How Not to Start a Story: Heaven’s Design Team

The manga Heaven’s Design Team gets itself hyped with the blurb, “Does for zoology what Cells at Work! does for human biology.” I know this for a fact. It says so right on the back cover.

Except it doesn’t.

A lot of people like Cells at Work! and I’m one of them. It’s a neat story that’s well constructed and happens to have the hook that it relies on human biology to provide plot arcs, specifically that STUFF happens to the body and the cells respond as cells do. So we have red blood cells and white blood cells and platelets and T-cells and the whole gang, their biological function anthropomophisized. Anthropomophized? What ever. They are acted out by characters who look human, okay? That’s what I mean.

It has plot arcs and also a meta-plot, which involves Red Blood Cell overcoming her terrible sense of direction to become a contributing cell in the body.

What Heaven’s Design Team has is a similar attention to science, and that’s actually kind of cool. For instance, anyone who’s spent any amount of time around barnyard animals knows that horse biscuits and cow patties are very different in shape and texture. Did you know it’s because a horse’s digestive tract is much less efficient than a cow’s? I didn’t. That was a cool thing to learn about.

If you don’t know what I mean by biscuits and patties, they’re poop, okay?

The presumption of Heaven’s Design Team is that the crew is working on the fifth and sixth days of creation, right? You know what I mean:

“And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven … Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.” (Genesis I: 20, 24)

So the team goes out there are starts dreaming up all sorts of critters, some of them wild and some of them crazy, and they send them up to the Big Guy and they come back ACCEPTED or REJECTED.

And that’s the whole plot. Boom. No plot.

As for the team itself, it’s pretty faceless. There’s the guy who wants to put horns on everything (that’s where all the discussion of horse versus cow digestion comes from; you can’t put a horn on a horse because of its poor digestion whereas cows can have big ole horns … look up “longhorn steer” sometime), and the chick that wants to know which animals are tasty, and the new intern everyone has to explain stuff to, and the chick that always runs around in a sports bra and welder’s goggles, and …

The design team is so anonymous they get redesigned for the anime and no one knows

You know what they aren’t? Characters, because they have no character. Boom. No character, no characters.

The distinction between the two series is really pretty simple when you boil them down. In Cells at Work! the science is a hook, something that’s added onto the story of Red Blood Cell’s development as a character. She’s attractive and likable; you want to pull for her as she tries to learn her business. You root for Red Blood Cell.

And if you pick up some science it’s a bug, not a feature. Or perhaps “side-effect” is a better way to put.

It’s like the right way to use a story to teach: You make a good story and sneak the information in there.

But in Heaven’s Design Team the science is the feature and the story is the bug. There’s no story and the characters aren’t especially attractive; they just seem to be lining up to teach you a little more zoology.

That works if you’re interested in zoology. But if you’re not, it’s pretty pointless. Lacking a plot or distinctive characters, there’s no reason to keep reading if you don’t care about cow shit.

See it? It’s not like reading a story and learning something as you go along for the trip; it’s like going to a college classroom except with pictures.

And if you are interested in this stuff, I bet you can find a course on Coursera that’s cheaper than buying this manga.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

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