I dislike reviewing manga series when they haven’t finished; more often than not, how all the parts end up tied up together influences my view of the entire story. There are quite a few manga series that I follow and love but that haven’t ended yet, like Dungeon Meshi, Kaiju No. 8, Boy’s Abyss, Chi no Wadachi, etc. However, a week ago I came across the most intriguing manga in a good while, Tengoku Daimakyō (the title apparently translates to Heavenly Delusion), which has “only” reached chapter 55 (such series tend to end at about chapter 100), but that I’ve been looking forward to sit down and continue discovering what it has to offer.
This story is an odd mix of the Fallout series of games and The Last of Us (the first game, not the TV series, and certainly not the second game). We follow two storylines. In the first one, a bunch of kids are living in a controlled environment designed to raise them in a certain way while isolating them them from the outside world. The kids are tended to by AI, as well as by shady adults who seem to be guided by a cult-like drive to create a “heaven on earth,” where people won’t be discriminated in any way. You quickly realize that these kids slash test subjects have been manipulated genetically to whatever extent, and some of the most interesting scenes of that storyline involve children being unable to comprehend how utterly nuts their environment is; they are unfazed when they come across babies that look like alien squids, because that’s how human babies look like as far as they know. One of the children mingling with the rest straight up looks like an alien. We are only given a bit more information than the children, because we follow some of the adults that handle the operation. In general, the whole deal works like a Fallout vault.
The main storyline involves a twenty-year-old redheaded bodyguard who wears a cool jacket, and the fifteen-year-old kid for whom she’s working. They live in the post-apocalyptic ruins of Japan after some cataclysm destroyed a world that had achieved artificial general intelligence. Enough time has passed that the newest generations don’t even care how things ended up this bad. Anyway, for unknown reasons, disturbing monsters with superpowers are roaming the place, which has prevented human beings from establishing lasting settlements.
The aforementioned redhead, who is the main protagonist of this tale, was offered work by a sick young woman who promptly died, but not before bequeathing the redhead a ray gun along with the task of accompanying the fifteen-year-old kid to locate a place called Heaven, where someone who shares a face with the kid will need to receive an injection of a mysterious medicine. Our main couple sets off together to explore a ruined Japan. The redheaded girl also intends to locate the two people she remembers from before a monster attack landed her in a hospital bed for about a year.
The anime adaptation has already been produced. Here’s the trailer:
Troublingly enough, though, it has been picked up in the US by Disney Plus. This is a casually hardcore series that involves regular nudity, murder, The Thing-like grossness, a thirteen-year-old prostitute/hotel tycoon, rape, child rape, and such. There’s thematic stuff that Western fiction wouldn’t touch with a teen foot pole; for example, one of the settlements that the main couple comes across is controlled by a group of female supremacists that cut off women’s breasts if they are deemed too big, that kill any older men they come across, but capture attractive young men (and kids) to keep them as “seed pigs”. I have to assume that the anime, which I’ve barely started watching, must have been toned down significantly, which would be a shame.
All in all, fantastic worldbuilding, very detailed landscapes of a post-apocalyptic Japan, natural-sounding dialogue, cool fight scenes, and a narrative that gets sadder and more tragic the longer it runs. The only downside for me, quite minor in comparison, is that a couple of “evil” characters come across a bit over the top. Anyway, check Tengoku Daimakyō out. Or don’t. Do whatever you want.
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