It’s angel Shimoda’s first day on his new assignment – as liaison officer between Heaven’s Design Team and God. With more experienced angel Ueda to show him the ropes, the new hire is eager to do his best. God, having created the Heavens and the Earth, has outsourced the huge task of creating the animals to populate Earth to the Heavenly Creative Agency’s Design Department. The designers are all very enthusiastic (maybe too enthusiastic?) about their work, as in the case of Head of Department Mr. Saturn who devised the horse and now only creates horse-based creatures or Ms. Pluto who seems somewhat over-obsessed with the unusual genitalia of her inventions. And when the Heavenly Client’s requests tend to be a little vague (‘An animal that can eat leaves that are high up off the ground’) there’s far too much room for all kinds of crazy flights of fancy. Mr. Neptune, for example, suggests a long-necked deer – with a neck ten metres long and off the two angels go to the Prototype Lab where engineer Mars is quick to demonstrate the physical impossibilities that would ensue. Other modifications are swiftly suggested (extra long legs, but then it couldn’t drink etc. etc.) until a compromise is reached and the first giraffe gets the divine stamp of approval!
Mr. Saturn’s horse obsession leads to the creation of the unicorn – but constantly encounters problems with its horn, in spite of many modifications. In the end, to Mr. Saturn’s bitter disappointment, the unicorn is rejected – but the horn… And it’s not all hard work in the office or the lab, as newbie Shimoda discovers: trips to Trial Island mean a grand day out at the beach for the team, a working holiday, swimsuits and all!
By the end of this volume, we’ve learned about a wide variety of creatures, big and small, in The Encyclopaedia of Real Animals which follows every chapter, filled with fascinating facts and black-and-white photographs: ‘• Giraffe • Red-eyed tree frog • Koala • Horsehair worm • Armadillo • Anteater • Sea cucumber • American red deer • Fiddler crab • Narwhal • Sperm whale • Giant squid • Seahorse… and many more!’
Heaven’s Design Team is a genuinely fun read – and it’s educational as well, only not too much so, the writers very sensibly reserving the main bulk of information for the separate section at the end of every chapter and not cluttering up the story with too many info-dumps. The creative energy of the design team is infectious; the reader, like angel Shimoda, is drawn in to the fast and furious activity, eager to see what new creatures are being dreamed up – and then having to deal with the hilariously unanticipated//unintended consequences. The publisher offers the following details on the team of three who create the manga:
‘Hebi-Zou is a part-time lecturer at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and has written four manga series that educate with a twist, including Do Not Try This and The Japanese That Japanese Don’t Know. Tsuta Suzuki is a writer of comedic manga and dojinshi. Heaven’s Design Team is their first manga to be released in English. After debuting in 2012 with Aki the Dreamer, in 2017, Tarako started drawing Heaven’s Design Team.’
Tsuta Suzuki is also an acclaimed BL mangaka, translated into several languages, and probably best known in the West for seven-volume urban fantasy A Strange and Mystifying Story published by SuBLime.
It seems from the three 4-koma at the end of the volume, one for each of the three creators, explaining how ‘HDT’ was created. Hebi-Zou and Tsuta Suzuki dreamed up the idea (Hebi-Zou concentrating on the factual side, Tsuta Suzuki on the characters) then they brought in Tarako to do the art and draw all the animals. The translation for Kodansha Comics (and what a massive task this must be!) is by JM Iitomi Crandall who pulls off the feat extremely well, from all the animal facts to the lively arguments among the designers who are so passionate about their work. Kodansha have given us the first four pages of the manga in good quality colour, as well as a two-page black-and-white introduction to the cast of characters at the beginning to get things off to a good start.
Nice little imaginative touches in the artwork by relative newcomer Tarako distinguish the angels from the designers by giving them shirt collars that look a little like feathers (and we glimpse a little wing motif on the back of Shimoda’s suit jacket and on his notebook) but in every other respect, they resemble contemporary office workers.
There’s a TV anime series of coming in 2021 – and in this version the design team have Japanese names which don’t as, far as I can tell, correspond to the Japanese planet names, whereas here the engineer and the designers are named after the Western planets: Saturn; Mars; Venus; Jupiter, Mercury; Pluto etc. Having not been able to check with the original manga so far, I can’t comment as to why this might be. If you’re keen on digital manga, you might have read this before as Kodansha Comics have been issuing this series as part of the ‘Digital First’ line since 2018 and have reached Volume 5 so far; Volume 2 of the print version is due in early December 2020.
If you’re interested in all kinds of creatures, you’ll be attracted to this for the factual side as well as the underlying story – but if you’re just looking for a new manga series, this fast-moving, funny and imaginative re-working of the creation myth is definitely recommended!
Read a free extract at the publisher’s website here.