Friday, March 1, 2024

Anime Impact: Heaven’s Design Team excels with trans representation and education

Heaven’s Design Team isn’t something I would usually watch – usually I’m more of an “I need to have heartbreaking deaths in anime” kind of watcher, but I wanted to try something new. Surprisingly, it felt like I left the series holding hands with my inner child.

Originally a manga started in 2017, Tenchi Sōzō Dezain-bu, or in English Heaven’s Design Team, was created by writers Hebi-Zou and Tsuta Suzuki (Merry Checker, A Strange and Mystifying Story) and illustrator Tarako. Heaven’s Design Team puts you face to face with Shimoda and Uena, two angels working for God, working alongside a top-notch design team consisting of 7 members, Venus (also called Kanamori), Jupiter (Kimura), Mars (Higuchi), Neptune (Unabara), Mercury (Mizushima), Saturn (Tsuchiya), and Neptune (Meido). Together the angels and designers have to come up with animals to put on Earth, but only if they fit God’s liking.

I initially watched Heaven’s Design Team when YouTuber TransLesRubyVA discussed Venus, a trans character in the main cast of the show, in her anime round-up last year. While the show never explicitly says that Venus is trans, people willing to look outside of the cis-gendered binary can see that she’s trans. Ruby opened up about her experience coming out, and how she related to a scene where Venus talked about the little details of her appearance that made her feel like herself. Ruby shared that she felt the same way during her transition, in her video she says “clothes, makeup, having long hair –  they were all important ways to show off who I truly was inside.” 

So, with Ruby’s words about Venus and trans representation in mind, I decided to give the anime a try. And she was right, Venus gives great characterization for the anime’s trans audience. With media still being guilty of continuing to throw dangerous views about transgender people, it’s great to come across a show with someone like Venus working alongside God’s angels, and living her dream creating beautiful animals to live on Earth. 

But that wasn’t the only noteworthy thing about this anime. The anime takes each episode on a long guessing game –  think “Who’s That Pokemon?” but with real-life animals, and instead of having five seconds to guess what the mysterious shape might be, you’ll have about 12 minutes of clues on where they live, what they eat, what they look like, etc. before they introduce what animal the design team created. The animation is very high quality, and the coloring choices on every character are so pleasing to look at, – it was no surprise that I binged this show in a day.

Heaven's Design Team
Twice the crab, twice the fun!

But what I loved the most about Heaven’s Design Team is that it brought me back to my innocent days of edutainment – a medium that combines both education and entertainment and is usually targeted toward children. Magic School Bus, Zoboomafoo, and The Most Extreme were pinnacle shows I enjoyed as a kid, not knowing I was feeding my brain with knowledge during my watch. While I have documentaries on Netflix, and lengthy video essays on YouTube – they always have some sparkle missing that makes these kid shows so fun to watch. Heaven’s Design Team was able to bring back that same experience to my current life. I knew going in that this show was going to talk about “God’s creations” through the lens of a freelance design team. However, I didn’t realize that it would bring back the same sparkly feelings of thinking hard about what animal the design team could be making, and getting it right. After a few episodes full of laughs and yelling at my screen, I forgot I was watching this for a review. I finished the anime’s season wanting more, and was tempted to look up old episodes of Zoboomafoo to keep up with my animal learning.

This series was a pleasurable light watch, from my connecting my inner child, the great trans representation, to the beautiful animation and eye-catching coloring. I absolutely recommend it to bring up those winter blues folks might be feeling around this time of year. 

You can watch Heaven’s Design Team now on Crunchyroll.

Anime Impact is a column from Monti Velez that looks at anime from a queer and critical perspective.

Monti Velez

Monti Velez is a Latinx writer and editor for Uppercut Crit. She covers issues within the industry, indie games, and more. In her free time, Monti likes uploading silly pictures of her dog and yelling about KPop, which you can find on Twitter @friedmonti