The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
Heaven's Design Team
What's It About?Angel Shimoda is excited about his new job assignment in heaven: liaison between God Almighty and the Heavenly Creative Agency's Design Department, which focuses on the creation of Earth's creatures. The colorful personalities he meets there are the brains behind animals everywhere, everything from the biggest whale to the smallest frog.
However, their work is never done and God not only wants to see what they have to offer, but He also has a number of peculiar requests for them to fulfill in their next designs. On the team is a designer who focuses a little too heartily on each animal's taste, a senior designer who's obsessed with his lauded horse, an expert in making the creatures as grotesque as possible, a pacifist who wants to give his creations the ultimate defenses, an epic rivalry between the bird and snake specialists, and a harried engineer who brings all the designs to life. Between these personalities, the design department always keeps Shimoda on his toes.
Heaven's Design Team volume 1 (5/8/2018) is an original manga written by Tsuta Suzuki and Hebi-Zou and illustrated by Tarako. It is currently a digital-first series released by Kodansha Comics available for $10.99 on comiXology.
Is It Worth Reading?Amy McNulty
Heaven's Design Team has, on paper, a very limited hook: God outsourced animal creation, and the design team creates new creatures from scratch or to accommodate their “client”'s requests. However, within that narrow confine, this manga manages to entertain and even educate with a bevy of interesting characters and a slew of comedy. True, the design team members are fairly one-note—they certainly have no life on the page outside of their angel duties on this creative team—but half the time, that contributes to the joke. Saturn in particular being obsessed with his acclaimed horse design and trying to build off it for every design he proposes thereafter is a riot, as is innocent-looking Pluto's obsession with sexual reproduction and every grotesque aspect of the animal kingdom imaginable. Mars, the engineer who “builds” some of their animal designs, is another standout, a more practical angel not afraid to tell of the dreamers when their designs don't make sense. However, Shimoda, the new recruit who acquiesces to any request, perhaps doesn't leave much of a mark, even if he's the angel “everyman” the reader meets this team through.
Laughs are abundant in this manga—and it becomes sort of a game to see if you can guess which animal the team is creating based on the (often bizarre) ideas they come up with to put into the creature. It may not be the most realistic depiction of animal creation—the “board room” in heaven aside, there's also fact that they're still designing some animals long after other creatures that existed after or concurrently to it already exist. There are some brief references to prehistoric creatures, but not many, and there's the fact that most of the angels wear modern, human clothes. In fact, it's somewhat jarring they don't even mention humanity at all. However, this comedy is not held back by its faith in readers to leave all logic at the door.
Tarako's character designs are all distinct from one another (even if all are not the most original), ensuring each character is easily recognizable at a glance. The artist's mastery at facial expressions proves especially essential to the comedy. Tarako is also skilled at capturing the animal creations, as their comparison to photos of the creatures at the end of each chapter can attest. The backgrounds are noticeably scarce, except when the angels take their designs to “test locations” that resemble natural habitats, but the lack of details doesn't hinder the proceedings.
Heaven's Design Team volume 1 is a weird manga that has no business being this good, but it's easily one of the funniest manga I've read in a while. The repetitiveness of the central hook may prove too much for some readers, but anyone looking for a laugh should pick up this first volume. You may even learn a bit about the bizarre “design choices” in the actual animal kingdom while you're at it.
Have you ever looked at an animal and just thought, “why?” If so, this book is for you. Heaven's Design Team operates on a similar principle to Cells at Work in that it takes a science and turns it into a goofy manga concept – basically what Cells at Work does for human biology, Heaven's Design Team does for zoology. It's still middle-school level stuff, but it really makes animal biology a lot of fun, and the idea of a special group of heavenly beings taking animal requests from God and then just pitching ideas at him is really kind of awesome.
The nature of this particular beast does mean that there isn't an ongoing story. Each chapter focuses on the same core group of Roman-named beings (I guess they're demi-gods?) as they try to out-innovate each other and come up with animals that best meet the client's request. They're monitored by two angels who use telepathy to convey the designs back to God, and then the animals are either approved and sent to Earth or resigned to heaven's dustbin. Some of the requests are pretty basic, like asking for an animal with a long tongue and small mouth (anteaters and armadillos both come into existence), while others are weirdly complex and want cute yet horrifying creatures, which is where koalas come from. Occasionally the design team will just throw something together for kicks, which is either adorable or terrifying – one member is creepily obsessed with animals' penises. (I guess we know who to blame for ducks…) That everyone has their own preferences is a nice touch as well – one guy is so over-the-top fixated on the fact that he created horses that he keeps trying to throw them into every single request. If you've ever wondered why Pegasus isn't a real animal, Heaven's Design Team has you covered.
From an educational perspective, this is actually quite good. Each chapter ends with an overview of the actual animals designed within it, with the basic zoological categories it fits into, measurements, and habitat, as well as a small photograph next to the illustrator's picture of it. It isn't too terribly in-depth, about the right level for an interested sixth grader to grasp, and it drives home the message that yes, these are all real animals. The art is fairly realistic overall, with few manga concessions made, largely because they really aren't needed to emphasize how interesting the animals themselves are. The characters' dialogue carries the humor well enough that no major exaggerations are needed – this is a book whose concept sells itself. It's also the kind of manga I would have eaten up as a ten-year-old (and now, obviously), so if you know an animal enthusiast with an e-reader, you've got the next present you need right here.
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