It’s a somber day in Neverland, as our heroes find themselves at their lowest point yet. Between Norman’s shipment and a literal insurmountable cliff standing in their way, things are looking pretty dark, and it only gets worse as this week’s events unfold. With that level of despair comes a lot of heavy material for the anime to shift through, and while there’s a bit of give and take in how said material is adapted, it makes for the moodiest episode of the series yet.
So having returned from the wall, Norman goes into more detail about what exactly’s up with the cliff and what their options are. While the cliff is too high to jump down from, it appears that the wall itself actually forms a pentagon like barrier around the farms, with the only exit being a bridge that’s more than likely connected to demon HQ. There’s not a whole lot of time for Emma and Ray to process this new information though, as they quickly realize that Norman came back because he had no desire to escape his fate to begin with, and he’s now fully prepared to face his demise. Of course while he may be ready to die, Emma and Ray still can’t bring themselves to accept it, and the combination of great character and voice acting on display in this scene helps to get across just how powerless they feel in this moment. It’s pretty heartbreaking, and it’s another instance where I’ll actually praise the anime’s direction as letting the emotion of the scene speak for itself rather than tacking on the characters’ thoughts allows for the scene to feel a little more sincere and gives the trio’s final moment in the orphanage together the level of weight it needs to.
That sentiment also largely extends to how the rest of Norman’s departure is handled. As Norman prepares to leave, he thinks back to a childhood memory involving him and Emma, where he was sick and Emma kept attempting to keep him company despite Isabella’s protests. This whole sequence was a bonus side story from one of the manga volumes that was mostly played for laughs, but it is a pretty vital bit of characterization for Norman. While it’s pretty clear his feelings towards Emma have played a key part in him choosing to follow her viewpoint over Ray’s this sequence helps in giving a bit more context to those feelings, and it adds a lot more impact to the event that follows as Emma makes one last attempt to force Norman into escaping. It fails, but it reminds Norman that while Emma’s general attitude can be way too reckless for its own good, the way she puts herself out for other people is part of why he cares for her so much. It’s a great scene for both characters although I’ll admit I was slightly let down by how Norman’s feelings towards Emma in this last moment are implied to be largely romantic, whereas in the manga, it’s mixed with a broader sense of admiration for those aforementioned qualities. This isn’t a particularly big deal, but that difference in framing did help a little more in making the manga feel more confident in Emma’s abilities as a protagonist so it’s a little depressing the anime opted to go this route just to make Norman’s exit mildly sadder.
Thankfully I was much happier with the exchange after that, as Isabella has her own final chat with Norman before sending him off to his fate. As she commends him for choosing to protect his friends, Norman asks her if she’s happy with the life she’s lived in the farms. In that moment, Isabella’s guard drops, and while she responds that she is because of being able to meet children like Norman, it’s clear that this was a pretty armor piercing question for her. Much like Krone, Isabella has spent a long time trapped within the cruelty of the farm system, and while she’s managed to survive through this system with a level of privilege that Krone did not, the toll of juggling between the personas of a loving parent and an efficient farmer certainly isn’t as small as she’d like to think it is, even if she deems this necessary to her own survival.
This ties in wonderfully to a later scene in the episode where in the midst of despairing over Norman’s absence, Isabella attempts to “console” Emma by telling her to give up on escaping and instead work to become a Mom like her. While Isabella frames this as something of a kind mercy to Emma, it’s clear that this is really Isabella trying to convince herself that the path she chose for her survival is the only correct one. This makes Emma’s subsequent rejection of her offer all the more poignant as simply surrendering to her circumstances is the one thing she can’t ever bring herself to do. While the anime hasn’t placed quite as much emphasis on Emma and Isabella’s specific mother-daughter relationship as the manga did (a point which coincidentally, is why Kaiu Shirai pushed to give the manga a female protagonist), this nevertheless makes for a really powerful dynamic as the parallels between their respective choices not only makes for a great contrast in their character arcs thus far, but also ties into the story’s broader themes regarding sacrificing others for the sake of one’s own survival. I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out in the remaining two episodes, and while I do kind of wish this scene was a little better directed, it still carries a lot of significance in an otherwise packed episode.
With so much going into this one, it almost feels like I’m downplaying things by saying the rest of the episode is pretty much an extended sequence of despair, but it’s certainly well handled. Yet again I’ll give some credit towards the anime’s lack of internal monologue when dealing with this specific set of events as the kids’ reaction to Norman’s demise and the subsequent feelings of emptiness that follow pack a lot more punch when being portrayed from this perspective, and it makes the reversal at the end of the episode feel a little more rewarding as we discover Emma isn’t ready to call quits just yet. With only two episodes left to go, and Ray’s shipment next on Isabella’s agenda, the clock is quickly winding down on the kids’ window to escape, but dark as things are now, hopefully this is just the darkness before the dawn.