Astra Lost in Space Episode #02 Review

Synopsis: On a trip to another planet for a school sanctioned camp experience, a group of nine kids suddenly finds themselves transported 5,000 light years away with little hope of survival. Their only chance of making it back home lies in an abandoned ship known as the Astra, which was found floating near where they warped. Now this group of strangers will have to come together, and make a journey across several planets in order to safely make it back home.

The Review

After a knockout of a premiere last week, Astra continues chugging right along with it’s journey through space as the gang arrives at their first stop, Planet Vilvarus. There’s a lot to see and do here, both for them, and the show in general, as this episode has a lot going on between the kids exploring the planet and the show’s general character drama. It’s quite a lot for the show to juggle this early into its run, and I was more than a little concerned as to how this would all be paced considering this show has a fair amount of material to burn through if it it hopes to cover the whole manga. Once again though, this adaption’s exceeded my expectations in terms of presentation, and it manages to deliver on another fine entry that also helps to add some extra stakes to this story.

After landing on the planet, Kanata decides to split everyone into groups in order to search for food and water. While everyone else is mostly on board with Kanata taking charge as the leader, Quitterie still remains skeptical about if he’s up to the task. This only gets made worse when Charce’s science know-how proves more reliable than Kanata’s survival tips, and Quitterie’s constant insults cause Kanata to run off in an attempt to prove himself. We soon learn that Quitterie’s bad attitude mostly stems from her upbringing as she never had a father, and her mother largely ignored her growing up, leading to her getting spoiled and not knowing how to interact with other people. It’s especially bad in the case of dealing with her adopted sister Funi, as Quitterie has no idea how to act like an older sister, and resents that her mother took responsibility for another child when she barely made time for her.

While this isn’t exactly the most dramatic backstory out there, it works pretty well for giving us an idea of why Quitterie isn’t exactly the friendliest person in the group, and I appreciate that the overall execution on it feels thoughtful and well-directed in spite of how simple the material is on the surface. However even though Quitterie claims she doesn’t really know how to love anyone else, she’s clearly more concerned about others than she lets on, and her problem seems to be less a lack of understanding love, and more not really knowing how to express it. Something that’s made even more apparent when Funi finds herself in danger and Quitterie is among the first to rush to her rescue. After seeing her sister in trouble, and that Funi still likes her in spite of her general attitude, Quitterie admits that she’s not good at being honest about her feelings and wants to make an effort to improve on it. This is a surprisingly efficient character arc for the span of single episode, and while all of it could have easily felt rushed or unearned, the show manages to make all of this come out pretty naturally and it’s a testament both to how strong the material is and how well the anime’s been handling it thus far.

Even more impressive is that while Quitterie’s stuff is the biggest focus of this episode, it’s far from the only highlight. When Kanata also attempts to rescue Funi, the others take note of how athletic he is and we learn that he used to be a track and field star on the behalf of his father who constantly pushed him to the point of abuse. Kanata changed when met the teacher that got him into space travel, and after failing to save him during the accident at camp, Kanata vowed to live for the dream of someday going on his own space exploration, and stopped living for his father’s. Seeing Kanata and Quitterie’s stories back to back provides a pretty good demonstration of the effects bad parenting can have on the children subjected to them, and since that’s a theme that’s only going to become more prevalent going forward, I’m glad that the anime seems to understand it’s importance.

I’m also glad that even in the midst of all this, the show still finds time to have the kids explore their new environment a bit, and while there’s a little less detail in some of the science behind how everything on this planet thrives compared to manga, it still feels pretty interesting, and it also helps in letting us get to know a little more about the other characters, even when they aren’t exactly the focus of the episode. It’s a bit of a relief since this particular element of the series seemed like it’d be the most expendable in the show’s bid to cover the entire story, and I’m glad it seems like the anime staff is making a clear attempt to balance those elements in between all the character drama. Said story also gets a pretty major shakeup in the last few minutes, as while the group is slowly starting to come together as friends, it seems like one of them is sabotaging their little expedition, and might be behind the mysterious black orb that transported them all in the first place.

As you can clearly see by how much I wrote here, this episode had quite a bit to run through, and while it easily could have felt rushed in the character drama department, it all managed to come together really well. Both Quitterie and Kanata’s backstories feel strong in spite of how simple they are, and the show manages to combine that with the kids learning how to survive the dangers of the planet to make for an episode that was equal parts exciting and heartwarming. I was a little worried the rest of this adaption might not be able to hold up to the premiere, but if this episode’s any indication, it’s still in extremely good shape, and I’m eager to see how it tackles what’s coming next.

Rating: 8.5/10

Available on Funimation

Astra Lost In Space Episode #01 Review

Synopsis: On a trip to another planet for a school sanctioned camp experience, a group of nine kids suddenly finds themselves transported 5,000 light years away with little hope of survival. Their only chance of making it back home lies in an abandoned ship known as the Astra, which was found floating near where they warped. Now this group of strangers will have to come together, and make a journey across several planets in order to safely make it back home.

The Review

So I was debating whether or not to get back into doing episode reviews after nearly driving myself mad with The Promised Neverland over the course of the winter season, but I really enjoy writing, and this seemed like it’d be a simple enough thing to cover without going totally overboard, so here I am I guess. Like the aforementioned Neverland, this was another adaption I was really looking forward to this year. I was a pretty big fan of the author’s previous series Sket Dance so when Viz started putting up chapters of Astra’s manga up for free on their site a year or two back, I kept up with it pretty regularly and ended up really digging it. Of course this meant that my expectations here were fairly high, but unlike Neverland’s situation where I was much more confident in the strength of the material than the strength of the anime staff going in, this adaption’s being helmed by director Masaomi Ando whose previous work on School-Live and Scum’s Wish feels like a perfect fit for this series (even if I wasn’t a super big fan of the former) and the fact that the manga is already finished, means there’s significantly less chance of Ando and the rest of the anime staff at Lerche not getting the material. So with all that rambling out of the way I suppose it’s time to talk whether or not this show is actually off to a good start.

The answer so far seems to be an incredibly firm yes. I was a little cautious as to how well this premiere would be paced since the manga is 5 volumes long (which is short enough to fit into one cour, but long enough that there’s the risk of having to rush things to cram it all in), but thankfully the premiere didn’t run into this particular problem. While the benefit of a double-length episode probably helped with that, it uses all of its time well, and does a great job of setting up the show’s space opera premise and bringing the characters together in a way that feels pretty organic and keeps you consistently engaged without ever feeling like it’s moving too fast. It helps that said group of characters are all pretty likable. The leads, Kanata and Aries are a pretty good pair of likable dorks, and while we don’t spend as much time getting to know the other members of Astra’s “crew”, the premiere shows enough of their personalities that it’s pretty easy to get a feel for who’s who, and makes you want to learn a bit more about them. Kanata himself gets a lot of focus throughout the premiere, as we learn that this isn’t quite the first time he’s found himself in a life-or-death situation, and how he had to help a group of his friends survive when his teacher died in an accident while they were on a camping trip. That story ties pretty heavily into his desire to become the leader of this current group and his never-give-up attitude, but it’s also clear that there’s a bit more to his background than just that, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of it gets handled.

Solid as this material is though, it can only go so far if there isn’t an equally solid production behind it, and thankfully Lerche has really delivered here. Right off the bat, Masaomi Ando’s visual direction for the show gives it the look of a blockbuster film, and that look meshes pretty well with the sci-fi elements of the show. This style of direction is especially effective when it comes to tackling Kanata’s backstory, as the film reel effect and muted colors used for it helps to really sell the pain he felt in being unable to save his teacher and his struggle to survive. The animation and music are also pretty solid so far (well aside from the opening being a typical J-pop number but that’s a pretty minor weakness in the grand scheme of things) and while the show doesn’t exactly look “gorgeous”, everything here feels fairly polished, and even with an hour-long premiere, there didn’t seem to be any notable signs of strain so hopefully this show’s animation will be able to stay afloat for the remaining eleven episodes. About the only real nitpick I had here is that the direction for some of the show’s comedy was a little hit or miss, but I more or less felt the same way about the manga’s humor in comparison to Sket Dance’s, so that’s more a flaw of the material itself than with the anime specifically.

It’s been quite a while since a premiere of an adaption I was anticipating actually managed to hit my expectations but Astra’s really pulled it off. From the pacing to the visual direction, everything here feels extremely confident, and its given the material plenty of room to breathe, while also showcasing some potential advantages the anime might have over it’s manga counterpart. Time will tell if it will be able to keep this up for the rest of it’s run but if this manages to stick the landing *heh* this might actually have the potential to surpass it’s source manga. For now though, I can safely say this is one journey I’m more than happy to sign up for.

Rating: 8.6/10

Available on Funimation

The Promised Neverland Ep #10 Review

Synopsis: Emma, Ray and Norman are the three smartest children at an orphanage known as Grace Field House. Under the care and guidance of their caretaker known as “Mom”, the children live peaceful lives, with the one condition being that they are never to go beyond the gate that leads to outside of the orphanage. However one day, Emma and Norman discover the truth of what lies beyond the gate, and it’s one that will change their lives forever
The Review

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.

Rating: 9/10

 

The Promised Neverland Ep #09 Review

Synopsis: Emma, Ray and Norman are the three smartest children at an orphanage known as Grace Field House. Under the care and guidance of their caretaker known as “Mom”, the children live peaceful lives, with the one condition being that they are never to go beyond the gate that leads to outside of the orphanage. However one day, Emma and Norman discover the truth of what lies beyond the gate, and it’s one that will change their lives forever

The Review

So a lot went down in last week’s episode for better or worse, and since I ended up exhausting myself quite a bit trying to get all my thoughts out there, I’m happy that this one’s a lot less stressful to talk about. “Less” stressful being the keyword here because the story certainly isn’t slowing down, and things are looking particularly dire for Norman this week as the threat of his shipment carries the bulk of this episode’s content. With that in mind, it kind of goes without saying there’s a whole lot of drama packed into this one, and unlike last week’s events, the anime’s specific style of approach in handling this material doesn’t feel at odds with what it needs to convey.

Things start off looking pretty bleak for the kids as everyone tries to process Norman’s predicament, and the implications of Krone’s demise as it hammers home that Isabella means business. The former seems to be hitting Ray especially hard, and he desperately tries to think of any solution that could help save Norman. Once again, it’s kind of interesting to see that for all of Ray’s talk about making rational decisions, he’s the one being the most emotional here, Mariya Ise does a stellar job of conveying just how frustrated he feels about seeing all his plans go up in smoke, and watching Norman being put in harm’s way. Norman himself isn’t handling things much better as we see usual smile crack under the pressure of his own demise and watching the horror of his situation set in on him is just heartbreaking. As has generally been the case with these comparisons, the manga pulled readers directly into Norman’s headspace as he processes what to do next, but this is one instance where I’ll actually say the anime opting to go for something quieter works for the better. While seeing his thoughts certainly ramped up the tension of this crisis in the manga, his character animation here speaks volumes more about the level of fear he’s facing, and the visual direction of how that fear gradually turns into a quiet sense of resolve in choosing to face this situation head on is probably my favorite scene from this adaption so far.

In the end, Norman decides that the best solution is to accept his fate and sacrifice himself so the others can continue working on the escape plan, but Emma and Ray aren’t having any of that. The two of them throw out a few suggestions on how to save him, with the biggest being that he could pretend to escape while hiding out in the woods till the escape starts and that Ray could break a few of his limbs to keep from getting shipped out in his place. These ideas clearly reek of desperation, but they do convey just how much these two care about their friend, and it causes Norman to break down and reveal that he still wants nothing more than to continue living alongside them. As compelling as all three of these characters have been individually we haven’t really seen too much of their dynamic as an actual trio, so this scene really does a lot in helping to sell the bond between them, and while it’s doubtful things are going to end very well for them, it really makes me hope they they can get something of a happy ending.

Norman’s material gets the brunt of the focus here, but there’s some other bits we get as well that are also simultaneously where the anime falls a bit short this time around. One of them is more details on Ray’s past as we learn that he’s actually been aware of the farm’s true nature since literally the very beginning. Turns out he retained some of his memories as an infant and gradually put the pieces together as he got older which does a lot to explain his world view and why he’s maintained such a cynical stance on things, as the terror of the farm system is basically all he’s ever known. Sadly, it’s also a rather big case of the anime telling us and not showing us, as the manga actually does displays the visual details of Ray’s memories to the audience while the anime opts not to. While the scene’s still directed pretty well in spite of that, showing this stuff first hand was both frightening and pretty effective as far as world building goes, so I can’t for the life of me understand why the anime staff thought this approach was a good idea. Still, the scene does what it needs to I guess so I suppose it’s not too big of a deal in the long run. The same pretty much goes for the episode’s climax as Norman goes through with faking his escape only to return and reveal to Emma and Ray that there’s a giant cliff beyond the wall. Ending on that revelation makes for a good cliffhanger, but getting our brief glimpse into what the world outside the farms looks like, only reveals the limitations in the anime’s current visual style as the backgrounds make the forest beyond the farms look bland rather than haunting. Hopefully that’s something the anime will correct in the long run (along with a few other things) but for the moment, it’s bit of a weakness. Aside from those complaints though, I’d say this was a pretty strong episode. My problems with the anime’s direction certainly haven’t gone away, but it’s managed to at least turn it’s focus on character animation into a strength this time around, and if nothing else, I’m glad that this material still feels compelling.

Rating: 8.9/10

The Promised Neverland Episode #08 Review

Synopsis: Emma, Ray and Norman are the three smartest children at an orphanage known as Grace Field House. Under the care and guidance of their caretaker known as “Mom”, the children live peaceful lives, with the one condition being that they are never to go beyond the gate that leads to outside of the orphanage. However one day, Emma and Norman discover the truth of what lies beyond the gate, and it’s one that will change their lives forever

Continue reading “The Promised Neverland Episode #08 Review”

The Promised Neverland Ep #06 Review

Synopsis: Emma, Ray and Norman are the three smartest children at an orphanage known as Grace Field House. Under the care and guidance of their caretaker known as “Mom”, the children live peaceful lives, with the one condition being that they are never to go beyond the gate that leads to outside of the orphanage. However one day, Emma and Norman discover the truth of what lies beyond the gate, and it’s one that will change their lives forever

 

The Review

We’re back at it again with the Great Grace Field Escape and there’s quite a bit to run through this week. As our trio  of heroes continues to scheme their way through a jailbreak, the consequences of trying to keep the other kids in the dark are finally starting to catch up with them, and it’s finally time to see some of the fallout. This gives the episode some heavier emotional stakes than what we’ve gotten thus far, but as has generally been the case with this adaption so far, my feelings on how this all actually plays out are fairly mixed.

So right off the bat let’s address the elephant in the room: last week’s cliffhanger regarding Don and Gilda being found out when searching Isabella’s secret room. I was honestly really confused with how that was handled last time because the timing and context of the scene was rearranged in a way that felt like a pretty clear divergence from the manga, and one that had me curious if the anime was going to go for a major shakeup in the story.  Turns out though, it was pretty much just a fakeout and the version of that scene as it happens in the manga is done later on the episode without much extra consequence. Given my high level of attachment to the manga, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t somewhat relieved the anime didn’t follow through on splitting off from the manga in any major ways, it does feel pretty anti-climactic. Frankly I kind of feel like the time spent here could have been used to cover some of the material the anime glossed over, but that’s neither here nor there and it is what it is at this point.

With that out of the way let’s get to the major points of the episode because both are pretty significant for the story going forward. Emma, Norman, and Ray decide to shift gears towards learning more about the outside world, and to that end, Emma tells Norman and Ray about a mysterious man named William Minerva who seems to be leaving clues in his books that hint at the true nature of the farms. This gives the kids their first clue towards the possibility that humanity is thriving outside of the farms, but also hints that there may be something larger at work here as the word “promise” comes up in one of Minerva’s books, and seems to carry some kind of significant meaning. Meanwhile, Don steals the key to the secret room from Isabella, and he and Gilda go to investigate and learn the truth of what’s happening themselves.

While I haven’t had as many moments where I felt like the anime improved on the manga’s material as I would have preferred so far, the execution here is one of the moments where I have to give the anime’s direction some serious chops. In the manga these two scenes directly followed each other, but here they play out simultaneously, with the show cutting back and forth between the two of them. This really works to the anime’s benefit, as the contrast between the main trio believing that they’ve discovered some newfound hope for everyone, while Don and Gilda are pushed further into despair as the reality of Isabella’s deception fully sinks in on them, is incredibly effective. It helps to make the latter portion feel a lot more haunting than it did in the manga, and makes the build up to Don and Gilda confronting the trio on lying to them about the details of their situation feel more rewarding.

Unfortunately I can’t say I was quite as happy with how said confrontation played out here in the anime. While Don’s outburst over having been lied to and his subsequent feeling of powerlessness over not being strong enough to be a reliable asset both hit hard enough to work for the anime’s sensibilities, the overall fallout doesn’t have quite the same level of emotion as it did in the manga. A lot of the dialogue and panel composition for this part in particular used intense facial expressions to convey Don’s torrent of emotions in a way that gave the scene a surprising amount of sincerity, but the anime’s cleaner artstyle can’t quite capture that same level of raw emotion. The widespan camera work used for both scenes doesn’t help things either, and they end up coming across as less important towards the show’s goals than they should be. This downgrade also extends to some key character moments, as there was a little more build-up to Emma’s realization that she didn’t have enough faith in Don and Gilda, which makes the scene where Emma tells Norman her escape idea feel slightly less earned (although that one can be chalked up to the anime needing to save time). It also ends up harming what was a key moment for Ray’s characterization, as part of his apology to Don everything that happened, was also for having attempted to frame him as a spy. The anime’s decision to cut out character’s thoughts, including cuts to earlier scenes, makes the context of his last line significantly more vague than it needed to be, and it’s a shame since this ties into some later revelations about his character.

Grumpy as I am over how the anime’s handled some of the emotional beats so far, it’s certainly excelling when it comes to the horror angle and that pays off for the episode’s climax. As all of the episodes events play out, the camera occasionally shifts in a way that gives the impression that someone is watching what the kids are doing in every scene, and that ends up resulting in the frightening revelation that Krone was the one keeping an eye on them and now knows for certain that Emma and co are aware of the farm. The manga was a lot more explicit about Krone’s game here, so I really appreciate the way the anime managed to build up to that ending, and while it admittedly might have been a little more effective had the episode cut out right before Krone offered to form an alliance with the kids, I was still pretty satisfied with the results here. All in all, I’d say this episode was a pretty important victory for the anime’s continued drive towards leaning into the horror aesthetic of the series as much as possible since this had by far the best execution of that, but as someone who cares a lot about the feelings behind the scares, I still wish the anime would take that part of the story into consideration more.

Overall: 8.9/10

The Promised Neverland Ep #05 Review

Synopsis: Emma, Ray and Norman are the three smartest children at an orphanage known as Grace Field House. Under the care and guidance of their caretaker known as “Mom”, the children live peaceful lives, with the one condition being that they are never to go beyond the gate that leads to outside of the orphanage. However one day, Emma and Norman discover the truth of what lies beyond the gate, and it’s one that will change their lives forever
The Review

 

Hello everyone, it’s time for yet another weekly edition of the Great Grace Field Escape. Last time things slowed down a bit as the show opted to put most of it’s focus towards making the audience guess who the big snitch was, but with that out of the way, we’re back into some fairly hefty material again. There’s quite a bit to talk about here as our resident traitor lays his full intentions bare, but as always I’ve found my attention equally divided between the weight of the story, and the choices the anime has made in adapting it. This time around though, not only have the anime’s choices made the execution feel a bit different compared to its source material, but has also made the show’s immediate trajectory hard to guess, even as a diehard fan of said source material

Before we get to that though, let’s talk about our good boy, Ray, who’s been outed as the traitor in question. Though he attempts to deny Norman’s claims, when he realizes that fell into the trap Norman set for him, he decides to confess the truth: Not only has he been working for Isabella since he was brought on board for the escape plan, but he’s been her loyal sheepdog for years. Despite the implications of this revelation however, Norman decides to continue trusting Ray since much like Emma said last week, he’s still part of their family. He instead deduces that Ray has actually been operating as a double agent to help with the escape and while there is some truth to that, Ray’s actual intentions prove to be a bit more complicated. He is indeed a double agent, and he’s perfectly willing to lead Emma and Norman to safety, but tells Norman that he’ll only continue helping under the condition that Emma is tricked into leaving the others behind sans Don and Gilda. Norman decides to play along with Ray’s wishes for the time being, and lets Emma know Ray is a double agent without tipping her off to his his game, but the burden of knowing that it’s up to him to shield the others from both Isabella AND Ray is one that may be too much for him.

Once again, I really have to praise the way this series has executed on its character dynamics thus far. In a similar setup, I could have easily scene Ray’s traitor status being hidden for as long as possible to maintain suspense, but we’ve gotten that out of the way pretty early and the focus here is less on the act of his betrayal and more about what’s driving it, which does a lot in helping to make the execution here feel more thoughtful than usual genre conventions would suggest. We’ve known from the last few episodes that Ray is by far the most pragmatic of the trio, but the knowledge that he’s been helping Isabella for years carries some pretty nasty implications, and seeing Emma briefly call him out on having shipped out other kids for the sake of his own information-gathering was equal parts surprising, (especially given her general level of optimism) and chilling to watch as she makes it explicitly clear that she’s not tolerating any other sacrifices going forward. Of course, while he may not be willing to throw Emma and Norman under the bus at the moment, Ray is still operating purely on his own agenda, and seeing the intentions of our core trio continuing to diverge with each episode is really doing a lot to make this conflict feel increasingly fascinating.

Great as this material is though, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find the execution to be a little lacking for me compared to how this sequence of events was handled in the manga. While the show’s direction is strong enough to effectively convey all of the necessary information that Ray’s betrayal carries, the anime’s choice to keep the audience directly out of the headspace of the characters, robs it of some its emotional punch while also making things a little more convoluted than necessary. For instance in the manga, Ray telling Norman that he needed to trick Emma was followed up by Norman directly thinking to himself that he was against the idea and had no intention of following that demand, but also couldn’t ignore the value in making use of Ray’s position. While the scene is still handled well enough in the anime for the audience to likely deduce Norman’s viewpoint anyway, that bit of extra ambiguity concerning it makes the last part of that scene a little sloppier than it could have been, and makes Norman’s following nightmare sequence feel more like a general fear of the kids’ situation than a visual representation of the internal conflict he now finds himself in. Additionally, the episode opts to remove a couple of flashbacks to Ray’s childhood during his and Norman’s conversation, which were helpful in conveying an idea of how long Ray has carried the knowledge of the orphanage’s secret with him and how much it means to him that his plan succeeds. What we get here works fine, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those flashbacks were being saved for later episodes, but I do kind of wish the anime would be a little more flexible on its current horror aesthetic since there are times where it feels like it comes at the cost of the story’s emotional core.

This has been quite a fair bit of nitpicking for me, and we haven’t even gotten to the episode’s cliffhanger yet. After having seemingly put aside the issue of Ray’s allegiance for the moment, Emma tells the others that she and Gilda have discovered a secret room in the house that may be where Isabella keeps in contact with the demons. Don wants to investigate the room, and see what’s inside, but Ray believes it’s a bad idea since there’s no telling what kind of surveillance could be hidden inside it. Despite that warning, Don and Gilda go to check out the room anyway, but now face the possibility of being caught in the act. It’s an effective cliffhanger, but it’s one that has me a little baffled as a manga reader. This scene happened a little later in the manga than it did here, and also played out a bit differently than what the episode’s shown thus far, so I’m genuinely uncertain what exactly is peeking beyond that door for Don and Gilda. Both this series and this adaption have continued to be chock full of surprises, and while I continue to be overly neurotic about the latter, I’m more intrigued than ever for what exactly lies in the future.

Overall: 8.7/10

The Promised Neverland Ep #04 Review

Synopsis: Emma, Ray and Norman are the three smartest children at an orphanage known as Grace Field House. Under the care and guidance of their caretaker known as “Mom”, the children live peaceful lives, with the one condition being that they are never to go beyond the gate that leads to outside of the orphanage. However one day, Emma and Norman discover the truth of what lies beyond the gate, and it’s one that will change their lives forever

The Review

Looks like it’s that time of the week again, as we delve deeper and deeper into the haunting world of The Promised Neverland. My feelings on this adaption have pretty much been one big roller coaster ride thus far, but fortunately I was spared of overthinking any of the anime’s choices this time. because this episode more or less played out how I expected and even ended exactly where I thought it would. Of course while I’m happy I don’t need to go through the extra effort of re-watching this episode to make my thoughts on it coherient, I suppose you’re here to read a review and not my neurotic ramblings so let’s get to it

While Krone decides to kids alone for awhile after last week’s rousing game of tag, Isabella is already onto her plan to oust her, and gives Krone a gentle, but condescending warning to do as she’s told if she ever wants to claim a Mom position. Unsurprisingly, this talk has the opposite effect on Krone who feels thoroughly humiliated, and she’s more determined than ever to root out the suspects. In a weird way, I kind of have to admire her level of determination. Sure she’s plotting to sell these kids out to a horrible death,  but if your smug boss talked down to you the way Isabella’s done since day one, wouldn’t you want to kick them to the curb and give them some comeuppance? Can’t exactly say I’d give Krone any awards for most relatable millenial, but she certainly is fun to watch.

Anyway while Krone starts working on her next scheme, our main trio decides to bring Gilda, and another orphan named Don into the fold. While Ray worries about the danger in bring newcomers on board when there’s the risk one of them could be a spy, Norman assures him he already has a strategy in mind to root out the rat. However, convincing Don and Gilda proves to be a little easier said than done, as Emma and Norman decide to obscure a bit of the truth by telling them that the kids are being sold off to child traffickers rather than eaten by demons, and that Conny and the other victims may still be alive. While Don and Gilda mostly buy into this explanation, it doesn’t sit well with Ray who thinks that they should have been blunt about the situation, and finds it cruel to give them a false sense of hope. Given Ray’s general disdain towards the prospect of saving the other kids, it’s interesting that he’d sympathize with them on this issue, and it gives a subtle impression that there may be a little more to Ray’s perspective than what we’ve been shown thus far.

While our heroes have a couple of additional allies though, that victory is seemingly short lived when Gilda sneaks out her bedroom in the middle of the night to meet with Krone. Emma silently suspects that this could mean that Gilda is the traitor, but it turns out that Krone was trying to lure in Gilda in order to get a read on exactly how much she knows, and to also see if she might make for a useful pawn. Unfortunately for Krone, Gilda is careful not to let anything slip, and while she’s still hot on the tails of Emma and gang, she hasn’t gotten any closer to catching them in the act.

With Gilda off the list of potential spies, Don seems like the next likely candidate, but before deciding to talk to the traitor in question, Norman asks for Emma and Ray’s perspectives on why someone would betray them, and if that traitor should be left behind. Ray deduces that the traitor is most likely being spared from shipping in exchange for selling out the other kids, but in spite of that possibility, Emma feels it’s necessary to save the traitor, not only because letting the other kids escape would likely result in that person’s death, but also because Emma knows her siblings well-enough to feel no one among them is truly evil, and wants to believe in them.

It’s hard not to find her thinking just a little naieve, but it’s equally hard to not want to believe she’s also kind of right, and I really appreciate the level of balance Emma’s optimism brings to this otherwise bleak tale. Norman seems to feel the same way as that sentiment leads him to confront the actual traitor, who turns out to be none other than Ray. With how apathetic Ray’s been towards the other kids, and the fact that he wasn’t present for the initial revelation about the truth behind the farm, it’s easy enough to guess he was the sellout, but it certainly doesn’t make the implications any less shocking as having one of our key players working for the other side is a pretty bold move to lay out this early on in the story. While we don’t yet know the details behind Ray’s supposed betrayal though, one thing that’s for sure is that excited to how that plays out.

Rating: 8.6/10

The Promised Neverland Ep #03 Review

Synopsis: Emma, Ray and Norman are the three smartest children at an orphanage known as Grace Field House. Under the care and guidance of their caretaker known as “Mom”, the children live peaceful lives, with the one condition being that they are never to go beyond the gate that leads to outside of the orphanage. However one day, Emma and Norman discover the truth of what lies beyond the gate, and it’s one that will change their lives forever

 

The Review

Ohh…boy. So if you recall, I said in last week’s review that I felt like my initial approach to covering this came off as a little too biased in my mind, and I vowed that I’d try and do a better job of balancing my thoughts between the anime as an adaption, and the anime as a piece of standalone entertainment. While I’d like to think I was pretty successful with that last time, this week it’s gonna be a bit more challenging. A lot episode 3’s choices have helped to give me a clearer view of what exactly the anime is aiming for, and for better or worse, the execution has made it kind of impossible for me to separate those two things. Long story short: you’re probably gonna see a lot of my bias here.

Before I talk about my exact feelings here though, I should rundown the episode itself, which compared to last week’s affair, is pretty straightforward. The spotlight here belongs to Sister Krone as we’re properly introduced the character and her agenda. While she was brought on board to assist Isabella in keeping a watchful eye over the kids, she instead plots to find out which kids know the secret and to use that as leverage to steal Isabella’s position as “Mom”. Aside from adding another wrench into the show’s character dynamics, this bit of scheming also suggests that Grace Field isn’t the only one of these meat farms out there, and it’s confirmed when Isabella speaks with her superior known as “Grandma”, who wants to ensure that our trio gets shipped out as scheduled for a special demon feast. Meanwhile, Emma, Ray and Norman work to discover where the tracking devices are located, and thanks to the arrival of their newest sibling Carol, soon discover that the devices were implanted in their ears as infants.

With that bit of extra information acquired, the three of them then move on to discreetly training the other kids for the big escape by playing tag with them and using it to teach them about tracking, and hiding their own movements. However the difficulty level of this training session gets ramped up when Krone decides to join in their game, and she proves to be far more than most of them can handle as she hunts them down with glee. However while Krone manages to outwit most of the kids, she has a much harder time pinning down our main trio and this leads her to deduce that they’re more than likely the kids she’s looking for, along with another orphan named Gilda, who is slowly starting to suspect that Emma might be hiding something. Our three amigos have bigger things to worry about though, as Isabella’s behavior leads them to suspect that there might be another set of eyes on them, and they suspect that one of the other kids might be a snitch.

So in stark contrast to…basically everything about the relatively grounded tone we’ve seen from the show thus far, Krone comes off as cartoonishly menacing in introduction, and everything from her mannerism to the jazzy music that accompanies her during the tag scene, presents her as over-the-top as possible. On paper that seems like it would make for some serious tonal whiplash, but actually it manages to work out pretty well. This is mostly thanks to a solid combination of great visual direction to make a lot of her facial expressions feel downright terrifying, and the fact that she’s just plain entertaining to watch. Out of everything I was anticipating from this adaption, Krone’s depiction was probably the one I was the most concerned about because while I enjoy her character, her design could get a bit…problematic at times and I could imagine that turning some of the show’s potential audience away. I’m happy to say though that the anime seems to have handled that much better so far, as her expressions feel menacing without leaning into caricature stereotypes of black people, and I’m hoping that balance will just as effectively with her overall characterization as we learn more about her.

However while I was pretty happy with Krone’s general depiction here, I’m a bit more divided on other parts of the episode’s execution. While I suspected this was going to be the case, going by the first two episodes, the layout of the material this week has pretty much cemented that the anime is opting to remove any and all  of the characters’ internal monologues. Instead,  it seems to be aiming to have the characters convey their intentions purely through dialogue and character animation, and there’s a bit of give and take to that approach. Aesthetically speaking, I can understand why the anime would opt for this as this is a horror series, and conveying things this way helps in making the general atmosphere of the story more unsettling. At the same time though, TPN is also a thriller series, and while the “mind games” between the characters aren’t exactly the manga’s bread and butter, they are effective in helping to ramp up the tension, and help in directly conveying key plot details to the audience. In removing the characters’ ability to think to themselves, some of that tension is lost, and it makes a couple of scenes, such as Krone failing to catch Ray and Norman during their round of tag, feel clunkier than it otherwise might have been had that stuff been left in.

Under the same vein, while I can appreciate cutting down a lot of the exposition to double down on the horror aesthetic, some of the world building has been trimmed down as well, and while there’s plenty of time for the anime to correct that in future episodes, it makes a few bits of the overall mystery feel a bit more convoluted then where the manga was by this point.  None of this is particularly deal-breaking on its own and aside from some of the details I just mentioned, the overall presentation here is still strong, and some of these nitpicks went away when I combed over this episode a second time (boy I really hope I don’t have to make a regular habit of watching episodes twice for these). Still, it does make me a bit more concerned about the outlook of the anime beyond this initial story arc, and while it hasn’t exactly killed my enthusiasm, it seems like I’m gonna have a rougher time adapting to this adaption than I had originally expected.

Overall: 8.7/10

The Promised Neverland Ep #02 Review

Synopsis: Emma, Ray and Norman are the three smartest children at an orphanage known as Grace Field House. Under the care and guidance of their caretaker known as “Mom”, the children live peaceful lives, with the one condition being that they are never to go beyond the gate that leads to outside of the orphanage. However one day, Emma and Norman discover the truth of what lies beyond the gate, and it’s one that will change their lives forever

The Review

So before I delve into this week’s review, I want to step back a bit and address my tone for the one I put out last week. As a fan of the manga, I do think there’s value in highlighting some of the anime’s choices in adaptation, but I also feel like I spent a bit too much time focusing on that and not the material itself. While my feelings on how the anime adapts things are definitely going to affect how I feel about any given episode, I also want to make sure to judge the anime on its own merits, so going forward I plan to try a little harder in keeping those perspectives balanced. I can’t guarantee how effectively I’ll be able to do that, but hopefully I’ll be able to do better reviews. With that bit of rambling out of the way, let’s dig in.

So after finding out that they’re being raised to be demon food, Emma and Norman start to connect the dots on some of the abnormalities in their everyday life, and start working on a jailbreak plan. In the case of the former, the two speculate on why they have to take so many tests if they’re just going to end up dinner and end up coming to the conclusion that the demons want their brains, and the bigger the better. While the visual direction of the scene manages to make this bit of exposition feel terrifying, it is admittedly a little silly if taken purely at face value. However as a metaphor, it’s a pretty powerful statement, serving as a harsh criticism of Japan’s educational system and the way it grooms children in order to weed out the brightest and serve them up to corporations that will abuse and dehumanize them. That subtext is admittedly a little easier to read into in the manga thanks to some of its framing, but is presented well enough here that I’m pretty confident the coming episodes will double down on that message.

As far as the escape plan goes though, things run into a bit of an impasse when Emma and Norman attempt to recruit Ray into the fold. While he’s surprisingly quick to accept the truth about the orphanage, he also feels what the audience has likely been thinking: that the best way to escape is for the three of them to get rid of any deadweight and leave the rest of the kids behind. Having seen Conny’s death first hand, Emma is fiercely opposed to this, and she’s determined to make sure none of the other kids share the same fate, instead wanting to create a world they can all live in. Ray sees her way of thinking as far too reckless but is left with no other choice but to play along with it for the time being when Norman decides to side with Emma’s point of view, and vows to protect her in spite of the danger. This sets up an interesting dynamic between the trio as they already seem to have different priorities in spite of sharing the same goal, and those priorities are bound to have a big effect on whether or not their escape plan can even succeed.

Of course while a lot of the focus here is on the kids, it’s not as though Isabella is sitting idly by either, and mother dearest is already making moves to discover which of the kids has caught on to the truth. To that end, she subtly reveals to the kids that there are tracking devices on them to let them know she’s onto them, and directly confronts Emma on her change in demeanor in a tense staredown that manages to feel scarier than just about everything else the show’s thrown at us so far. While Emma manages to keep her cool, Isabella’s calm facade, even when talking about Conny, makes it clear that she truly is an enemy to the children, and one that’s already proving to be formidable. To make matters worse, she’s brought on some extra help in the form of another adult named Krone, and while we don’t yet know what she’ll bring going forward, her presence alone is going to make the kids’ escape a whole lot harder.

This a whole heck of a lot for just the show’s second episode, and that applies in more ways than one. While I expected that the anime would cut down on some of the manga’s back and forth exposition to save on time, and make for a more cinematic experience, they’ve already breezed through more material than I expected and outright skipped a chapter in order to end things on Krone’s introduction. It’s more a personal letdown than a serious complaint though, as the episode’s direction manages to make all the material here hit where it needs to, and flows well enough that I doubt anime-only viewers will notice anything’s been cut. For my part though, it makes predicting the pacing of future episodes a little harder, and while I enjoyed what we got here, I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping some of the material they took out makes its way into next week’s episode. Either way, this has proven to be a pretty ambitious adaption so far, and while I still have some apprehensions about said ambitions, I’m also very much excited to see how it’ll handle things in the coming weeks.

Overall: 8.9/10