Yay! Happy ending! They escaped! But then again, of course they did. This is the last episode of the season, and as much as I’d be amused if Yakusoku no Neverland ended with the children summarily rounded up and made to gingerly sit in time-out for burning the house down just for the sheer bathos of it, it probably won’t make for a very good story. Since I presume Neverland wants to both avoid an anticlimax and secure a sequel, this finale was basically the march towards a foregone conclusion. So let’s waste no more time and jump right into some holistic thoughts on the series.
It’s always been a bit curious to me that Yakusoku no Neverland is supposed to be ‘shounen’, even though it doesn’t really hew to the shounen stereotypes. Of course, this says more about leaning on shounen stereotypes and the inadequacy of categorising manga by the target demographic the magazine it’s published in aims for (let’s not even get started on the sports genre), but we can still uncontroversially say that Neverland stands in contrast to the well-known shounen classics — the Dragon Balls, the Narutos, the One Pieces (…), etc, etc. I would call those manga and the shows they spawned action anime, and Neverland is decidedly not one of them. This doesn’t make Neverland inherently better or worse — the action shounen shows are great and I’m looking forward to the fourth season of Boku no Hero Academia as much as the next superhero fan. But these ‘traditional’ shounen shows have their own storytelling methods that their audience are familiar with. Being action-oriented means that most of the narrative has to revolve around action, which means that most of the conflict has to be tied to some physical conflict as well. The plot does not progress without people beating each other up in the name of whatever cause or philosophy they represent, and character growth is tied to physical growth. They are often also power fantasies, simply because the main tool to resolve conflicts, action, requires physical prowess. In contrast, Neverland is not about action (aside from the stunts and the impressive throwing arm). Neverland is largely a thriller, almost approaching horror sometimes, and that’s a whole different ballgame. The obstacles our protagonists face are things that they cannot directly fight against or have no hope of winning against and rather than a power fantasy a lot of the time Neverland wants to make us feel powerless in the face of incomprehensible terror. To Neverland‘s credit it understands the kind of story it is and doesn’t confuse itself with action shounen fare. You all probably know an example of Hollywood confusing horror with killing zombies and creating a generic action-thing that fails to be compelling, or played a videogame that made the same error (Resident Evil, anyone?).
That’s not to say that Neverland is not without its share of flaws in the storytelling department. It is definitely very good at playing the thriller at times and skilled at building tension. But to what end? While Neverland knows full well it’s not that kind of shounen and its conflict is not about action, at times it doesn’t seem to know for sure what its conflict should be about. It builds a bunch of tension… and then what? Often, it simply dodges. Consider how little problem solving Emma actually has to do. Norman hands her a completed plan from beyond the ‘grave’. Most of the training for the escape, winning over all the children, and efforts to keep it all concealed from Isabella are done off-screen so Emma (and the audience) don’t have to experience the hardship of it. And even when finally Emma has to decide to leave the youngest children behind she doesn’t really have to grapple with the moral dilemma of potentially sacrificing them, instead framing it as trusting them to follow in her footsteps. Perhaps Neverland overindulges in the reveals and once in a while prioritises it over substance. Consider the cliffhangers that lead to nothing. Or consider this episode’s flashbacks to Isabella’s past, which was a perfectly good scene and does humanise her by drawing parallels to Emma, but in the end feels mostly there to justify Isabella being a good sport about having all she wrought destroyed. Even the reveal that Ray is her biological son doesn’t really add anything; Isabella was already a maternal figure and I can’t say this reveal really changes the way we see their relationship. Perhaps all of this will be used in a sequel, but judging only this anime on its merits (as we should) it feels like there was some measure of unused potential within the story and certain lack of ambition in places.
There certainly will be a sequel though, and Neverland deserves it. Overall, it was a pretty good show, and it being different from a lot of the usual fare certainly helps. I don’t know if I’ll want to blog any future instalments — you know how these Young Adult Fiction stories go — but I’ll definitely be watching with great interest.