Heavenly Delusion doesn’t start with any stern narration of the current political or ecological state of this world. In fact, it hardly has any infodumps at all. The exposition is flawlessly weaved into dialogue that feels natural and in rhythm with the story. No, we’re tossed right into the thick of things, at a strange white facility for kids who may have latent (or yet to awaken) skills, taught by robots and embracing various hobbies.
It is safe, comfortable, and more than a little sterile. But one girl Mimihime seems to be attuned to something beyond, and her friend Tokio’s tablet briefly glitches with the question “Do you want to go outside of the outside?” I couldn’t help but think of The Promised Neverland with this setting, and The Matrix’s invitation to both Neo and the viewer to Go Down the Rabbit Hole.
The other side of this world’s coin is the majority of the world, which seems to be in a state of post-apocalypse, recent enough that adults chide children for having never lived in the “before.” Kikuru (Senbongi Sayaka, fresh off what should be an award-winning performance as Princess Anisphia) is a strong, capable young woman serving as a bodyguard for Maru, a kid who wouldn’t look out of place in the facility.
Just watching Kukuru and Maru trudge through the twisted, rusty remains of civilization is a delight…until of course they find the corpses of a couple in their bed. But Production I.G. gives the entire episode the quality and style of animation you’d normally see in high-tier feature films. It is a gorgeous show, and the direction, lighting, and camerawork all excels.
Kikuru and Maru make an immediately rootable pair, especially when three old farts are hoping to take them to “heaven”. Fortunately, they have quite a trump card in the “Kiku-Beam”, as Kikuru calls it. While it looks like a kid’s toy gun, the thing fires a lethal, white-hot particle beam that melts anything in its path. Maru also shows of some really slick combat moves.
Thankfully, things don’t get out of hand, and the would-be bandits/rapists take Kikuru and Maru to their camp peacefully. Kikuru is even able to trick them into letting her charge the battery for her laser gun. There’s a sense that as desperate and horrible as conditions are for people, there’s still an unwritten code that most humans follow. That said, Kukuru is tough as nails, and implies there are far worse humans out there they need to watch out for.
Kikuru is looking for two people: someone named Inazaku Robin, and an old man whose name she doesn’t say. But she’s also looking for a place she knows only as “Heaven.” Heaven is different for everyone, both spiritually and literally, but there’s definitely a heavenly vibe to the facility where those school kids live. Tokio asks the director (who is quick to offer sleeping drugs) if there really is an Outside. The director doesn’t lie, and says there is indeed.
On their way to the next place that could be Heaven, Kiruko and Maru end up finding a habited and functioning inn; something that would have been ubiquitous in the before times but is clearly a lavish luxury today. Its keeper catches Kiruko trying to kiss her reflection; we also see scars covering her body, providing visual bonafides of her badass-ness, past trauma…or both.
When Kiruko spots a gun bag on the wall, the innkeeper says it’s for hunting monsters, and then starts acting very suspicious when Kiruko talks about monsters. There’s a wonderful sense of tension and dread in these moments, otherwise filmed in an idyllic household scene.
Kiruko and Maru are given a little more depth to their whole deal with the innkeeper teases them about the dangers of incest. Kiruko (who is ~20) assures her that Maru (~16) is nothing but her mission. This seems to anger Maru as he pushes his futon further away than she set it up that night, then instantly falls asleep.
While they were both exhausted enough from their travels to plausibly pass the ef out as soon as their heads hit the pillow, part of me wonders (dreads, really) if they were drugged so that the gun-toting innkeeper can appease the giant winged eldritch monster with their meat.
However this plays out, it’s a hell of a stinger for the next episode. The director of “Heaven” isn’t wrong about the outside being a kind of hell by comparison. But it’s also a place of freedom, where that facility looks like a bastion of control and potential for abuse. It seems inevitable for the heaven and hell of this world to bleed into one another before long.