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
It’s been a long, long 12 weeks but here we are at the final episode of The Promised Neverland’s first season (which now officially IS the first season as a sequel’s been confirmed for next year). This season’s certainly been an interesting ride both in terms of the story itself, and the changes the anime made in telling it, as my feelings on this adaptation have only gotten more and more mixed with each passing week. Now that we’re finally here at the end though, it’s time to see whether or not it actually managed to stick the landing.
As the kids continue to make their escape, Ray notices that ones 4 years old and under are nowhere to be seen. This was a deliberate choice on Emma’s part, as we see in a flashback that she actually took Ray’s thoughts into consideration on how it would be too dangerous to take them. While Emma initially remained steadfast in her desire to leave no one behind despite knowing the risks, her perspective changed when Gilda brought up that it wasn’t really fair for only their group to escape when there are children in the other Grace Field plants who are still trapped and unaware of their reality. In light of that, Emma decided to talk directly to Phil about what was happening, and after telling him the truth about the farms, she revised her plan: deciding to leave the younger kids behind, but with the hope that she’ll return within two years to not only save them, but all of the kids suffering under the oppression of the farm system.
While this works as a realistic compromise between Emma and Ray’s points of view and helps in providing a more grounded approach to Emma’s optimism, it’s also one that once again highlights how shortsighted Ray’s purely pessimistic approach was in the long run. There can be value in taking the time to approach things realistically, and Ray’s more pragmatic point of view isn’t totally without its merits, but pragmatism is something that’s only ever truly effective when actively working towards a positive outcome rather than simply trying avoid a worst-case scenario. It’s a revelation that quietly dawns on Ray as he admits defeat in the face of seeing how well the other kids have adapted to their situation, and he now sees the value in Emma’s philosophy of working towards a future where they won’t have to lose anyone else.
I really like how well both these scenes are directed, and especially in regards to how the latter shifts between seeing the kids’ actual training, and the end results of it in the present, as it really drives home that they’re far more capable than either Ray or Norman was willing to give them credit for when the show began. At the same time though, I also feel like these points were driven home a little harder in the manga, as Emma’s desire to destroy the very farm system itself is given a little more emphasis than what we got here, and Ray’s shift towards a more optimistic point of view had a lot more emotional weight behind it. Losing some of that here knocked these scenes down a couple of points for me, but the core of what’s being said with them still largely remains in tact so in the end, it balanced out well enough that I can’t complain too much.
What immediately follows though is something I’m a lot more mixed on. As the kids escape via zip-lining over the cliff rather than using the bridge like the demons are expecting, Isabella catches up with them right as Emma is preparing to make her way over to the other side. This is a pretty notable shift from the manga as Isabella never managed to catch up with the kids and by the time she had made it to the wall they were already gone. I really like the idea of this scene, as Emma giving a direct goodbye to Isabella before making her escape helps in driving home the parallels between them and how Emma was able to make the choice to keep resisting her fate that Isabella could not. In execution however, it’s a little goofy as Isabella still seemed pretty determined to catch the kids in the scene preceding it so seeing that she not only never makes any kind of attempt to grab Emma, but gives her enough time to reflect on the house being burned down before heading for the hills feels a little out of character. I give the anime staff credit for trying though, and equally so in regards to how they handle Isabella’s own moment of reflection as we see pieces of her childhood and how she lost a boy she cared about before signing herself into becoming a mama to ensure her survival.
Much like with Krone’s backstory, these flashbacks are pretty silent compared to their manga counterpart and most of her internal monologue here was removed. Unfortunately part of that monologue was pretty important to Isabella’s characterization, as she confessed that she actually did despise the farm system for what it did to her friend, but ultimately ended up suppressing that fury because her desire to live outweighed her desire to fight back, putting her in stark contrast to how Emma chose to keep fighting in spite of losing Norman. However unlike with how Krone’s story was handled, Isabella’s drive to live no matter what is still translated pretty well in these scenes in spite of what was cut. Especially so the moment where she realizes that Ray is her biological child, as her pragmatism and her emotions are put directly at odds, and while the former might have won out, it didn’t make the choice of sacrificing her child any less painful. Isabella might have survived by tossing others to the wayside, but her willingness to surrender herself completely to her situation has ultimately ended up costing her everything. As she realizes she’s been utterly defeated, Isabella performs her first true act of motherhood and wishes Emma and the others safety on their new journey as the kids themselves forge ahead towards their first day of freedom.
And with that, we’re finally at the end of Neverland’s first season. When this season first began I was really excited to see how the anime was going to handle the manga’s material and if it was going to be successful in making the series into a bigger hit. Far as the former goes, I’ve been kinda let down by a lot of the anime’s choices, and the emphasis on the story’s horror elements over the characterization of the main cast ended up harming it in a few key areas, and took some of the weight out of its themes. It’s certainly proven to be pretty popular in spite of those deficiencies though, and as much as I’ve nitpicked this adaption to death, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get any enjoyment out of seeing the manga come to life, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a re-watch helped me to better reconcile with some of the anime’s adaptive choices. In regards to the finale though, I’ll say that it more or less stuck the landing, and while I’m still very seriously hoping the next season of the anime will have an extensive staff re-haul,(the rest of the manga is so different from the first arc its almost a necessity) much like the kids themselves, I’m still pretty eager to see what’s over the horizon in spite whatever dangers might come with it.