Who doesn’t love a good monster? Every summer millions flock into movie theatres to get their fill of scary beasties. Sometimes it’s in the form of yet another remake of some old franchise, starring a giant, possibly radioactive, lizard. Sometimes it’s a pulpy thriller where the monster is a human who is nonetheless capable of grossly inhuman acts. Often, though, in many monster movies the actual monster doesn’t actually spend that much time on screen at all. In horror we dread much more opening that creaking door than what is actually behind it. The footsteps of the T-Rex shaking a glass of water has more impact than a bunch of animatronics shambling about. Cloverfield was all about hiding the monster from the viewer. Why do they do this? We paid good money for scary monsters! Well, mostly it’s a testament to human imagination. We’re much better at scaring ourselves than anything on-screen can. When the monster is not seen, but implied, we anticipate it with gripping paranoia. We’re hooked, on the edge of our seats. After the scare is revealed we might scream a bit but then it’s over and we calm down. The essence of horror is the unknown.
The corollary is that information is the antithesis of horror. The more we know about something, the less scary it is. Thus I was surprised that this episode of Yakusoku no Neverland spend much of its time not just explaining everything, but showing that our protagonists also properly understood everything. They knew that they had left the rabbit behind and alerted ‘Mother‘. They scoped out the House and have a good idea of its layout. They have a plan and the necessary skills to enact it. Heck, they even realise that, in true young adult fiction tradition, that what awaits outside the walls is probably horrible dystopia. Sometimes I wondered if the children don’t in fact know too much. I mean, where would they even learn how to pick a lock? Or the words ‘tracking device’? I know there’s something about ‘tasty brain meats’, but why teach these children anything useful at all? If I was running this place — not that I’d ever run a nightmarish home that farmed children as food for demon-aliens (again) — I wouldn’t even tell them that there’s anything outside the orphanage. Pretend the children leaving were raptured away by angels or something. Or maybe teach them that being eaten by horrific netherbeasts is just part of the circle of life.
That said, it’s actually rather refreshing to have protagonists that are actually competent. You can tell that Yakusoku no Neverland is not your typical shounen series because the protagonists are actually intelligent (even if one of them is perhaps too idealistic to live) and don’t trip over their own shoelaces at the most inopportune times just for the sake of drama. Part of the reason I enjoyed Boku no Hero Academia is that it had a protagonist who tried to solve problems with his head instead of (just) GUTS and FRIENDSHIP, and even he started weak and needed training montages and everything. So let’s have some competent kids for a change. We need something to appeal to the ‘young and tasty geniuses’ demographic.
And even if our trio are fully cognizant of the danger they are in and what they must do, there can still be scares and thrills in the best laid plans going awry. At the end of the episode we were introduced to Sister Krone (a Germanic name, but the similarity to ‘crone’ is difficult to ignore). If we’re still adhering to the Roald Dahl model (and I definitely think Yakusoku no Neverland is, deliberately or not) then adults are, in general, bad news for children. So more obstacles have arisen even before the kids have executed their plan. And perhaps despite all their genius and competence they had no chance of success from the very beginning. That is the realm of Lovecraftian horror, where struggle leads only to despair and knowledge only to madness. All that is left is an existential dread over our own insignificance.
Also, Norman is giving Emma the finger. Ah, cultural differences, you’re an endless source of unintentional amusement.