REVIEW: The Promised Neverland faithfully adapts popular manga for big screen

·4-min read
Naomi Watanabe and Keiko Kitagawa in The Promised Neverland. (Photo: Encore Films)
Naomi Watanabe and Keiko Kitagawa in The Promised Neverland. (Photo: Encore Films)

This article was updated after the movie release date was changed.

Rating: PG
Length: 119 minutes
Director: Yuichiro Hirakawa
Cast: Minami Hanabe, Rihito Itagaki, Kairi Jyo, Keiko Kitagawa
Language: Japanese with English and Chinese subtitles

Release date: 7 January 2020 (Singapore)

4 out of 5 stars

By Bryan Tan

Based on the successful manga that has sold 25 million copies worldwide, The Promised Neverland is a live-action adaption of the gripping prison-break series that has thrilled the hearts of otakus all around the world.

Minami Hamabe plays Emma, a bubbly and cheerful 11-year-old girl living in Grace Field House, a paradisiacal orphanage where orphaned children study, play, eat gourmet food and sleep in plush beds.

Along with the raven-haired Ray (Kairi Jyo) and soft-spoken Norman (Rihito Itagaki), Emma lives a carefree life as the eldest of 38 orphans, not knowing that there is a dark and sinister secret to the idyllic existence of Grace Field House and its chief matron, ‘’Mother’’ Isabella.

The orphans of Grace Field House have complete freedom of the House itself and its grounds, except for one rule: to not cross the fence that rings the outer grounds from the forest. Yet, Emma and Norman find themselves going past that fence when a fellow orphan Conny leaves her plush toy behind after receiving her adoption letters.

The two unsuspecting youngsters attempt to return Conny’s toy to her, only to find that she has been murdered in cold blood by hulking disfigured monsters; the stuff of nightmares.

To make matters worse, ‘’Mother’’ Isabella, the motherly matron that they both love and trust with their lives, is an underling of the monsters. She is the breeder in charge of the Grace Field House farm, a facility that rears young children to maturity for consumption of the monsters.

Emma and Norman are petrified and severely traumatised, yet they know they need to pretend everything is normal in order to plot their escape from their prison and under the nose of Isabella. They persuade Ray to believe the gruesome plot that they uncovered, and the three children plan silently to save all the orphans from Grace Field House.

Minami Hanabe, Rihito Itagaki, and Kairi Jyo in The Promised Neverland. (Photo: Encore Films)
Minami Hanabe, Rihito Itagaki, and Kairi Jyo in The Promised Neverland. (Photo: Encore Films)

What worked:

The Promised Neverland movie adaptation imitates its manga counterpart with great surgical precision; every twist and turn in the plot was followed religiously by director Yuichiro Hirakawa with very little creative deviation. It is perhaps the most respectful homage one can pay to a series that has succeeded superbly in the manga/anime world, standing in stark contrast to other live-action movies like Bleach or Death Note that have flopped miserably.

Rihito Itagaki played the gentle genius Norman brilliantly, delivering a stellar and dynamic portrayal of piercing intellect which surpassed even the cunning Ray and the House’s adults, along with a child’s adoring and innocent love for Emma.

Naomi Watanabe’s staring eyes and quirky idiosyncrasies stole the show. Playing the ambitious and power-hungry Sister Krone, she is sent to Grace Field House to assist Isabella, only to succumb to her cravings in wanting to become the next ‘’Mother’’ of the House, and betrays Isabella by being an accomplice to the children’s escape plans.

What didn’t:

Having to squeeze all 12 episodes of Promised Neverland’s first season of the anime into one movie unfortunately meant that a number of details were lost in transition or compromised.

The start of the movie felt too rushed, especially after the discovery of the House’s dark secret by Norman and Emma. Convincing Ray and the other older children needed time, particularly to show the changes of their attitudes from disbelief to horror, and to let the realisation that the beloved orphanage they lived in was actually a human farm for bloodthirsty monsters sink in.

Every good story needs a good villain, as I like to believe. ‘’Mother’’ Isabella’s story was sadly two-dimensional and glossed over, only getting some development towards the end. Keiko Kitagawa was not as deliberate in conveying Isabella’s minute changes in expression, as the Isabella in the anime would leak her true colours in key scenes to strike fear in the children, knowing that they were plotting behind her back to escape.

Verdict:

Despite my aversion towards live-action remakes which generally perform poorly, Promised Neverland nails the adaptation without making too many boo boos along the way. A perfect cinematic gift to end the year!