It’s the year 2045 and a group of orphans live a seemingly peaceful, happy existence in a gated community. They have a mother substitute who looks after their care and feeding, take daily tests (at which they excel), and they play outside to their hearts’ desire. But the first three volumes of The Promised Neverland hint at something sinister lurking beneath the surface. For instance, the children are told that they should never go past the front gate, they each sport a five-digit tattoo on their neck, and they must leave the orphanage when they turn twelve when, they believe, they will be going home to loving parents—that is, until they witness a shocking event.
When Emma, Oliver, and Ray notice that Conny, an orphan preparing for her new home, has left her stuffed bunny behind, they chase after her to return it. The children reach the gate that they are forbidden to cross and decide to risk it—coming upon a disturbing discovery. Conny is dead and there is a plant growing out of her body. The orphans soon discover that there are monsters that feed on the children. The reality of their situation seeps in, and they realize the orphanage is a food farm for the monsters. The children decide they must make a plan to escape before their time is up.
The creatures remind me of the Skeksis from the movie Dark Crystal. They have very bird-like features and sinewy hands with sharp, protruding fingernails.The last few pages of Volume 1 features more of the monsters, some with horns. There seems to be a caste system between the ones with horns and the ones without, with the horned monsters being the masters and the others being the servants. The children are depicted as being wide-eyed with smiles on their faces, indicating their naivety about the world and what’s going on around them. Emma stands out as the altruistic one, as she wants the escape plan to include everyone. She does not want to leave any child behind. Ray, on the other hand, is her counterpoint and thinks only the strong should survive.
The children are looked after by figures called “moms.” These individuals make sure that the children are fed, educated, and sleep well. A new mom, Khrone, is introduced at the end of the volume. She is black and drawn as a mammy figure. Through the character of Khrone we get a glimpse of her origins and how the “mom” figures came to be. I had deduced fairly early that the mother figures are actually orphans, as the moms also have a numbered tattoo on their necks. Khrone reveals that as an orphan she had a choice: she could either be shipped out to the monsters or become a mom. In Volume 3, we see how competitive it is to try and become a mom and the toll it took on her self-esteem. The story gives her an arc from villain to tragic figure.
I would highly recommend The Promised Neverland for libraries and enthusiasts of manga. The story is suspenseful and the ante is upped from volume to volume. Just when you think the children have the upper hand, the adults have figured out their plans. This manga is rated T+ for older teens, but I did not find anything that would be unsuitable for teens aged 13-15.
The Promised Neverland, vols. 1-3
by Kaiu Shirai
Art by Posuka Demizu
Vol 1 ISBN: 9781421597126
Vol 2 ISBN: 9781421597133
Vol 3 ISBN: 9781421597140
Viz Media, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: T+ for older teens