The question I keep circling back to as I write this review is one that fans of any medium will have wrestled with at one point or another: Is it worse for bad art to make you feel actively upset with its failures, or for it to evoke no emotional response whatsoever?
The Promised Neverland was once my favorite anime of recent years. It is not, anymore. While the first season remains, in my opinion, an excellently crafted fantasy thriller, this second season has not only failed to live up to the first in every conceivable way, it has ruined my enthusiasm for the franchise as a whole. I was planning on going back to the manga to finish it out, when all was said and done with the anime, so I could better understand the changes and compromises that this botched adaptation, but you know what? I'm just not feeling it, anymore. “Episode 11” of TPN's final season should have left me positively howling with indignation and frustration, for reasons that will become obvious as I continue, but right off the bat, I don't feel much of anything all, having finished it. Besides, perhaps, the same dull throb of disappointment that has been setting in ever since the season really fell off the rails around its third or fourth episode.
Honestly, in order to be angry, there would have to be something of substance for me to be angry with, but if last week's debacle didn't already make it clear, “Episode 11” simply has nothing left to give. It is utterly bereft of any dramatic tension, any narrative consequence, of anything that might be of discernable value to its viewers. It merely stands against the wall like a man condemned, going through the final motions of its story with grim resignation as it waits for the inevitable rifle crack that will end its suffering once and for all.
For starters, this episode can barely be described as having been “animated”, since I would guess that fully half of it consists either of literal slide-show sequences, or of such limited animation that there is nothing to be had in pointing it out. Given that woes that have plagued CloverWorks' other (infinitely more successful) production of the season, Wonder Egg Priority, it seems pretty clear to me that Promised Neverland went through some kind of disastrous behind-the-scenes drama (and I'm sure COVID didn't make things any easier). The manga's art was always more expressive and vivid than the anime's, and the only thing that allowed the show to succeed in spite of that was the cinematic quality of its direction and visuals. Not here, though. I don't want to belittle the efforts of the almost certainly underpaid and overwork staff that managed to bring TPN to the finish line, but I do have to point out how whatever meager dramatic potential this ending once possessed would never have survived such a flat and lifeless presentation.
Then again, this is not a script that could have ever really worked as an ending to The Promised Neverland's story, no matter how pretty it looked. It isn't even really an ending; rather, these final twenty minutes are very obviously the mangled remains of an entirely missing final act that have been desperately patched together at the very last minute. Functionally, it is indistinguishable from having someone try to recite the wiki summaries of the manga's final chapters to you from memory, and that scenario might actually be preferable to this, since your one friend probably won't need hundreds of thousands of dollars and who-knows-how-many hours' worth of exploitative labor practices in order to get the job done.
Take the entire first third of the episode, for instance, which has Peter Ratri monologuing about his motivations for being a malignant bastard of a man to all of the children he's murdered and experimented on. Yoshimasa Hosoya gives it his all with his performance, which is admirable, but the sequence is literally pointless. The man has gotten maybe five minutes worth of screentime, total, and all of it has painted Ratri as a cartoonish megalomaniac. You can't slap three minutes worth of force-fed character development on there after the fact and expect it to stick. Also, even if the show wasn't set to end in ten minutes, Ratri commits suicide right in front of the kids immediately after delivering his spiel. Mama and her squad of Murder Moms are armed to the teeth with machine guns just a couple of feet away. I would have preferred it if they'd just put a bullet in Ratri last week and saved everyone the wasted time.
Speaking of Isabella, I sure hope you weren't hoping for the show to explore her character arc in any interesting way. She starts to tell the kids something about needing to stay behind in the demon world to atone for the sin of murdering dozens of children in cold blood, but Ray stops her with the closest thing this season has gotten to giving him something to do. He tells her to grow the hell up and come live in the human world with them, because they all forgive her and yadda yadda. Remember how Ray is actually Isabella's biological son, and they have this incredibly fraught emotional connection that has been twisted by years of manipulation and—
Wait. Nevermind, the show was done with that scene a couple of minutes ago…so, I guess I should tell you how the kids go about finding the door, opening it, and living the rest of their lives happily in the human world, then? Alright, I'll give it my best shot:
The kids go about find the door, open it, and live the rest of their lives happily in the human world.
No, I'm not rushing through anything to try and get this review done sooner. That's literally all there is to it. There's a door. The kids open it. They go through. They're in New York City, for some reason. Then there's a big slide-show montage of them all just…doing stuff. Wearing normal clothes. Going to school. And so on.
Well, there is one more blank for the show to fill in, and it is in this final story beat that The Promised Neverland well and truly stops giving a shit. You see, while most of the kids join Isabella in the human world, the main trio of Emma, Norman, and Ray stay behind, along with Norman's posse, and Mujika. Emma has made a “new promise” to save all of the other kids that were probably going to be murdered and eaten by the demon holdouts, which is fine, I guess, but the show could have just faded to white and left those final adventures up to the imagination of the fans. It would have at least functioned as a commercial for the manga, in that case.
But no, instead TPN just throws in another slide-show montage of Emma and Co. doing…stuff. Outside of one blink-and-you'll miss it introduction of demon royalty that never get referred to again, there is absolutely no context for anything that happens in these last pictures, and I'm not going to read a dozen manga chapters just to write this review, so don't ask me what happens. There's some floaty demon kid with a dragon, Mujika gets some kind of coronation, and then maybe ends up falling in love with Emma? I don't fucking know. Whatever happened, it can't have been all that interesting, because Emma and Co. make it back to the Big Apple after a few years, in any case. The end, but for real this time. Roll credits.
To answer the question I raised in the beginning, I have become increasingly convinced that terrible art is better when it really swings for the fences of terribleness, no matter how much it pisses people off. That, at least, can inspire discussion, creative analysis, entertaining rants, and drunken hate-watches with friends. The Promised Neverland falls squarely into the category of a failure that only manages to bore and disappoint. Outside of permanently tainting the series' legacy, I imagine this season will be willfully written out of anime fandom's collective memory before the week is up, and that might be for the best. I will give “Episode 11” this, however: It gives the distinct impression that there is no grieving fan in the world that wanted this season to be buried and forgotten more than The Promised Neverland itself.
In that respect, I suppose this finale did at least one thing right, after all.