Heaven’s Design Team: God’s Blessing On This Wonderful Worldbuilding

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.  Then he outsourced the animal stuff.

That’s the Pratchett-esque premise of Heaven’s Design Team, an anime series based on a popular manga.   The story centers around Shimoda, a young angel assigned to relay God’s instructions to the titular Design Team.  Playing Metatron to a group of creative personalities ensnares our bean-bun loving protagonist in both office hijinks and hard-science explorations of how animals work.

It’s also a show that worldbuilders and writers should at least check out.

Creation Is A Double-Edged Comedy

The series episodes have a mostly familiar arc, but one that is varied enough to stay fresh.  Shimoda comes to the team with a vague request from God.  This request is relayed to a colorful group of beings named after the planets, each with their own specialties, obsessions, and neuroses.

The result is a fun, broad office comedy with some real-world teeth.  If you’ve ever worked on a complex creative project it will be more than familiar.  Prototypes fail, creative bickering ensure, and bright ideas burn out fast in the light of reality.  The likeable cast of characters is enjoyable, and the humor is refreshingly free from jokes about genders, sexual preferences, etc.

This office comedy part fuses seamlessly with hard biology.  The Design Team has to temper their enthusiasm as ideas run into real science issues and the advice of their engineering expert, Mars.  Brilliant ideas wither in the harsh light of reality, and when that reality is designing a surviving being, mistakes become painfully obvious.

This is where the show becomes something more than just a wacky comedy – and something for worldbuilders.

Weird Science, Weird People

Heaven’s Design Team’s first season is packed with many bits of great ideas falling apart due to biological truths, but the most illustrative is the team’s attempt to make a unicorn.  “Horse that fights with a horn” sounds good, but the various metabolic, psychological, and physical tradeoffs produce problems.  The final result is an aggressive idiotic beast with navigation problems – though it is salvaged to create the Narwhal, so cuddly-animal loving Neptune is thrilled.

The show is thus a spiritual cousin to Cells At Work, being both educational, funny, and using a given genre to explore science.  The continual theme of “how animals work” and “why some ideas are good and some not” takes it to another level – and it’s why any worldbuilder needs to give it a look.

Heaven’s Design Team covers many kinds of animals and animal traits, and manages to keep it fresh and interesting.  One episode explores reproductive habits, another is about dolphins, and a third sees goth queen of grossness Pluto creating a surprising animal from her requirements.  Though the show has a pattern it usually hews to, it’s an educational one that often surprises.

If you’re a worldbuilder, you’ll quickly get ideas of what to think about what to do, and what not to do.  Because the show is about trial, error, and prototypes, it’ll help you think about animal biology.  It’s not hard to imagine how the Design Team might respond to you playing God – and how your requests might go awry.

The Whole (Earth) Package

I can heap praise upon Heaven’s Design Team, but the end result is “if you like worldbuilding and office comedy, you’ll probably like this.”

Can I say it’s “good?”  To that, I would say “yes” for two reasons.

First, the show knows exactly what it wants to be – an office comedy about biology with a bit of supernatural humor.  The show reaches the goal it sets for itself.  One might say it’s “well designed.”

Secondly, the show has a sweet, genial nature, much like the angelic protagonist.  Characters may argue and snipe, characters have flaws and quirks, but there’s no bullying or cruelty.  Even when bird-loving Venus and snake-creating Mercury square off for obvious reasons, it’s rivalry not meanness.  It’s a pleasant watch.

If you like worldbuilding (or indeed just science, but I know my audience) check it out on Crunchyroll.  It might be a creation you appreciate.

Steven Savage

Crunchyroll Expo: Thoughts

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

So I attended some of Crunchyroll Expo, and wanted to share a few thoughts about the event. It’s actually pretty positive, though keep in mind I was mostly observing and wasn’t doing everything.

Still, what I saw impressed me – and gives me ideas for how we can manage cons in pandemic times. In fact, more on that later.

METAPHOR: In general there was an attempt to copy the feeing of a con – treating it like a city! That’s just pure metaphor, but it makes it memorable and relateable and fun.

Takeaway: Model your virtual con on physical space.

EVENTS: Pretty much every kind of con event was there, just often changed for the need to be virtual. Again, this preserved the metaphor and experience, and it made it accessible. Also I think people needed that sense of normalcy.

Takeaway: Find equivalent events for your virtual cons. Not always the same, but close.

MEDIA: There was streaming and videos and so on. Wisely, there was chat so people could, well, chat – while being on the page. Discord type stuff is nice, but I see the advantage of the embed (more on that later).

Takeaway: Combine streaming with accessible chat for the “con experience.”

PANELS AND SUCH: These used pretty much the same model – stream with a chat. But most panels were pre-recorded, which gave the presenters time to chat. I never realized until now how the pre-recorded appraoch works for audience contact.

Takeaway: Try pre-recorded events in your virtual environment, using chat for interaction.

SHOPPING: This was disappointing as it was mostly links to people’s profiles and some items. This is an area that needed to be rethought as it lacked the human contact. I think shopping at virtual cons needs to feel like the real thing, including chats with others and the store owner. Try to create a virtual artists alley or dealer’s room.

Takeaway: The fun of shopping and art at cons is the interaction. Try to get that with chat, people being available certain hours at their “table,” a good metaphor, etc.

Was it a success? Well, people came from all over, I saw great stuff, people had fun, and in the middle of a horrible pandemic. I also saw some clever use of metaphor and web layout.

So heck yes. There’s a lot to learn here.

Steven Savage