Yakusoku no Neverland, aka The Promised Neverland is proof that good horror isn’t driven by jump scares: a review

Just like Made in Abyss; cutesy, but ultimately sinister

Just like Made in Abyss; cutesy, but ultimately sinister

Every year there’s always a standout – in 2017 we were all blown away by the heart-breakingly awesome Made in Abyss, while in 2018 we seemingly all gravitated towards the more absurdist and manga driven animation styles of Dragon Pilot and My Hero Academia season 3.

Deep down in my gut I have a feeling that 2019 is going to be a year for a bumper crop of excellently rated anime. Sure, we’re currently awash in a sea of mediocrity, bouncing back and forth between middle of the road anime like Girly Air Force and The Magnificent Kotobuki, but I have a better outlook of 2019 than I did in previous years; I feel it in my waters. Perhaps it’s just the news that One Punch Man is set to make a return that has me giddy like a small child on Christmas Eve.

The Winter 2018/2019 season (Summer for all us southern hemisphere folks) has been a mixed bag so far to say the least, but early in 2019 we’ve been blessed with a great show in Yakusoku no Neverland, aka The Promised Neverland. It’s gaining moderate traction among online commentators, but there is a lot of subtlety in the show that I believe a lot of bloggers and critics are missing; as I watch each episode I feel that throughout the series there is the same ominous undercurrent of dread that runs through well produced paranormal horror movies like Hereditary and IT.

For those unfamiliar, The Promised Neverland is centered around a group of orphans living at a well run orphanage called Grace Field House. For the children that live there life couldn’t be better – they’re well loved, well fed and their lives are seemingly untroubled and carefree. One day two of the older orphans discover a terrible secret about the orphanage itself, a secret that has major consequences for all of the children that live there.

As episodes unfold, it becomes a cat and mouse game of hiding secrets and clandestine missions to uncover evidence of atrocities. As the children operate in secret to discover more about the world around them, the threat of discovery and possible death hangs over their head like a sword of Damocles.

Only 4 episodes in I believe the series is proof that a good horror story doesn’t need to be driven by an overload of gore like Goblin Slayer or boring jump scares like the latest Conjuring movie, The Nun. The horror in The Promised Neverland is subtle and hidden beneath the surface, slowly being revealed piece by piece each week as more of the character’s world is slowly exposed.

In truth the drama isn’t derived from throwing paranormal elements in the viewers face and expecting them to be moved by it; even four episodes in, we as viewers still know so little about the world of The Promised Neverland, the orphanage or the area surrounding it. The drama instead is driven by our protagonist’s will to survive and their need to avoid detection by unseen evil forces, because every decision the orphans make can have dire consequences for the entire orphanage.

As a result the series feels more like a television show akin to The Walking Dead – while the past may catch up to some characters in the end, what’s more important is showing how our protagonists will survive the present. One slip up may spell the end for everyone.

In all some characters may feel a little one dimensional, especially the youngest orphans that seem to be just cookie cutter copies of cute kids instead of representations of actual children. For instance there are very few tantrums and poo stained sheets in Grace Field House.

In saying that however this is definitely a series to keep an eye on. As time goes on it’s likely The Promised Neverland will get eclipsed by other great shows coming up in Spring, but it feels pretty great hitting the ground running in 2019 with a well thought out and nuanced series that I predict will likely make a few yearly top 10 lists.

Plus, that intro is pretty damn groovy. Time to get my dougie on.

The Promised Neverland is simulcast on Crunchyroll in the United States and through Animelab in Australia and New Zealand.

- Andrew Archer