“Those three are different, hunh? Norman is a genius who has the best brains. And Ray, an intellect who can compete against Norman’s genius. Emma has amazing athletic skills, and her learning ability allows her to stay close to the other two.”
–The Promised Neverland, Episode 1
It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the work of Naoko Yamada that flowers and flower language have their place in her latest film: Liz and the Blue Bird. For Yamada, flowers take the place of things left unsaid when people are unable to express their feelings for each other due to a physical disability (A Silent Voice), mental illnesses or internal fear (also A Silent Voice), societal expectations (her episode of Violet Evergarden), or myriad other reasons. When important context goes unsaid, Yamada frequently turns to flower language to do the emotional heavy lifting.
Her usage of flowers in Liz and the Blue Bird has a defter touch than A Silent Voice and Violet Evergarden‘s camellia princess. Many things go unsaid or unspoken between leads Mizore Yoroizuka and Nozomi Kasaki and Yamada wisely uses what unites them — music — to express most of them. Flowers create a secondary, background context, featured more prominently in the Liz and the Blue Bird storybook — used as another framing device for Mizore and Nozomi’s relationship — with a few flashes to real-life flowers at key moments between the two.
The ninth episode of The Promised Neverland opens with the shot above — reminiscent of a triptych painting that can be folded in three. With this frame, episode director and storyboarder Hiroki Itai immediately grounds the episode and all events that follow. After a surreal eighth episode that set us off-balance with dutch angles, a spinning camera, and cuts that chop up two concurrent scenes, presenting them as a unit, paneling and more straightforward direction centers Episode 9. This episode stands alone with it’s visual strength, but also builds on what came before it with an ever-evolving in-universe camera.
Since the series’ second episode, The Promised Neverland had settled into a pattern. Episode 8 broke that pattern, visually, aurally, and narratively.
The largest mystery of The Promised Neverland was solved once Emma and Norman learned the true nature of Grace Field House in the first episode, informing the viewing audience by extension. Once the mystery is solved, the story is driven by thrills and suspense — dozens of smaller mysteries and hints at an unknown outside world while characters are pitted against each other, forced to assume or approximate how much, or little, they know.
These gaps of information force the characters and the audience to assume or guess as to who knows what. In these gaps, The Promised Neverland shines. Minute details — even the in-universe flowers unique to this series — can be mined for information as can certain framing choices and lighting. This series is specific and directed in what it wants us to notice. Not everything is important but, like Emma, Norman, and even Ray, we don’t know the importance of certain facts or items and can be drawn towards things that aren’t as important through manipulation from Mom Isabella, Krone, or the series’ camera respectively.
Keeping all of this in mind, the series also gives us Phil.