Content considerations: Animal death and consumption (the animals technically aren’t real, for what it’s worth); a few cleavage-heavy outfits; mild scatological humor and slapstick.
What’s it about? In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth… and then he got tired and outsourced animal creation to a design firm. Join Shimoda, the new liaison between God and the design team, as he gets to know his new coworkers and the many weird and wonderful critters they create.
Heaven’s Design Team is one of my favorite currently running manga. It’s an imaginative, good-hearted edutainment series with endearing characters who care about each other, fun (and gross) (and horrifying) animals, and just a dash of weirdness for flavor. Also, it does a great job normalizing gender diversity and I wrote a whole article about it and everything. It’s Very Good, is my point.
Even so, I worried about how this Very Good Manga would fare in the transition to anime. Could they capture the offbeat sense of humor? The charm of the cast? How would the episodic structure fare in half-hour format? Most importantly: would they totally faceplant in their handling of Kanamori (a.k.a. Venus), a trans woman whom the manga depicts with nonchalant acceptance?
One episode in, and I’d say this adaptation is doing… pretty good? Yeah. Pretty good feels like a fair assessment.
This premiere is divided into three “sketches” focusing on different commissions from The Big Guy Upstairs, with each following newcomer Shimoda as he gets to know different members of the design team. In between each sketch is a True Facts Animal Corner, where chibi versions of the characters tell us about one of the animals we saw in the prior sketch.
It’s a clever way to both break up the sketches and preserve the educational segments of the manga, although it does have the side effect of making the show feel like three shorts stitched together instead of a full-length episode. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but I can’t shake the feeling the series would have been better served as 10- or 15-minute short.
Production-wise, it’s bright and colorful to match the overall tone, with a lot of attention going into expressive faces (both human and animal). The animation and storyboards are more “workmanlike” than “inspired,” but there is some excellent timing on the physical comedy at points, as prototype animals collapse in a heap, gobble each other up, or shoot out manure with a “rat-a-tat” sound effect of exaggerated glee.
The other thing I appreciate about this premiere’s approach to humor is that it quickly establishes that nothing we’re watching is, strictly speaking, “real.” The animals are all prototypes and the characters are all immortal, so Kimura (and his mug of beer) can get cartoonishly flattened by a glyptodon and hop right back up, ready to go. It gives the series room to goof around with designer disasters without it feeling mean-spirited or cruel, which goes a long way towards making this a fun, light comedy.
As far as the characters go, I have some, er… issues regarding Kanamori. Mostly, this one: Hey, Anime Industry, please cast openly trans and genderqueer actors to play trans and genderqueer characters! Kanamori refers to herself using the hyper-feminine pronoun “atashi,” every English translation uses “she/her” pronouns, and later manga chapters expressly show her using the women’s bath. This isn’t subtext or interpretation—she is canonically a trans woman, so why is she being voiced by a man?
Kishio Daisuke isn’t even going Full Queer Stereotype (he leans into exaggerated femme and masc speech patterns when Kanamori gets emotional, but overall he’s playing the role with relative restraint), but the fact that he was cast at all still rubbed me the wrong way. It feels like a meta-narrative denial of her gender, and is especially irritating given the chill and affirming nature of the manga. My sincerest hope is that, if the show ever gets an English dub, they’ll fix this mistake by casting a trans woman to play her.
I was honestly surprised at how much a completely unsurprising casting decision irked me, but here we are. Combined with the anime playing up Kanamori’s penchant for dramatics, I’d be throwing a yellow flag if I didn’t know that the manga overall writes her character quite well. For now, I’ll trust that the source material will triumph and Kanamori’s depiction will even out as it goes. (It’s also worth noting that Vrai felt a bit more resigned to it than I did, so your mileage will vary here).
Beyond that, there’s not much to warn AniFem readers about other than that the female characters wear some cleavage-heavy outfits. There’s no jiggle physics and the camera never ogles, so it’s not fanservice exactly, but your eyes may roll a bit, especially at Higuchi’s tiny black bra poking out of her jumpsuit. (That said, she’s also a cool engineer who slings back beers and brats, so I’m willing to look past the questionable costuming decision here.)
I’m a little sad that I wasn’t completely heads-over-heels with this premiere, but don’t take that to mean Heaven’s Design Team isn’t worth your time. Assuming the anime sticks to the source material, this should be a funny, charming workplace comedy with likable characters, casual gender diversity, and some truly buck-wild animal facts. The anime hasn’t won my heart like the manga did just yet, but I’m definitely sticking around to give it a chance.