Heaven's Design Team

Tagged: TV

Japanese animated tv series (2021). Original title Tenchi Sōzō Dezain-bu. Based on the Manga by Hebi-Zou, Tsuta Suzuki and Tarako. Asahi Production. Directed by Sōichi Masui. Written by Michiko Yokote. Voice cast includes Junya Enoki, Yumi Hara, Kazuhiko Inoue, Daisuke Kishio, Naomi Ōzora, Junichi Suwabe, Naoki Tatsuta, Ryota Takeuchi, Asuna Tomari and Yūichirō Umehara. Thirteen 24-minute episodes. Colour.

After the effort of forming heaven and earth, God (Tatsuta) found the job of creating the animals too tedious, "so he outsourced it" to Heaven's Design Team – essentially an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). The Team consists of: chief Tsuchiya (Inoue), inventor of the horse, and a little fixated on them; Kanamori (Kishio), a trans woman with a fondness for birds; Kimura (Umehara), who likes his creations to be edible; Meido (Ōzora) delights in the more horrific creatures (cradling a shark she remarks, "I've been thinking about a type where the babies cannibalize each other in the womb..."); Mizushima (Suwabe) considers himself an innovator and invented snakes; Unabara (Takeuchi) prefers the cute. Their Supervisor is the angel Ueda (Hara) and their link with God is novice angel Shimoda (Enoki). Though friends, the team are competitive – Mizushima's egg-eating snakes lead to Kanamori creating the Secretary Bird.

They find God is frustratingly vague and whimsical, typical requests being "make horses fly somehow" and asking for something "like a carnivore, but it's a herbivore" (resulting in bats and the Giant Panda respectively). Ideas are sent to the Prototype Lab, where the engineer Higuchi (Tomari) tests them for viability. Biological practicalities often mean designs change radically: resolving a giant gorilla's flaws means it ends up as an elephant. When God requests "an animal that can eat leaves that are really high up" the team's suggestions include a long-necked deer: Higuchi points out that it would die from cerebral anaemia, but after tinkering comes up with the Giraffe. Extinct animals are included too: God's acceptance of a doodle by Tsuchiya's grandson produces Hallucigenia – and, as befits the history of that creature's discovery, there is confusion over a smudge at one end, whilst the grandson points out that it is upside down. Higuchi uses Technology, building a Time in Reverse accelerator, as well as a Virtual Reality headset to allow users to immerse themselves in an animal society – Shimoda tries it with Naked Mole Rats, Neido's response to God's request for "animals that create the perfect society".

The setting recalls the Abrahamic Religions, though we learn God rides a Garuda; it also appears to be outside of time, though we are told Hell is a newly formed Division which also commissions work from the Team. Designs rejected by God include an Xenomorph XX121 (see Aliens) lookalike from the Alien franchise. The science is fairly rigorous: many problems arise from the square-cube law (see Great and Small), whilst a discussion on Invisibility explains why any fully invisible creature would be blind. It could be said that the team performs Intelligent Design (see Pseudoscience); Evolution is mentioned, usually reflected in competition between the designers over their respective creations, sometimes mirroring an evolutionary arms race.

The team are a sympathetic mix of personalities: their working through designs is the most entertaining part of the show, though the framing stories can be unmemorable. This is a likeable, amusing and educational series. [SP]

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