“It was for survival. Longer than anyone.”
-Mom Isabella, The Promised Neverland, Episode 12
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.
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.
Major spoilers for The Promised Neverland up to Episode 4.