Anime Corner’s Marcel had the honor of talking to Japanese mangaka Masakazu Ishiguro about his work Tengoku: Daimakyo: Heavenly Delusion. The manga was adapted as an anime by Production I.G in early 2023. The story takes us to a world fifteen years after an unprecedented catastrophe has wiped out modern civilization. In a facility sealed off from the outside world, children, including a girl named Tokyo, receive mysterious messages challenging them to leave the safety of their enclave. Tokio is prophesied that two saviors will come from outside. In parallel, we follow Maru and Kiruko, two travelers in the wastelands of Japan, searching for a kind of heaven – a place of hope in a world that otherwise resembles hell.
Q: Your story is a psychological horror: how would you define horror? And how do you use it in your story?
A: I think the most important thing is that the reader feels a touch of fear while reading. Even if you don’t come across any ghosts or murderers, my interpretation of horror is “something that scares you to death.”
Q: With Robin, you have probably created one of the most hated characters in the history of manga and anime. Do you agree with that? How did you come up with the character Robin?
A: I didn’t expect Robin to be hated as much as he becomes, but all I can say is that he was born in the story out of sheer necessity. He’s a very important character.
Q: How did you come up with the very special and unique gender-bender character approach of Kiruko (and his or rather “her” sister)?
A: I think I have explored and interpreted the sexually ambiguous parts of myself. I think I agree with the theory that the masculine and feminine of the mind are not as clearly separated as the physical sex and that the sex of the mind is conditioned by the relationship of the two.
Q: What is your most hated character in manga, anime, or light novels?
A: That’s difficult to answer. There are many characters that I like, but there may not even be any that I can’t stand. I think that characters I don’t like can still be good characters. Just because I think I don’t like a character doesn’t mean they’re not well written.
Q: Many people say that Tengoku Daimakyou: Heavenly Delusion is the anime of the year, do you agree?
A: I agree with that.
Q: When you look back: Would you change anything about your story now?
A: There’s a lot… I regret that I didn’t make the character designs more diverse, and there are places where I think I could have drawn them more clearly. I would also like to draw the backgrounds in more detail. I would even like to draw everything from the beginning again.
Q: The world in Tengoku Daimakyou: Heavenly Delusion takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting. Which apocalypse scenario do you think is the most “real”?
A: In view of the current global situation, nuclear war is the most realistic scenario.
Q: Kiruko and Maru are looking for a place that could be “heaven”, but in reality turns out to be “hell”. What would you say is the difference between “heaven” and “hell” in your story?
A: This is one of the central aspects of the concept of Heavenly Delusion. I think that the most minimal “heaven” for people is to “feel extremely comfortable in their own field of vision.” But if you do that, someone will always see “hell”. That’s about all I can say about it at this point in time.
Q: How long did it take you to develop the general concept of the manga?
A: It’s hard to say how long it took because somehow I’ve been thinking about it since I published my previous work And Yet the Town Moves. I could say I’ve been thinking about it on and off for years, and if you measure the total time, it could be about a week.
Q: What would you consider to be the moral of Tengoku Daimakyou: Heavenly Delusion?
A: The moral of Tengoku Daimakyou: Heavenly Delusion is that heaven and sacrifice are two sides of the same coin. There has never been a moment in the past, not even for a second, when everyone was in “heaven”, and I don’t think there ever will be. But that also means that people will never stop looking for “heaven”.
Q: Do you think artificial intelligence like ChatGPT could have an impact on storytelling in the industry?
A: I think there are already some writers who are using artificial intelligence to help them with their creative work, in the sense that those same people are filtering out what they can use for their stories from the many ideas that artificial intelligence has right away. That’s what we have at the moment, and I think it will have a bigger impact on stories in the future.
For example, a story in which different races play an average role and nobody is offended could be something that artificial intelligence can do better than humans. I don’t think that would be interesting.
Q: What advice would you give new authors when developing a story?
A: I would recommend that you always honor the initial thought of “Oh, that could be quite interesting and original” and keep it for yourself. If you work on it for a long time, you lose the appeal of that initial impulse over time. It’s a bit like chewing gum all the time. If you take the help of methodology and logic, you will end up with more and more mediocre results. If you are not excited and enthusiastic, you stop creating works of art or living out your creativity in general.
Your idea sounds very exciting because of the genre alone!
We’d like to thank Mr. Ishiguro for taking the time to do this interview! You can follow him on Twitter / X for the latest news on his work.
This interview will be published in the December 2023 issue of the German anime magazine Koneko.
© Masakazu Ishiguro, Kodansha / Tengoku Daimakyo Production Committee