In the battle between quiet and loud in Japanese animation, loud almost always wins. It’s the bombast and spectacle that keeps generations of people coming back time and again to anime television series or movies. The loud is often more memorable, especially when it comes to raw animation sequences that stick with fans for years.
Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s sexless and totalitarian setting that ultimately results in war, torture, and betrayal along with the rewriting of history is the most well-referenced dystopian media — phrases from George Orwell’s novel like thoughtcrime or Big Brother are now common English phrases — but I’ve always personally been of the opinion that Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World has a more accurate and easier method. The people in Huxley’s world are kept in line not by fear and violence, but endlessly distracted into compliance by drugs, sex, and entertainment.
One of the problems I often have with dystopian settings in anime (or any media) is a lack of in-universe consistency. Many anime series try an Orwellian model and fail to pay enough attention to detail to have it logistically make sense (last year’s Darling in the Franxx) while becoming distracted by introducing plot points at random (Guilty Crown). In other series, the dystopian setting is merely window-dressing for something else entirely (AKB0048, Shimoneta). The last hard dystopian anime that really impressed me was From the New World, which employed a similar model to Brave New World but focused on humans developing psychic powers as opposed to rampant capitalism and technology.
The Promised Neverland has similar echoes of Brave New World to keep the so-called orphans of Grace Field House from questioning their future or existence by keeping them happy, healthy, and entertained. They’re placed in a situation where they are fed good food, receive attention from a loving “Mom,” and after they finish their necessary tests, they can play tag or other games on the orphanage’s expansive lawn and forest. The only request that is asked of them is that they don’t pass a fence that circles the house or a large gate, both of which are said to be protecting them.
Less than a year after ONE’s popular manga One Punch Man was adapted into an animated television series, his other webcomic, Mob Psycho 100 debuted to similar thunderous online applause, especially in sakuga circles. The through line between the two was not only the same original creator and artist in ONE, but spectacular animation from rising and veteran animation talents.
One Punch Man left me cold, despite spectacular animation sequences. I’ve been known to watch entire anime series because of visuals — cinematography and lighting more than the, for lack of a better word, raw mechanical talent of animation — but I abandoned One Punch Man a third of the way through its run while it was airing and have yet to finish it. On the periphery of my own perception of the series was rising discussion pitting visuals against emotional narrative — One Punch Man was rife with captivating animation but this didn’t overcome the fairly dull story of Saitama was a common sentiment.
The discussion was revisited a year later, this time with Mob Psycho 100 at the forefront.
Like One Punch Man, Mob Psycho 100 was chock full of animation talent with sequences that captivated me. But personally, Mob Psycho 100‘s first episode also didn’t resonate with me, despite recognizing the sheer effort, audacity, and talent on display — Miyo Sato’s painting on glass in particular. So I dropped it.
Anime series don’t have a camera in the traditional sense, which means that they can get away with shots that would be impossible, or at least require extraordinary effort, in live-action filmmaking.
The Promised Neverland cleverly stays grounded, choosing shots that would be possible for a film camera. Reminiscent of other suspenseful action-adventure series like Made In Abyss, The Promised Neverland makes full use of this grounded camera, framing, and lighting to play with our expectations as viewers while heightening the tension, fear, and distrust expressed by the series’ three leads in Emma, Norman, and Ray.