The Promised (Never)land: a Thrilling Plan of Salvation

I’m happy to introduce Gaheret, our newest writer! You may have seen him haunting our comment section, but now you’ll see much more of him and insight on Beneath the Tangles. The eldest of ten siblings who are all avid readers, Gaheret is a is a Catholic lawyer from Spain, too tall for Robin already but not serious enough for Batman yet. Interested in heroism, wonder, hope and Christ, he looks for them from the realms of Philosophy and Theology to the Arthurian cycle, Dostoyevski, and comics. He discovered anime after University much to his joy, mostly through Beneath the Tangles. Besides here, you can also find him writing on his website (in Spanish).

A happy childhood in a household by the countryside. A somewhat separated world. Loving parents, being the eldest of many siblings, new ones joyfully looked forward to and then received into the family where we watched them grow, good grades in class, a lot of books, small adventures exploring the forest not far from the house, and interesting conversations about people, deductions and discoveries, the past and the future with other kids as the sun sets. And then, as adulthood is approaching, the horror: the monsters. The parallels and coincidences are many, so it´s no wonder that I saw a lot of myself as a kid in the special children of The Promised Neverland (2019), a clever thriller with no less clever child protagonists dealing with themes of horror, family, love, and survival. My ordinary life back then had a lot in common with that of Emma, Norman, and Ray. That may be what has helped me to see, step by step, that my current life is not too removed from it either.

I´m pretty sure I’ve never enjoyed an anime as much as this one: it has so much in it of the shows I enjoy most, from the strong feeling of place in Haibane Renmei to the childhood/adulthood themes of Erased to the moral clarity in convoluted circumstances and hope against all hope of Now and then, here and there. But more than that, as I was watching it and meditating about the themes, I found so many parallels to my Catholic faith and my own life with God from childhood on that I can say it helped me to look at it with fresh eyes in a way few works of fiction, anime or not, have. It works perfectly without adding the considerations I´m gonna make, as a thriller epic. I´m not a manga reader, so please refrain from spoilers in the comments: also, I´m going to freely discuss the twists and turns of the first season (not to mention my own life): spoilers ahead.

I hope my first paragraph has managed to capture a glimpse of the powerful and Edenic attraction of that place, the House, an orphanage of sorts where sons and daughters live and grow as siblings, as there is usually something Edenic in a childhood with loving parents. The story conveys it in various ways, and maybe the most striking is the color symbology: From the opening, The Promised Neverland uses white and red to symbolize innocence and blood, so even the white clothes are reminiscent of the original nakedness of Genesis, which evokes the same idea. A world arising from unconditional love and deep union, image of the union of the Holy Trinity, worth exploring, powerful and stable, for us to grow with others and develop our unique talents while hoping for a future of wonders unseen.

And yet, something feels off. There are books, symbols, and pieces of the past here and there, and they point to something that has been lost. Some things are missing; some have changed. I believe this is a universal experience: Even as children, we tend to know there is a gap between the law we discover in our hearts and some aspects of reality, even if we don´t mind at first. Growing in a mostly post-Christian Spain was the specific form this uncanny feeling took in my case. The Cathedral of Leon is full of light and color much like the Temple of the Bible, but why was it almost empty, while the Temple was full of pilgrims? How come that so few people knew about Christian wisdom outside of my family and the books, while almost everyone in, say, a Dickens novel knew about Grace and Providence? And then the day comes when you meet face to face with something powerful and dark, and discover with shock and utter horror that there is something in this world, close to you, that could devour and destroy you and those you love.

Monsters who devour children are the primal symbol of evil in children tales, and one cannot but feel a primal fear seeing them. While the models of the monsters are predators in Nature, I believe that much like Christ warns us to be afraid not of those that kill the body, but of those who kill the soul, every fear, even physical, is an echo of the true fear that monsters symbolize: being destroyed by turning myself into a monster voluntarily, and for it to happen to the people I know and love. Sin, after all, is the worst of evils and the source of all the rest. To discover in your own darkness and that of others that this is a very real possibility, and to see the immense power of that darkness both in yourself and in the world with its “prince,” is a shocking experience. For me, a first shock was the sudden loss of faith of my entire class at school when we turned twelve (funnily enough). Suddenly they left God behind without a second thought, as if he were Santa, and all at once started behaving in ways I knew to be seriously wrong. The second was the dark and disturbing reality of my own sins. Even the good things, while remaining good, are tainted and compromised as you become more aware. The sins of the people we had previously trusted and the suffering and the death of the innocent in this world are perhaps the strongest signs of this reality. Norman and Emma suffer both at once.

Much as when Adam and Eve hide after the Fall and make excuses, or Cain suddenly fears a world of murderers even if he is the first, the worldly logic created by sin sucks us into it through our wounds and the wounds of the world. The passions, the animal wants and fears, have become disordered as a result. Even psychologically, when confronted with these signs of evil, we tend to lose hope in the goodness of the world. There is nothing more natural than than trying to survive at all costs, even disregarding others, and thus Norman first did as much. It feels like this is just what the world is. Other possible reactions are forgetting about that, go along with the crowd, and trying to live a superficial life, focusing on developing your abilities so as to remake your world, or a part of it at your own image (I´m looking at you, Ray, and to Lelouch Lamperouge), or build an armor and retreat into something not so far from the infamous eight-grade syndrome, as I myself did with the likes of Hikigaya Hachiman, or focus on recreating, Utena-like, the external circumstances of the time when we were happy, or running for just one bit of power, satisfaction, or pleasure that seems to be within our reach, becoming increasingly cynical about everything else. So, when Emma rejected all that and said, “I don´t want anybody else of my precious family to die!” instead, I felt a true bolt of hope. It strongly resonated with me, and here´s why.

A thrilling plan of salvation in the everyday world, born from a love strong and pure enough not to exclude anyone, humble, down-to-Earth, clever, difficult and wise but also full of simplicity and open to all (for everyone has a role in it), motivated by the desire to save, for everyone to live—does that sound familiar? “I don´t want anybody else of my precious family to die!” For me, it´s kind of an echo both of the “so that you may live” of the Deuteronomy, and the “I have come that they may have life” of Our Lord. To give us life, not a few or even many years more, but a new kind of life which destroys death for us and others. To save us. Of course, as a Christian, I knew and I prayed that people would be saved, and tried to help, to spread the Gospel, to live in charity. But perhaps my heart hadn´t felt with such intensity and hope that He really wants us, each of us, to live, to escape sin and eternal death, to be with Him, to bring us to a better house, a better land which we know a little because it resembles the first. Or more accurately, because the first resembles it: the first Jerusalem and the new Jerusalem. He cares about the rest of our sorrows, our needs and our hurts, and helps, as He did in Palestine, but he wants the endgame: We are under the shadow of death, and he wants us to live.

And how does he attract us to this plan? He promises us a new land; he promised it to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Moses and the Israelites, to the prophets and the exiled and to David, to Our Lady and to Joseph, to the Apostles. It had everything they could dream of and more: It had Him. He promised the patriarchs a people which will be theirs and without number, to Moses a free land in which to live in justice, to the prophets a Messiah and a new kind of kingdom, to David the eternity of his house, and to the Apostles that they would become fishers of men. He also gave them signs of hope, among them the deliverance from various sufferings and the earthly land of Israel. Much like this, Emma and Norman guide the rest to the Promised Neverland, and Emma´s love and their own past becomes a sign of hope for how they will live there. As all those who were called by the Lord, something has to be left behind, and the road forward is full of danger and uncertainty. The “follow me, and I´ll show you something cool” also felt hopeful, and very similar to the “come and you will see” of the Gospel: Reject the story of revenge and death you have thought for yourself, become a sibling for a lot of brothers and sisters, help and be helped in the way to the Promised Land. Or leave the things you deem riches and come for something new: I call you; follow me. It has always been the same for me: God has convinced me again and again that there is something incredible at the other side, something that includes me, Him, and His precious family, and all which is good, yet goes deeper than I can perceive now. Even as I stray, sin, and fall again and again, I continue to turn back to Him, because, like Peter, I know somehow that only Christ has words of eternal life.

The fact that some people we love are revealed to be servants of the enemy, yet they are included in the plan, and how both Mama and Sister are saved, was easily what made the show jump from really good to great, as the thorough defeat of utilitarian logic by a logic which doesn´t lose any of its cleverness or its strength, but gives them its true meaning instead. Ray and Norman were similar, but Norman was converted to love by his love of Emma. The way this loving, hard hope isgradually given to everyone as a call to serve the rest, come to be part of the sometimes mysterious plan under the authority of the elders and give the best of your peculiar abilities was very like the Church, and the mutual love of Emma and Norman, innocent and childlike as it was, recalled the words of St. Paul about marriage being similar to how Christ sacrifices Himself for the Church. A child is a great symbol of how we are to be before God, and these children are as innocent as doves and as shrewd as serpents. Trumping the logic of the world of adults, demons, utilitarianism, and Ray, and freeing the villains from it, was a great thing to see. How they become a sign for each other, loving everyone, yet being prudent and humble about what they can do (Emma´s decision towards the smaller ones) made me want to be stronger, wiser, and more loving myself, which I think it´s the very purpose of epic stories.

The Christlike sacrifice of Norman for the sake of Emma, the rest and especially Ray, to bring him out of the pit of darkness he got himself into, and the Shawshank Redemption way it is presented—darkness, violence, death of the beloved and the innocent, everything seems lost, then we discover it was all part of the plan—makes it even more compelling and more parallel with the Gospel: Is the same thing the Disciples experienced in the Passion, what Joseph and Mary didn’t understand at the Temple, and what we don´t understand every time we meet the Cross. Suffering is a mystery, and the plenitude of suffering, the biggest mystery. And yet, beyond our understanding, Christ has met us there and is fighting for us. The loving yet decisive goodbye of Emma to the House and to Mama was also memorable and unique: She truly has rejected hate and embraced all the good there was in the house, even when following the hopeful path and leaving. Jesus loved the Temple, even if it needed to be set of fire, and Israel. Is easy to hate those who harm us, the enemy, a natural impulse: We forget the menacing Mama is a wounded child too, one of the family, another lost sheep. But as Christians, we know Christ sees them also as the lost sheep, and fights for them too. Even during the Passion, He is praying for the last one of His executioners, working for their salvation. At His last moments, he fights for the soul of those crucified with Him. And Mama, at least, is converted.

The post-death Norman (whatever it may happen in the future) who walked for a moment at the side of Ray and Emma, made them feel his presence, caused them to remember his words, and disappeared again behaved very much like Christ does now (only He is alive and acts). Ray, redeemed from his path of revenge, letting go the sword, strengthening others as he was, and occupying his place with his limitations, is much like Simon Peter. He is the father of the orphaned flock, and Emma is the mother, as Mary, and like her she is the closer friend of Norman, and they walk with his spirit to the Promised Neverland. The family is divided in two, as Israel from the Church, yet will be united, as St. Paul tells us with passionate love. And the last scene, “This is our first day,” with the sun coming up in a world without our old certainties, dangerous but hopeful, was very like us experimenting with the fruits of Resurrection: The new danger and the new life begin here.

The Promised Neverland can be streamed on Crunchyroll.

 

5 thoughts on “The Promised (Never)land: a Thrilling Plan of Salvation

  1. I’m trying not to spoil you, but oh man, if you’ve gotten all this just from the first arc, then you will absolutely love what’s coming next in the manga.

  2. Great post! I got lost a few times on your points, but overall I enjoyed the comparison of seeing a new light after Ray and Emma left the house. Mama being converted was a good description, I felt the same way after they left. She should have gone with them, that would have been an interesting plot twist!

    Just like you mentioned, when we receive Christ, we are leaving the old behind and entering into the new life He has given us. We are new creatures, the old is past and we can see His will and desire for us more clearly. Living for Christ is the clearest way to see life, to see through the mess like Emma did and find hope and a future. To me, that’s been my experience. God bless, bendiciones, y que la gloria de Dios cubre Espana con Su presencia.

  3. Thank you, Samuru! Especially about Spain. Day after day, I cannot but see that we need to return to God, and to feel wonder again in God´s glory.

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