Emma, Norman, and Ray are three extremely intelligent orphans that share a happy and structured life at The Gracefield House along with 35 other kids. Their day starts off early, with Emma rousing the kids from their sleep and getting everyone ready for breakfast. We see Emma in the “house mom” role, helping younger kids with their shoelaces and generally caring for the other orphans.
At breakfast, we meet “Mom” – Isabella. With black hair, purple eyes, and a warm smile, Isabella tends to the kids with matronly patience and care. The kids all adore and revere her – especially Emma. Following breakfast, the kids are shown demonstrating their intellectual aptitude in a series of tests, which Emma, Norman, and Ray all pass with perfect scores. Despite their impressive intellect, Norman notes that Mom is still far superior as Emma agrees, recounting that they’ve never been able to beat her in chess.
The kids then engage in a game of tag on the large green fields and among the lush trees of the forest that surround Gracefield. Emma is best known for her athletic abilities, and so when Norman is “it”, he quickly knocks out most of the house with the exception of her. The two square off as Emma makes a daring leap over a crevasse to escape Norman. Just when she thinks she’s homefree, hiding out in the canopy of a tree, Norman feigns falling over and lures her out. “Your weakness is that you’re too kind.” he says.
The trio summarize their game of tag, and another round is played where everyone is “it” except for Norman. He seemingly disappears into the forest, with nobody able to find him until Emma accidentally stumbles upon the outer limits of the forest and notices him gazing at the low-level fence at the border. She tags him, and the other kids eventually catch up with them. There’s a discussion of what the “outside world” must be like, and the kids all take turns dreaming about that fated day when they’re adopted and finally leave Gracefield.
One of the younger kids, Conny, is actually being adopted that very day. After a day of play and fun, Conny bids a tearful farewell to her Gracefield family and is led away from the house by Isabella.
During cleanup, Emma comes across Conny’s beloved stuffed animal – “Little Bunny”. Knowing that she can’t possibly make the transition into her new foster home without her dearest friend, she takes Norman and attempts to return the doll to Conny.
The pair makes their way to a distant garage of sorts, where a truck lie waiting in the stone corridor. Emma assumes that if she leaves the bunny in the back of the truck that Conny will eventually find it, but when she goes to place it, she discovers a horrific scene.
Conny’s lifeless, gray body greets her as Emma staggers back in shock. She calls Norman over to confirm and he’s also shaken by the sight of their lifeless former sibling. As they’re attempting to make sense of it, they hear voices from another room and immediately go to hide under the truck. Horror begets horror as Emma gets a good look at these figures and discovers that they are honest-to-god monsters. She and Norman both struggle to muffle their screams of terror as the monsters discuss how the kids are being raised as high quality meat for rich and powerful monsters.
Emma wants to know where Mom is, and gets her heart-rending answer as a third monster calls on her by name to ensure that the delivery of the “high quality goods” goes off without incident. In a matter of moments, Emma and Norman’s entire world has been shattered, revealing the terrible truth of their lives.
They eventually escape from the corridor, running back to the house as Emma collapses with a mournful scream. That night, she and Norman are discussing what to do next when Norman suggests they should plan on escaping. Emma is reluctant, not wanting to leave the other kids there to die.
Norman assures her it comes down to strategy – much like tag and chess. Emma seems to be briefly comforted by the thought, as the episode concludes with Isabella holding Conny’s Little Bunny – seemingly recognizing that someone was sneaking around.
With its tense cat-and-mouse plot, great characters and a uniquely harrowing world, The Promised Neverland has been making some serious waves since the manga arrived in August of 2016. Of course, that only heightens the hype for the anime, which I’m happy to say met the majority of my own expectations.
Central to the success of The Promised Neverland is its central trio: Emma, Norman, and Ray. The three of them appear to be maintaining their characteristic traits in the opening episode, with the voice actors bringing to life Emma’s optimism, Norman’s calculating tone and Ray’s muted indifference (with a side of snark). The other children in the house are also getting a chance to make some early impressions – an impressive nod considering there are over 30 to capture.
One of the main plot elements that really stuck out is how the situation at Gracefield slowly transitioned from a general feeling of unease and distrust to confirming all of the readers worst fears, and then some. The slow descent into terror is executed very well in the opening episode, from the reflection on the low fences, to pondering just what exactly they’re being protected from. The climax in the garage was superb – the usage of silence, save the dripping of water from the ceiling, really helped to heighten the tension and dread.
The animation is largely solid, with the characters all being brought to life faithfully from a visual perspective. The main drawback is in some of the backgrounds, which are comparatively muted and unpolished in some cases.
The other thing that I’m a bit nervous about is losing context. The Promised Neverland uses a LOT of explication in its storytelling. While we don’t seem to be missing too much quite yet, I will be mindful of what the narrative appears to focus on vs. elements that it may have to cut out for the sake of time.
Overall, a great start to one of the most highly anticipated series of the season. It will definitely be on my weekly watch-list!
If you’re interested, you can check out our manga review of The Promised Neverland here!
The Promised Neverland - Episode 1
- The characters are true-to-form in making the transition to an animated format
- Great transition from happy-go-lucky to horrific
- The manga leans on a lot of explication, so the pacing may feel rushed comparatively
- Characters are vividly portrayed, but the backgrounds are underwhelming