The Spring 2023 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Heavenly Delusion ?
Community score: 4.4
How would you rate episode 2 of
Heavenly Delusion ?
Community score: 4.5
What is this?
Tokio lives with other children in a world surrounded by a beautiful wall, but one day he receives a message asking him if he wants to go outside. Meanwhile, a boy named Maru travels with an older woman, eking out a meager existence in a ruined world as they search for "paradise."
Heavenly Delusion / Tengoku Dai Makyō is a television anime adaptation of Masakazu Ishiguro's manga and streams on Hulu/Disney+ on Saturdays.
How was the first episode?
Now that's what I call a hook. Heavenly Delusion understands that less often is more when it comes to storytelling. If you can deliver just enough of a glimpse into a strange, broken world and populate it with likeable characters that you're interested to learn more about, you'll accomplish more in just a few minutes than you ever could with an entire season's worth of exposition dumps
It certainly doesn't hurt that Heavenly Delusion is positively stunning on a technical level, and for reasons that go beyond the lush character animation and sumptuous environmental art. The direction here is just top notch, with strong storyboards and supremely confident editing creating a palpable sense of place in the post-apocalyptic setting that Maru and his “Sis” scavenge through, as well as the mysterious sterile “school.” The premiere strikes a wonderful balance between being melancholic, intriguing, and occasionally even downright terrifying.
I honestly don't have any real complaints about this episode. That said, the downside to Heavenly Delusion's approach is that it is so fully devoted to crafting tantalizing hooks that it doesn't leave a lot of room for us to get emotionally engaged. I am curious to learn more about Maru and his bodyguard, especially with that scary-ass bird-thing knocking at their door, but I'm not especially attached to them yet. The same goes double for the kids who live in the walled-off facility, who exist more as mysterious puzzle pieces with supernatural powers to exploit than full characters, as of yet.
That said, I have no doubts whatsoever that Heavenly Delusion will be one of the star performers of the season. For as much as I've enjoyed the sinful glut of deliriously cute soul candy that this spring season has offered up so far, I'm in dire need of something bleaker and meaner to sink my teeth into between all of the sugar rushes, and Heavenly Delusion looks like it will get the job done just fine.
Watching this first episode of Heavenly Delusion (listed under its Japanese title of Tengoku Dai Makyō on Disney+), I was immediately reminded of the classic Japanese work: BLAME! Sure, the cyberpunk trappings are gone, but the setup is largely identical. We have a post-apocalyptic world where humans are constantly hunted and often live on the edge of starvation. Enter our hero, a skilled fighter searching through the ruins of civilization armed with a tiny yet insanely powerful laser pistol with limited ammo. So, yeah. It's BLAME!, but let me be clear, that's not a bad thing.
In this episode alone, this setup allows us to explore four different groups existing in this ruined world. Kiruko and Maru are travelers on a mission to find “heaven” without really knowing what they are looking for. They both seem to be from a city where a society of humans still exists. Then we meet the gang of middle-aged men living in the ruins of an abandoned town. Low on supplies and unable to truly adapt to a world so different from the one they once lived in, they are cowardly bandits. Then we have the woman working at a roadside inn that is mysteriously still in decent working order despite the monsters roaming the land and the societal collapse. And finally, we have a walled-off school containing children with special gifts—be they physical or mental. This all makes for some great world-building, and it permeates the story with excellent air of mystery as well.
The mystery is likewise bolstered by the fact it feels like there is some deliberate directorial trickery going on. As the walled school is completely covered by a dome, it's impossible to get a sense of place and time. Therefore, there's no guarantee that the events happening inside the walled school are happening at the same time as Kiruko and Maru's adventure. Heck, given that Maru and Tokio have the same face, there's even a chance that Maru and/or Kiruko might be some of the students we see on screen.
All in all, this is a rather solid first episode. We get enough of Kiruko and Maru to like them as characters, and the world is just filled with one intriguing mystery after another. I'll definitely be coming back for more of this show next week.
Something I appreciate about this premiere is that it has no intention of explaining itself. There's no narration to direct your attention, no exposition dumps, and no tells about which details are important. It just lays out its story, full of mysteries and big questions, trusting you'll be interested enough to keep following and putting the pieces together.
That makes for an engaging viewing experience, but it also makes the episode challenging to discuss in concrete detail. From this premiere, I could tell you there was some kind of apocalypse that happened at least 15 years prior. Our two main characters (?) are traveling to some nebulous destination known only as “Heaven” that even they don't understand entirely. They have a laser gun and use it to fight monsters that, I presume, are connected to the apocalypse. There's also a school that keeps a bunch of kids in an enclosed facility, who wear identical uniforms and are tutored by robots. One of the kids appears to be psychic, while another looks identical to a character from the other half of the plot. It's unclear what these similarities mean, and whether these two storylines are unfolding simultaneously. Many of those details are interesting and spark curiosity, but I couldn't tell you what they mean or where they might be going.
What I can say with some certainty is that I like our lead characters. Kiruko and Maru make a fun pair of wasteland travelers, with a genuinely friendly rapport without ever getting annoying. I like how they use their wits during their brief fight with the attempted muggers, pulling a triple bluff with their laser gun to not only pump the guys for information but also recharge the gun under their noses. You'd think a road trip through the abandoned ruins of modern society would be depressing, but the two have such a laidback attitude that feels inviting. There's some weird stuff like Kiruko seemingly trying to kiss her reflection, but even that builds into the mysterious tone of the premiere.
What also helps the tone is the fantastic direction and animation. The rounded, almost blobby character designs take a bit to get used to. But they work surprisingly well against the detailed dystopian backgrounds. The brief action scenes are fluid and fast, and there's some impressive 3D camera movement to sell the scope of it all. We only see one monster design in this episode, but just the close-up of that weird bird monster's headless stump face was enough to guarantee I'll be back for more. That thing is gross in the best possible way.
The one hangup I have is that, with so much left up in the air about what this show is, it's hard to give a full recommendation. Building a story around a ton of mystery boxes is a good way to start a show, but it often leads to meandering plotting and unsatisfying conclusions. I'd like to think that won't be the case here, but it certainly wouldn't be the first ambitious sci-fi anime to trip over its own feet.
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