In a show filled with man-eating demons, you’d think that the more mundane aspects of The Promised Neverland might get overshadowed, but the series never fails to put a human face upon its horror elements. One of these elements is Isabella, the acting mother of Grace Field House, an orphanage that, at the start of the show, plays host to 38 children.
In her character introduction, Isabella is shown to be empathetic, kind, overwhelmingly intelligent and a nurturing force for the children who spend their days being tested or playing as they wait for the day when they will be fostered by a new family.
Moving past Episode 1 of the anime, however, it's revealed that all is not as it seems; the tranquil orphanage is not a sanctuary for children but rather, a fully functioning farm dedicated to the raising and harvesting of human meat. This discovery comes with the equally damaging betrayal of their mother, who actively consorts with the demons in exchange for her own survival and murders their peers once she’s determined they’ve reached maturity. A character such as this should be easy to hate, and yet, the show does an excellent job of giving the audience an objective and even sympathetic view of her as a character by detailing her backstory; how she came to be the person her children would know her to be.
Isabella's Arc Parallels Emma's
Emma, our spunky, optimistic main character is fiercely loyal to her family and perhaps the most affected by the betrayal of her home. Though Ray and Norman are typically the masterminds behind their various plans, Emma’s impressive athletic abilities and charisma are a large part of the driving force that propels the escape effort, even in the face of overwhelming adversity. These character traits are ones shared by her adoptive mother, whose story has very similar beginnings. Like Emma, Isabella was athletic and sharp, adored her adoptive family and had an introverted best friend who would soon be tragically separated from her. Both uncovered the secret of their orphanage too soon, leading to a spell of despair after realizing the fates of their friends.
Where their stories diverge however is the friends they had left to them. Even through the loss of Norman, Emma still had Ray, Don, Gilda and Phil to rely upon and maintain her desire for escape. Emma’s character motivations stem chiefly from her family; her desire to defend them and find a better world where they can live freely. Isabella then functions as a grim possibility for Emma’s future had she either lost or never had that family that she fights for, making her character particularly painful in its familiarity.
Isabella is Rational
Cheesy one-dimensional villains are cheap in their horror as they offer no real emotional impact on viewers, save for a sense of disgust at their evil proclivities. Isabella offers more depth of character than your average fictional serial killer out on a hunt simply for the sake of a script. Instead, her existence as a mother forced to slaughter the children she raises is as reprehensible as it is sad.
Upon discovering the fate that befell her friends, which promised to claim her as well, Isabella determined that she would rather live as a human who could not be eaten by the demons rather than die in passive submission in service to a regime she could not dismantle. Throughout the arduous process of becoming a mother, she kept the memory of her family alive, stubbornly surviving despite being forced to aid the very system she was born into.
She had none of Emma’s luck in being raised alongside equally intelligent friends committed to discovering a means of escape, or in stumbling across the fateful pen which would navigate them throughout the unknown outer world. The choice presented to her at a very young age was an unforgivably cruel one with no realistic alternative other than survival or death. This makes her existence uncomfortably chilling to the audience because it's quite possible that they might choose the same thing in her situation.
Isabella Genuinely Cares About the Kids
Despite the tragic end each of the children who come into her care meet, Isabella was never needlessly cruel to her children. Isabella worked hard to nurture them, acting as a genuine mother figure to each of the children she raised. In her eyes, the kindest life the cattle children could ever have required them to be kept ignorantly happy for the short time they would be alive; lives that would end quickly so that they would suffer as little as possible.
Shipping out Norman and breaking Emma’s leg were likely symptoms of this desire -- attempts to quell any hope of escape that to her seemed purposeless and ultimately torturous. Isabella’s final acts in the escape arc -- wrapping up the sheets her children had escaped with and wishing them good luck -- are indicative of the real love she held for the children she had raised, watching them strike out into the outside world she would never be able to join in. Horrific acts with a sympathetic impetus.