I wish the mystery would’ve stuck around for a bit longer. I wanted to soak in it. Bathe in it. Let the oppressive atmosphere seep into my pores. When Emma and Norman sneak past the gate that must never be crossed, the tension is so uncomfortably heavy. The only sound you hear is the persistent dripping of water from a leaky pipe. What horrors lurk beyond the safety of the orphanage? What are they not meant to see? What truths will they uncover and thus inevitably rob themselves of their precious innocence? Up until this point, I was genuinely pretty satisfied with the show’s execution. To my great surprise, however, it doesn’t take the show very long to answer our questions. In fact, the show ends up answering a lot of questions. And I dunno, I honestly feel kinda disappointed by that. Once the mystery is dispelled, you can’t help but feel that some of the magic is gone. But I suppose you could argue that I had the wrong idea going into this anime. You could argue that I had set the wrong expectations, and as a result, I can only blame myself for my disappointment. Well, I would counter that the PV goes a long way in setting expectations, but this discussion can wait. First, let’s set the stage.
Emma, Norman, and Ray live in an orphanage managed by a woman they refer to as only Mama. They are joined by 35 other children, but that number is scheduled to decrease by one. Every so often, if you’re “lucky,” a family will adopt you, but you shouldn’t despair. Everyone eventually leaves the orphanage by the time they’re 12. You just gotta be patient. In the meantime, however, life is idyllic enough for the young children. They’re well-fed, well-clothed, and well… hm, I dunno if I would call this education. The children have to take this weird test where they scan bar codes beneath some geometric shapes. I have no idea what this is supposed to accomplish. But other than that, life is good at the orphanage. The kids only have each other, so it’s like one big family. Why would you even want to leave? Well, you don’t. Today, it’s Conny’s turn, and it’s clear that she doesn’t want to go. After all, something’s not right. Usually, you know who your foster parents are going to be. When these kids get adopted, they have no damn clue who they’re going to be living with. As a result, why would a six-year-old child want to leave all her friends behind?
Obviously, they don’t actually get adopted. This is why everyone leaves the orphanage by the time they turn 12. The older these children get, the smarter they become. Hell, Emma and Norman are already asking questions. Ray is a bit different, but I’ll get to him later. The three main characters aren’t the only ones to get suspicious, though. The other children can’t help but wonder why nobody has ever written them a letter. Once you leave the orphanage, you leave for good. You never keep in touch with your old family. What’s up with that? Well, Conny’s only six, and she even admits that she’s not all that bright. Nevertheless, right before she leaves, she promises her friends that she’ll write to them. The little girl always carries a stuffed bunny with her, so when Emma sees that it has been left behind, she and Norman try to see if they can return it to Conny before the girl leaves the orphanage for good. What they end up discovering shatters their entire worldview.
When Emma peers into the back of a truck, she sees Conny’s corpse. I almost feel like the original author picked the cutest and most vulnerable child to go first. Not only is the girl dead, her skin has turned grey. She was just alive moments ago, but she already looks like she’s been dead for days. That’s when the monsters show up. Tall, gaunt, monsters that look somewhat like demons. But here’s the thing: these monsters can talk. Not only can they talk, it’s clear that they have a society. What do they want with Conny? They want to eat her, of course. Their kind appears to love human flesh. Unfortunately, they’re not allowed to eat Conny. She’s meant for the rich. All of the children raised on this orphanage are meant for the rich. So right off the bat, we know that the monsters have a society with class differences. A society that even has a shipping schedule. A society that runs a special farm, because there are hoity-toity monsters who only want to eat organic, free-range children. Farm-to-table orphans are where it’s at, yo. Sustainable human flesh, because we gotta be responsible, eco-conscious eaters. You want to be sure that the local, heritage orphan on your plate had lived a happy life back on the farm.
Okay, okay. Enough jokes. Not only do Emma and Norman realize that they’re basically just farm animals, their beloved Mama is working with the monsters. The woman they unquestionably trusted is actually raising them to be eaten. Emma and Norman eventually manage to slip away without being noticed, but they left Conny’s bunny behind. As a result, both Mama and the monsters know that someone knows more than they should. Just look at the woman in this screenshot right before the credits roll. Mama’s gonna punish some naughty children. But right before she had to take Conny away, we saw her take down a precious picture that the girl had drawn. She then hugged the picture as if it meant something to her. She hugged it as if Conny meant something to her. Is this just an act? I dunno about that. I mean, nobody was looking so why would Mama need to keep up appearances? Maybe a small part of her does care for these children. Maybe. But at the end of the day, it’s a monster-eat-human world out there, and you gotta protect yourself.
Emma and Norman realize that they have to escape lest they get eaten themselves, but the girl won’t abandon her family. She won’t leave the other children behind. It’s going to be hard the children to leave, though. What are you going to do? Just tell them the truth and hope that they believe you? Emma and Norman couldn’t even bear to tell Ray what they had discovered… but they might not need to. Ray gives a knowing look when the two children ascend the stairs. Repeatedly throughout the episode, Ray keeps telling his friends that the adults are lying to them with regards to the gate and the outside world. He doesn’t play with the other children. When they run off to play tag, he sits alone under a tree and reads. Everyone has big dreams for when they grow up. A kid wants to see trains, another kid wants to date cute girls, Norman wants to travel the world, so on and so forth. When they ask Ray what he would like to do, he just goes, “…well, I’d have to survive first.” He knows. He totally knows. He’s always known. But how does he know? Did he also discover the truth? Or did someone tell him the truth? I guess we’ll find out later.
Well, now that we know almost everything that we need to know, Yakusoku no Neverland is no longer a mystery. Sure, it’d be nice to know why the distant future is full of man-eating monsters. Sure, it’d be nice to know what the rest of human society is up to. They gotta be out there, right? After all, this farm is for rich monsters. The rest of the monsters — the Joe Sixpack of monsters — don’t get to eat the tender flesh of organic, free-range orphans. The average monster just takes himself down to the monster pub down on Main Street. And what does he do there? He enjoys a simple, humble human flesh stew like the rest of us hard-workin’ folks! As a result, I have to imagine that they eat normal people that aren’t raised on farms. Or maybe they just eat other animals. Who knows? Like I said, there are still some world-building details that I wouldn’t mind learning about. Nevertheless, the curtains have been pulled back, so this is now a prison break. Like a poor cow trying to escape the slaughterhouse, Emma and Norman must now devise a plan to get the remaining children out of the orphanage. That won’t be easy. And even if they succeed, where would they go? At the end of the day, they’re still just children.
As a quick aside, I don’t like the character designs. They all look like mini Jay Lenos.
Your comment about cows escaping the slaughterhouse reminded me of this funny song…
—Yeah, it was all ‘show, show, show’, and everything was great… and then all of a sudden, some working class monsters walk by giving a comprehensive monologue about the details of their job and their place in monster society. Wtf was the thought process behind that? I don’t understand how the same author/director can go from nailing narrative execution for 90% of the episode, to one of the worst expository sequences I’ve ever seen.
Sounds like somebody needs an editor. The MC’s could have just dropped the bunny and skedaddled the moment they saw Conny’s corpse and we’d be in the exact same situation, so just cut the eavesdropping scene out entirely. Less now = more in the future.
—I’m gonna give the show the benefit of the doubt and assume that the monsters speaking human languages will end up being a plot point instead of a plot hole.
—Conny was a walking death flag the entire episode. Wish they’d have thrown a red herring at us and killed somebody like Norman instead.
I doubt it’s a plot hole. Still makes them a whole lot less fearsome, though. The unfamiliar becomes all too familiar.
Hm, it’s a shounen manga after all so I think it would be less about mystery and more about fighting demons. I like the fact that protagonist is a female. There are mot many shounen manga with a female protagonist, especially a young little girl.
I wish the distinction didn’t matter. Whether or not it originated in a shounen magazine, I just want a good story.
I think its more about showing the premise fast. Tell the anime-only fans what’s going on and keep them hooked. Probably didn’t need to do that, but now things can hopefully move at a better pace.