The higher expectations the harder the landing – so it is for The Promised Neverland Season 2.
It is a pretty common phenomenon in any long running series that as the story progresses the narrative will begin to add in twists and turns that don’t always sit well with the audience. Characters will make decisions that don’t seem to align with who they were in the beginning, and ultimately only the die-hard fans will watch the entirety of the property. However, The Promised Neverland is only 2 seasons so there’s really no excuse for this mess.
Season one set up a sequel fantastically with the kids dramatically escaping from the farms and venturing forth into the unknown world for the very first time. A sequel was needed and unlike so many other season 2’s, they didn’t even have to contrive the next step of the journey because it was handed to them. What awaited the kids in the world and how would they survive.
With such a beautiful set-up gift-wrapped for season 2, even if they made the decision to deviate from source material and go anime original for reasons that many other bloggers have already discussed, they really could have made a very decent go of season 2.
Please note: there are spoilers here.
The first episode seemed to indicate that we would get another dark season with the kids facing a range of dangers and having to use their wits and skills to survive. It more or less gave me exactly what I was hoping for in the return to Neverland and that was a glimpse of the world surrounding the farm and seeing the kids now exposed to even greater dangers now that they weren’t protected (even if that protection was just so that they could be raised to a more delicious taste).
Very quickly though, The Promised Neverland Season 2 moved from psychological escape story to meandering journey through a forest making friends, to setting up camp in a bunker, being chased out of the bunker due to some kind of military invasion that was conveniently solved by a monster that seemed to specifically target the adults and all the kids managed to get away.
Then we transitioned to Emma going through some kind of depression as she realised that things weren’t going so great, to Norman conveniently showing up but now he’s all vengeful and unreasonable, to finally one of the most contrived and ridiculous plots to overthrow the powerful I’ve ever seen and idiotically it even worked. All of this in 11 episodes with little to no exploration of a single idea within.
If I focus in on the central three characters from season one we can see where a lot of the story went wrong. Emma was known for her endless optimism and can-do attitude but for a lot of season 2 she’s tired and grim, worn down by her responsibilities. It is a realistic transition for her character but not a welcome one. What’s worse is that the final episodes bounce her back to foolish optimism for no apparent reason and everything just kind of works out because it does.
Season 1 at least required a sacrifice of her ear in order to pull off the rescue she intended and the compromise of leaving the younger children in the farm. She couldn’t have everything. Whereas, the only condition season 2 places on her victory is the death of a character we didn’t care about in the slightest and even a slide-show backstory played seconds before his death wasn’t going to change that or make us care.
Ray also suffers in season 2 as he becomes simply Emma’s moral support. Gone are his own schemes and machinations as well as any of his snarky comments that really added a little bit of spice into the otherwise sickly sweet cast. Basically, he offers nothing of his own in this season. In almost every one of his scenes he is merely standing beside Emma. He rarely talks to anyone outside of Emma.
Everything about his character has been stripped away and he is just an Emma devotee who exists to progress her plans and encourage her. It’s a little sad for someone who was such a great character in season one.
And then we have Norman. Norman who was the smartest of them all who after being taken away has endured some horrible things however don’t expect to really ever get an understanding of what he was going through because a brief montage is all you’re ever going to get and yet we’re supposed to buy in to the fact that it was dramatic enough to be entirely character altering.
Before Norman was cautious and planned things out well. Now he’s rushing forward with a poorly thought out plan with limited chance of actually succeeding and he’s not even willing to listen to Emma-logic (which is always right because she’s Emma). Norman’s character makes some incredibly stupid decisions in this season before he ends up hugging and making up with Emma and Ray and then he just throws his lot in with the Emma fan-club and everyone is team Emma.
What a waste of two of the three main characters from the previous season who were both fantastically written characters once upon a time.
Other characters come and go throughout this season as Isabella gets revealed early on but then does nothing until the end and newcomers Mujika and Sonju are introduced but other than helping the kids little is done about giving them their own personality. Sonju briefly shows glimpses of who he is early on but in every future scene simply quietly helps out with whatever the kids request. The various other demons we meet along the way leave little impression and the laughably badly characterised Peter Ratri leaves an impression but it isn’t one that is particularly good for the series.
Visually and in terms of direction season 2 is a step backward in everyway to season one. Even the early episodes of season 2 made this clear with the odd angles and shot compositions used so well in season one of The Promised Neverland to create an atmosphere that was tense and unsettling being completely absent. Season 2 is almost entirely a series of talking heads and when you do get longer shot types they are straight on and direct.
No odd perspectives or cut-aways, no clever use of shadows or anything else to really add anything to the viewing experience. That said, we were outside of Grace Field Farm so maybe they were trying to establish a different tone for the broader world. But even giving the earlier episodes of The Promised Neverland Season 2 the benefit of the doubt, nothing is going to defend the final few episodes that almost forego actual animation using stills and pans to convey almost the entirety of the final conflict.
Even the mid-season episodes very much give us scene after scene of kids standing around with one person talking and barely animated with the other kids being completed still before we get a close-up of a frozen reaction expression. These conversations are long, circular, and repeated and there’s almost no animation taking place in these scenes. They are dull to watch and with little content to actually draw you in you can’t help but pay attention to how bland this season looks compared to its predecessor as well as just how little effort had seemingly gone into it.
So we have a plot that makes no sense and rushes us from sequence to sequence but gives us no reason to care about any of the events, characters who are no longer interesting and compelling but go through the motions anyway, and animation and direction that seems to just take the quickest option to get through this ‘story’ with the least amount of effort. It is all just a bit sad to watch unfold and really viewers who haven’t already jumped in to season 2 can just end with the escape from the farm.
Lots of stories do end with characters stepping out into the unknown and leave it the audience to figure out what is next. There’s no reason we can’t just pretend season 2 never happened. Some people will tell you to jump in and read the source but not every anime viewer wants to do that. Season 2 certainly didn’t encourage me to remain invested in this particularly property.
I will take one final swipe at the final plot the kids come up with. We see a preparation montage and then suddenly we have multiple fully functioning hot-air balloons (I can assure you that their preparations would not have logically achieved this), that they then navigate, in darkness, to multiple precise locations in order to launch their final assault. I can only assume that the writers have never actually watched a hot-air balloon or talked to anyone who has tried to navigate one because pretty sure untrained children pilots would have failed at this somewhat spectacularly.
Not to mention, part of their plan seemed to involve the enemies spearing the balloons so they crashed inside the farms but what would they have done if they’d downed the balloons over that huge ravine surrounding the entire complex? So much could have gone wrong here it defied belief. That by the end of the entire final conflict the balloons seem the least of the issues just kind of points out how insane and inept this story really got by the end.
I watched season 2 week to week with a friend of mine who I managed to get to watch season one because it was amazing. He takes a lot of convincing to watch an anime with me and usually we watch shows I’ve finished and can sell him on. He agreed to season 2 because of the strength of the first season and then progressively became more vocal in his disapproval of season 2 as it continued.
By the final episode we were both just raising our eye-brows and throwing up our hands and ultimately had abandoned any hope of The Promised Neverland actually delivering anything worthwhile in season 2. After I finish writing this review we’ve both agreed just to pretend season 2 didn’t happen.
Images used for review from: The Promised Neverland Season 2. Dir. M Kanbe. CloverWorks. 2021.
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