Adapted from Masakazu Ishiguro’s thought-provoking manga, Disney+’s Tengoku Daimakyo (‘Heavenly Delusion’) is a fascinating and atmospheric new anime that constantly leaves its viewers guessing. The story begins with Tokio and Mimihime, two children who have lived their entire lives on the compound of their idyllic school. Staffed by robot teachers (alongside a few adults) and protected by a wall, their pristine and pastoral environment houses a number of carefree, seemingly superpowered kids whose biggest worries involve pop quizzes.
This is juxtaposed with life outside the wall, where we follow Maru and Kiruko, two teens trekking through the decaying ruins of post-apocalyptic Japan. An unknown calamity, referred to as “The Collapse”, has wiped out most of humanity, leaving the few people left struggling to survive. To make matters worse, the disaster also birthed horrifying man-eating creatures called Hiruko that terrorise the wasteland. The world is a hellscape, which is why the wandering pair are looking for a place called “Heaven” – presumably alluding to the school behind the wall.
Oscillating between these two contrasting perspectives, the anime does a fantastic job of building intrigue on both sides. It introduces a whole lot of questions: what exactly is the school, what happened to the world outside, why do some people possess supernatural abilities, and what are these monsters? Perhaps the biggest mystery of all involves the striking resemblance between two protagonists – why does Maru look like an older version of Tokio?
Tengoku Daimakyo wisely avoids clunky exposition dumps, instead choosing to dole out bits of information organically through visual details or implications from conversations between characters. Though little has been revealed so far, the anime gives away just enough to keep your mind racing. In lieu of answers pushing the plot forward, Tengoku Daimakyo is much more focused on the human element. Akin to The Leftovers or Station Eleven, the how and why of the dystopia is less important than exploring how various people cope – emotionally, physically and psychologically – under extreme circumstances.
Much of the anime is rather slice-of-life, as we watch Maru and Kiruko’s journey. But it’s through their travels that we learn more about the duo and how the world outside functions. When they encounter strangers, we’re able to glean clues about “The Collapse” through discussions, and learn about the different ways humans cope with hardship.
If there is a weak spot in the series thus far, it’s that events inside the school are much less riveting than those outside the wall. Hopefully Tokio and Mimihime’s story becomes more compelling but for now, Maru and Kiruko’s adventures are what will keep you enthralled. Aided by Production I.G’s outstanding work in translating the manga, this beautifully animated series also has plenty of Ghibli-esque visual flair to match its slow-burning mystery and strong character work.
Naturally, a puzzle box show like this – which demands a lot of attention and investment – can be ruined if its endgame reveals disappoint (see Lost), so there’s always a chance Tengoku Daimakyo can go off the rails in the future. But just based on how captivating and sophisticated the anime’s set-up has been in its first two episodes, we’re more than willing to believe in this heavenly delusion for the time being.
Tengoku Daimakyo premieres on Disney+ on April 1, 2023.