The Promised Neverland’s come to an end… for now. With the production of season 2 already in sight, it’s time to examine the consequences of the director’s vision, various production circumstances that affected the show, and also check what to expect from this team in the sequel.
Take it or leave it, The Promised Neverland has been one damn consistent show. Whether he was directly in charge of an episode or not, nothing really managed to budge series director Mamoru Kanbe from his position. The precepts that he built the first episodes around – from the voyeuristic framing that implies constant surveillance to the overall structure that exploits the manga’s many twists and turns for weekly hooks – and even his personal visual quirks stayed the same; I’ll spare you another lengthy explanation about his directional approach in that regard since it’s not changed, so feel free to read our previous posts on the series if you want to read more about his vision.
Much like we said last time, though, that doesn’t mean that directors with a strong personality can’t bend Kanbe’s ruleset to their liking. Last time we chose to highlight the work of Toshimasa Ishii. His 6th episode was a viscerally satisfying, thrilling ride because of his guidance of the viewer’s eye and flourishments like his wipe transitions, which also gave seamless flow to the mindgames. When it comes to this final stretch of episodes, the special mention has to go to episode #10’s director, storyboarder, and assistant supervisor Ayako Kurata. The first thing you’ll notice is that she’s got a knack for creating scenes that are well acted ever since the layout stage: she’ll envision spatially complex shots and position the characters believably, using her own experience as an animator (and direct supervision in cases like this) to depict convincing acting. Unless she’s aiming for artificiality, characters won’t be neatly placed in her shots because of her awareness of posture and physicality.
At the same time, she’s also great at projecting moods through the environment, which makes her works very readable regardless of the context. This might seem like a given, but a director whose grasp on color, lighting, and shot composition can convey such precise feelings is an excellent asset to have in your production. So, whether you enjoyed this show or not, I encourage you to keep an eye on Kurata – a bit of a late bloomer, but poised for greatness in this industry! If it feels like you’re sort of familiar with her name already, it might be due to our coverage of Yama no Susume. She was one of the names we brought up when we said that part of that show’s crew would move onto The Promised Neverland, so I’m glad that it led to one of the best episodes in the whole series after all.
Another consequence of Kanbe’s approach has been a focus on immediate narrative reveals and the strong emotional reactions that the characters go through. We’ll talk later about the consequences of prioritizing that over the themes, setting, and character motivations, but regardless of your feelings on the situation, it presented a clear issue: if you build a whole series around the idea of What’s Going To Happen Next, then you better have a finale that lives up to that constant escalation of the expectations. The Promised Neverland‘s already offered a satisfying narrative end to this arc, so it was on Kanbe’s team to ramp up the delivery so that it lived up to the momentous occasion. And that they did!
Two very important scenes stand out in particular as Kanbe’s success in this regard. One is the final departure between Isabella and Emma. One of the most articulate pieces of animation to boot (courtesy of Ryosuke Nishii and Satoshi Furuhashi perhaps?), made even better by the evocative final shot in this sequence; Isabella stares at the kids from afar as they let the ropes loose, physically breaking their ties. As she comes into terms with her own feelings, she also removes her hair tie, freeing herself from the institution’s orders.
The other key moment is intertwined during that whole scene: the elegant flashback in which we see a young Isabella presented with the same chasm the kids were brave enough to jump… yet in her case the framing from within the wall dominates the shot, because she never had the courage to defy the system – instead, she reaches towards the hand of the status quo, becoming complicit in the problem. For a brief moment, it feels as it The Promised Neverland‘s anime truly got what it was about.
Incidentally, the final noitaminA splash screen was designed by uki, who already designed the iconography in the opening.
Another aspect that’s been rather consistent during the last episodes of the show has been the quality of the production itself, but since we owed you a more in-depth look at the animation team and their work, let’s get to that. At the risk sounding like a broken record, though, the protagonist on the last stages of the production has once again been Ken Yamamoto. After singlehandedly selling the horrified reaction to the first twist and the conflicted emotions that hit Don and Gilda like a hammer when they found out the truth that their friends had hidden from them, he returned to animate a long scene with Krone’s antics in episode #07 and finally handle about 3 minutes in episode #11; a total of 102 shots spanning, according to the animation producer himself, every important moment in that episode. More economical than his previous contributions due to production fatigue and the massive volume, but still snappy, exceptionally expressive work.
If there’s one criticism to be made to his work on episode #11, it’s that the CG fire isn’t up to par with the quality of the scene otherwise. And don’t take it as my words: did Yamamoto himself complain about how hideous the CG fire was and then proceed to share his much more appealing rough animation of the flames? I can’t answer that out loud, but here’s his much more appealing rough animation of the flames!
Yamamoto bid the production farewell after that, having drawn 220 cuts – from half to two-thirds of an episode’s worth of footage – that happen to be the most impressive in the show (and the OP!) altogether… and then still came back for the finale alongside the ghost of Mob Psycho 100 II #11 director Itsuki “miso” Tsuchigami and designer Kazuaki Shimada to do some clean-up work, so that this last episode could make it to the deadline in attractive fashion. Though he wasn’t granted an official title of main animator, Yamamoto acted as the leader of the team to an extent that’s rarely seen. Keeping him around for the sequel is going to be key.
That said, claiming that Yamamoto was all there was to the animation would be kinda rude to the rest of the team. CloverWorks (special mention to the newly promoted production desk Koudai Takano for reportedly doing as well as he could and then more) put together a solid enough team so that things never looked off, and when they couldn’t manage that on their own, they relied on their older sibling; episodes 4 and 8 of The Promised Neverland were fully outsourced to A-1 Pictures, which is amusing considering their relationship. So much for becoming independent!
But back to the point. While the show wasn’t the all-stars production we were promised – more on that later – it still featured some noteworthy artists who stood out among the reliable regulars, even as things got tighter in this final part of the show. The sharp character art in episode #08 can be explained by the many animators with illustrative skills (from fashion expert & NEW GAME fanatic Kazutoshi Makino to the amusingly named TOMATO), as well as supervisors like Ryuta Yanagi and Takako Takahashi – presumably a pen-name for an animator who left Kyoto Animation a couple years ago.
And speaking of which, episode #09 featured original Kyoukai no Kanata designer Tomoyo Kamoi within an interesting small team that allowed each key animator to handle a sizable chunk of it. The smartly applied low drawing count in this scene makes me suspect Kyoushirou Ezawa was in charge of that section, if you were curious about the most idiosyncratic sequences there. Even in episode #11, amid the Yamamoto bonanza, Ryosuke Nishii stood out in his brief return with Emma’s weighty slap and Ray’s reaction. All things considered, The Promised Neverland isn’t a show I’d recommend to animation fans on that basis, but it still offered enough isolated tidbits to satisfy those who were already watching it.
Now that the show’s over, it’s time for some final thoughts about the project as a whole. It’ll be lengthier than usual since it’s left me rather conflicted… and as far as I can tell, I’m not alone at all.
Whenever there’s a noticeable gap in the reception of an anime adaptation between existing fans and newcomers to the property, the reason tends to be simple: cut content and narrative changes. Although The Promised Neverland felt the need to do a bit of the former, there were no major changes in the events that’d explain the different aftertaste the TV show’s left in veterans and newcomers. The issue this time is a bit more nuanced. Mamoru Kanbe and his team reinterpreted this work as a pure thriller, with dashes of horror but otherwise fully invested in making you wonder what’s going to happen next. It’s undeniable that those were aspects that had always been part of The Promised Neverland’s core, but focusing even further on that side of it while neglecting others has led to a show that’s generally much more compelling if you never experienced this tale.
Before you say that’s true of all adaptations – the entertainment world would be miserable if that were the case, considering how many pieces of media are reinterpretations! – let’s get into what this entailed. To the show’s credit, that switch in perspective was supported by an update in its visual vocabulary that fits the new goals better. The asphyxiating paneling from the original is gone with no real replacement, and while the storyboards have put a lot of emphasis on the voyeuristic feeling, that’s meant to keep you always on your toes rather than intending to explore the implications of the setting and the position the adults are in. The cast’s motivations are thinner because of the trimming of the monologues, so the character comes from everyone’s immediate reactions to the events – hence why the acting animation highlights took the extreme emotions one step further. Yamamoto’s sequences exemplify this best, so it’s no wonder that he was appointed as the production’s ace.
We saw this first arc through the lens of a camera tracking each step of the kids, slowly turning around corners to keep us wondering about what might be hiding there. Again, that approach has worked wonderfully for newcomers who bought into it, but perhaps not so much for those of us who knew all the narrative beats. I’d argue that this adaptation’s lost part of what made the series so interesting thematically, but at the end of the day, The Promised Neverland’s manga and its anime counterpart are different beasts beyond the sheer finesse of execution – and the latter happens to be constructed with newcomers in mind. If you never read it and the mixed reactions to a show you’ve loved have been throwing you off, keep in mind that this isn’t gatekeeping at play, and give the original a try if you can. And if you read it and still managed to have a great time with this, then congratulations on your double enjoyment! As someone who loved certain parts but had an overall mixed experience, I genuinely wish I could’ve had a more positive experience with one of my favorite ongoing series.
Another point of contention since the start has been the production’s actual scope. The Promised Neverland’s by all means a decently made TV anime, yet it fell short of the sky-high expectations that renowned animation producer Yuichi Fukushima set when he claimed that they’d employ the very best character animators at their disposal. Since I wasn’t all that convinced, I contacted the all-stars team that made the opening sequence, and as I said in our first post about this series, they openly told me that they weren’t actually going to work in the show itself – and that they weren’t the only ones, as most of the studio’s top directors and animators were focusing on something else.
And as we explained there, that something else was for the most part the Fate/Grand Order Babylonia anime. Lo and behold, now we’ve got a fancy promotional video for that way ahead of its broadcast, accompanied by an astonishing staff list; the core team’s compromised of some of the most promising directors affiliated with CloverWorks (Toshifumi Akai, Miyuki Kuroki) and exceptional animators (Megumi Kouno, Tomoaki Takase), as well as outsiders of equal repute (Toya Oshima, Shota Iwasaki). Though gathering creators for Fate is admittedly easy when half the country’s hooked on FGO, the rock-solid schedule and density of talent make it obvious that Babylonia was favored over The Promised Neverland.
Is there a reason to believe that The Promised Neverland’s already announced second season – which was always the plan, don’t take today’s news as a recent decision – will receive better treatment by the studio? Not even the people involved know the answer to that, but an informed guess would be something along the lines of don’t expect a miracle. On the creative front, I’m not convinced that the very different tone of the second arc will actually manage to shift the vision that series director Kanbe has invested so much into, as it’s not as if changing the surroundings will magically fix the uninspired background art.
Similarly, the production timing’s also bound to suffer from recurring issues; The Promised Neverland should be coming back in January 2020, which in theory is ample time to produce something great… but it’ll still overlap with FGO, since that will spend all of 2019 in active animation production for a fall season broadcast. Unless Fukushima approaches his projects in a more equitable way (something he arguably handled better with Slow Start and Darlifra), The Promised Neverland is fated to be the smaller of the big projects, and stay a simply alright production. Now that’s a “problem” many TV anime would love to have, but holding a series this exceptional to higher standards seems fair.
And with that, our coverage of The Promised Neverland’s first season is done! Hopefully you’ve found it useful, whether it was to learn more about the directional intent and the people behind the (admittedly excellent) best moments in the show, or to learn about the circumstances that didn’t let the series live to its full potential. If you want something more thoroughly positive, our final post about Kaguya-sama will go up this weekend. I believe I’m not legally allowed to say the finale is incredible, so I didn’t type that out just now.
Key Animation: Yoshifumi Nakamura, Aiko Komamoto, Hiroto Tanaka, Haruka Tsuzuki, Kenichi Yamaguchi, Keiko Fukumoto, Kaori Henmi, Yui Ushio, Emiko Shimura, Ai Tsuyusaki, Kanna Hirayama, Shinobu Mouri, Keiko Nakaji, Ken Yamamoto, Tomoko Kitagawa
Key Animation: Yu Saito, Saki Hisamatsu, Motoki Hayakawa, Sako Inayoshi, Kazutoshi Makino, Mayumi Uebayashi, Taiyou Yazawa, Keita Hagio, Kazuya Morimae, Satoshi Sakai, TOMATO, Kyouko Yufu, Yuta Nagano, Hirokatsu Maruyama, Raku Nishikimi, Takako Takahashi
Storyboard, Episode Direction: Hiroki Itai
Animation Direction: Ryosuke Sekiguchi, Yasuko Takahashi, Chie Nishio
Assistant Animation Director: Kaori Ito, Futoshi Suzuki
Chief Animation Director: Kazuaki Shimada
Key Animation: Hiroki Itai, Shun Nishitani, Yumi Kobayashi, Sotaro Shimizu, Tomoyo Kamoi, Kyoushirou Ezawa, Aiba Kawasaki, Souta Shigeto
Key Animation: Asami Komatsu, Yushi Hori, Emiko Shimura, Keiko Nakaji, Shinobu Mouri, Manami Umeshita, Manami Ito, Mika Kobayashi, Mitsuyuki Sasagawa, Kazuyuki Takeuchi, Miho Ogawa, Nobutaka Ota, Mitsuyo Tsuno, Kaori Dou, Shun Nishitani, Marina Hara, Tomoko Fukunaga, Akihiro Sueta
Storyboard, Episode Direction: Kaito Asakura
Animation Direction: Akane Ogawa, Masafumi Tayori, Masato Anno, Saori Yonezawa
Assistant Animation Director: Chie Nishio
Chief Animation Director: Kazuaki Shimada
Key Animation: Yuko Kobori, Mitsumi Nakayama, Tomoko Hamanaka, Ayane Murayama, Meng-Long Shou, Takuro Naka, Takanori Yamamoto, Takahiro Toyomasu, Ryosuke Nishii, Tomoko Fukunaga, Ryosuke Sekiguchi, Chie Nishio
Storyboard: Mamoru Kanbe
Episode Direction: Mamoru Kanbe, Yoshiki Kitai
Animation Direction: Aiko Komamoto, Ryosuke Sekiguchi, Yui Ushio, Kaori Ito, Akihiro Sueta, Tomoko Fukunaga, Akane Ogawa, Asami Komatsu
Chief Animation Director: Kazuaki Shimada
Key Animation: Takeshi Kimura, Shun Nishitani, Keiko Fukumoto, Akiko Motoyoshi, Masato Anno, Miyuki Mori, Kaori Henmi, Akihiro Sueta, Shinobu Mouri, Yuichi Nakazawa, Koji Furuya, Yumi Kobayashi, Nana Matsunaga, Keiko Nakaji, Jin Oyama, Yoshifumi Nakamura, Kazuyuki Asaka, Manami Umeshita, Yuichiro Komuro, Yuta Masaki, Hiroto Tanaka, Emiko Shimura, Ryosuke Nishii, Satoshi Furuhashi
Full series coverage: