’ve ever seen before, and it becomes clear just how little they know about their own home planet. Shirai and Demizu do a brilliant job depicting the characters’ learning curves, as they learn to question even their most basic assumptions. One of the biggest threats they encounter, for example, is not a human, demon, or beast. Rather, it is a carnivorous plant that has developed an intricate trap with which to lure in its prey.
Sections like this allow the series to up its worldbuilding game and add more of a fantasy flair to its atmosphere. This can be seen not just in the conflicts, but in how the heroes overcome them as well. One pivotal moment is when Emma realizes that one of William Minerva’s books is actually a guide to the outside world disguised as a fantasy novel. Describing the dangers of the demon world with metaphors adds a certain dramatic quality to them, and it also helps liken the protagonists to the adventure heroes in Minerva’s book.
Art-wise, this volume is stellar. Demizu continues to fire on all cylinders, from flow of motion to page compositions to monster designs to the humans’ body language and expressions. There’s a sense of energy and rapid movement throughout the volume that matches the protagonists’ frantic escape very effectively. The children actually seem to be in danger, which is essential for maintaining a sense of stakes. The characters’ body language and faces are downright haunting in places, particularly during Isabella’s flashback scenes. Most of the demons also look great. The more humanoid ones draw upon familiar tropes of villainy while twisting them enough to still resonate as a unique threat. The more bestial demons, meanwhile, are terrifying forces of nature: colossal creatures capable of inflicting great harm without even trying.
This volume has very few weak points. There are a few occasions in the later chapters where it’s more difficult than usual to parse out exactly what is happening. This is mainly the case when the kids are being attacked by bestial demons. The tones used in some of these panels aren’t always varied enough to keep details easily distinguishable. This is a minor concern though; the visuals are never so muddy that one can’t guess at least roughly what’s going on. Momentum-wise, the last few chapters are also a tad less exciting than the opening and middle portions of the volume. Once again though, this is a minor qualm.
Overall, The Promised Neverland Vol. 5 is yet another great installment in the series. It’s adjusting its footing a bit as the protagonists’ circumstances and enemies change, but so far so good. The artwork is stellar, Isabella becomes a much more interesting character, and there’s a level of energy that matches the plot well. Fans of any sort of shonen, mystery, or sci-fi action manga should check this out.