Season aired: Spring 2023
Number of episodes: 13
Watched on: Hulu
Translated by: Annie Chen
Genres: Science Fiction, Drama, Adventure, Action
Content Warning: this article briefly discusses certain triggering content within the anime itself, such as sexual assault and rape.
Thoughts: Tengoku Daimakyou had bad odds for me to enjoy it. As a general consumer of most types of media, there are still certain genres I don’t click with. Those include science fiction, horror, post-apocalypse, and sports. Yet, despite the fact that Tengoku Daimakyou finds itself in two of my most-disliked genres, it won me over with its ability to weave plot points together in clever ways while exploring humanity in such a broken world – with the exception of the arc in the final two episodes.
Tengoku Daimakyou follows two separate storylines that are inexplicably tied in mysterious ways. On one hand, we have the traveling duo of Kiruko and Maru. They are searching for “heaven” but have no idea where it is or what it even entails. Throughout their journey, they encounter friends and foes and question their place in a post-apocalyptic world. On the other hand, we have a school of children who possess strange abilities and who are kept in a walled institution with no knowledge of the outside world. They’re under the watchful eye of adults who may or may not have their best interests in mind. As we watch, we begin to understand how these two different storylines relate to each other in this dangerous world.
What sold me about this show more than anything is its commitment to showing the humanity within such a terrible world. Most of the time, I dislike science fiction and post-apocalyptic stories because I think they tend to be far more interested in showing the world and how it’s so different from the modern world while ignoring the actual people. In Tengoku Daimakyou’s case, the story is heavily character-driven by taking an episodic approach, providing opportunities to show the world without sacrificing the humans who live in it, despite containing things like technological advancements and strange man-eating monsters.
This was expertly done by incredible episode direction, showing consistent yet differing styles to illustrate the unique stories as the characters discover more about their world. While some viewers complained about the shifts in visual storytelling, I think the shifts show the atmosphere, motivation, and purpose that each arc the anime covers.
However, no matter how good of a direction the series has, it cannot remove the stain of the final two episodes. This is by no fault of the anime – the conflict that arises comes straight from the manga, and having read it myself, I think the anime did a better job than the manga when it came to handling the subject matter and placing more nuance and delicacy to an incredibly triggering subject. The bigger problem lies in that it happened at all. For those considering picking up this series, know that the anime does show one of the characters getting raped in a twist that truly feels out of left field, and was completely unnecessary, in order to confront a lingering question that hangs over the characters’ heads throughout their journey.
This egregious story choice especially hurts because prior to the last two episodes, the anime was practically perfect in pacing and story. Despite characters constantly coming and going due to the nature of the world, the series is expert at making you connect with them deeply. Two characters introduced in a single episode, one of which is no longer capable of fully communicating, hurt my heart so badly that I couldn’t stop thinking about them for the entire week. Another two episodes that focused on a small group of people haunted me. Their decisions had a strong cause-and-effect that led to a shocking end, where I was left pondering who was right and wrong or if there was ever a solution in the first place.
They managed all this without sacrificing a bit of action. Tengoku Daimakyou has absolutely thrilling fight sequences that seem to come straight out of a live-action movie. The music picks up, the screen tightens, and you’re holding your breath, wondering how the characters are going to win and get out of the situation. Sometimes, the action sequences are peppered with humor, and even those moments feel perfectly blended in the situation.
The series is carried by its strong commitment to showing rather than telling, and because of its success, I didn’t mind its weaker aspects. For one, I don’t think any of the voice actors were particularly brilliant. While Gen Satou and Sayaka Senbongi played off each other’s chemistry well as Maru and Kiruko, respectively, I did not feel as connected with the rest of the cast, nor did I fully buy into their performances. The music was also well done, but no particular moment stuck with me, and none of its soundtrack elicits any emotion that sticks with me after the scene has ended. The power is ultimately held in its writing and direction, with the music giving some necessary standard assist.
However, I think that’s more than enough reason to give this series the praise it deserves. I cannot stress how difficult it is for me to actively like and look forward to a science fiction post-apocalyptic story, much less to feel so invested as to think about it week after week. As long as you are aware of what is to come in the final two episodes of the first season, Tengoku Daimakyou is well worth your time. Pay attention to every detail. Pay attention to every shot. Every second is used for the purpose of telling an incredible story, and for that, I am willing to brush aside what happened at the end – even if I cannot fully forgive.
Plot: 8.5 (Multiplier 3)
Characters: 7.5 (Multiplier 3)
Art/Animation: 9 (Multiplier 2)
Voice acting: 7
FINAL SCORE: 80