“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He followed them with light, waters, and the land. Then he created the many animals that would inhabit it.
Or… that was the plan.”
So begins each of the first two episodes (possibly every episode? we’ll see) of Heaven’s Design Team (shortened to TenDeBu from the original Japanese title, Tenchi Souzou Design-bu).
As with most anime series, unless they’re sequels to something I’ve already seen, I usually see the show first, then read the manga/light novels if I’m interested. So, other than the general synopsis, and the fact that it was a comedy, I knew nothing about TenDeBu going into it. The quote and image above provide the setup — God’s decided it’s too much effort to do all that design, so he’s having this design team come up with ideas for the animals, which he’ll accept or reject. The series then follows the team as they come up with designs, hashing out the details, reviewing the “prototypes,” and attempting to fix the flaws in order to get their designs accepted by God.
We begin the series as our semi-everyman and POV character, Shimoda, is introduced to the team. Shimoda (voiced by Enoki Junya, the voice of Yuzaki Nasa in last season’s fantastic TONIKAWA, as well as voicing characters in Cells at Work: Code BLACK and So I’m a Spider, So What? this season) is not himself a designer, but is here to be God’s conduit to the designers for requests and whether a design is rejected or approved. And this leads me to my first question — are these designers angels, or what? Shimoda seemingly has small angel wings on the back of his suit, but none of the designers seem to.
Setting that aside (as I presume under “Rule of Funny” it’s never going to be clearly answered), Shimoda is introduced by the busty Ueda (who I guess is another angel/conduit?) to the various members of the design team: Tsuchiya, the chief, who’s a little like Douglas Adams’ Slartibartfast — he designed the horse back in the day, and he liked it so much and it was such a big hit, that everything he now tries is a variation on the horse; Unabara, seemingly the typical Big Guy Who Actually Likes Cute Things; Meido (voiced by fan favorite Oozora Naomi), the Girl Who Designs The Creepy Stuff (like the poison dart frog); Kimura, who’s all about taste-testing his designs (on the BBQ); Kanamori the female(?)-but-androgynous-looking designer, and Mizushima (the latter two whose design specialties I haven’t quite ‘gotten’ yet, although both did have designs featured in episode 1). The team is supported by Higuchi (the Gruff But Sexy Engineer/Mechanic), who puts together the prototypes of the designs. Episode 2 also introduced us to “Mushi-bu”, the identical team that runs the insect lab.
So right off, we can see that we’re running with some “wacky” individuals here. Shimoda appears to be setup as the anxious everyman / Only Sane Man who has to deal with this group. Time will tell if he’ll manage to remain above the insanity, or whether he’ll eventually be absorbed into it.
Based on some of the specific jokes so far, it also seems likely that one or both of the writers have had some experience with the outsourcing / contracting / for-client work environment:
The designers sometimes receive briefs (delivered via Shimoda or Ueda) for things like “cute, but not cute,” and sometimes we just see them working on designs on their own — Episode 2 featured Tsuchiya’s troubles with trying to make a practical unicorn, for example.
Other times, some of the designers will spend perhaps half of their design time in a back-and-forth struggle to have their animal design come out on top of another’s, giving us for example a battle between Meido and Unabara (that takes place on the Galapagos Islands, the design team’s “testing grounds”) that produces both the giant squid *and* the sperm whale (both designs accepted by God).
One of the most interesting parts of the show is, that other than some of the obvious failures (such as the afore-mentioned unicorn, or various prototypes that weren’t quite ready), ALL of the eventually-accepted designs ARE in fact real creatures.
And the show uses 2–3 short little chibi-style “info” breaks to give us more facts about the actual creatures that were developed.
And even the “failures” are somewhat based on science — for instance, Tsuchiya’s unicorns keep failing because the horn takes too much calcium, and they collapse from osteoporosis. So, I certainly appreciate that for a screwball comedy, they actually tried to at least ground the designs, and their accepted/rejected status, in reality. But Kratts’ Creatures, this is not. (I think I just dated myself with that reference. Oh well.)
I did want to address a comment I saw online, complaining that TenDeBu was somehow some sort of “Creationist propaganda.” Honestly, I didn’t get that feel at all. It seems fairly obviously in the same well-worn vein as various jokes about God talking to the angels about random animals he’s creating just to mess with mankind (you’ve probably seen the ones; for instance, I’ve seen multiple variations get passed around Facebook at different times), but combined with the opportunity to a) have your typical Wacky Ensemble Cast along with b) slipping in plenty of jokes about the issues of being a team doing outsourced work for a client. I mean, if I were to pick an American comparison, it feels a lot like Dilbert but with less boss jokes.
Overall, I’d say that Heaven’s Design Team is (so far) a nice, enjoyable little show that’s worth watching. It has the feel of a comedy that’s mostly going to be “by the numbers,” but it’s been well executed so far, and the grounding in real biology at least offers up something I haven’t seen much of outside of Cells at Work. Also, they’ve already covered koalas, and if the ending song (oh yeah, both the opening and ending are catchy little numbers, which is a must for any good comedy) is any indication, we’re gonna get to penguins too at some point, so I definitely plan to keep on watching just for that.
This article is part of a series where my fellow AniTAY authors and I offer our thoughts on the shows that caught our eye from the Winter 2021 season. Check out some of our previous entries below, and stay tuned for more!
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