The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 178 – Cells at Work!

Cells at Work
(C) Akane Shimizu / KODANSHA, Aniplex, davidproduction

Here, we will be examining what has to be the bloodiest TV show ever, what is rather disturbing given that it is advertised as the story about you.

Currently being broadcast and available for streaming, Cells at Work! began as a manga comic in March 2015 by Akane Shimizu. It is an example of “moe anthropomorphism”, a phenomenon where just about anything is given a cute human personification. In the case of this educational series, the characters in question are humanised versions of the cells of the human body, hence the series is sold as the show about you – however, this could arguably be narrowed as all the characters depicted so far have been white.

The two central characters are two particular cells, among the 37.2 trillion that live in this particular body. One is Red Blood Cell AE3803, whose job it is to deliver things around the body – namely parcels carrying oxygen and carbon dioxide, or nutrients depicted as baskets of food. However, this Red Blood Cell is constantly getting lost and isn’t that good at her job, despite her enthusiasm.

The other lead is White Blood Cell U-1146, a pale-looking cell whose job it is to kill any foreign germs or cells, depicted as strange monsters, which he normally does by slashing them with a knife and getting covered in blood. It’s for this reason why Cells at Work! is the bloodiest show ever – it follows a blood cells who’s showered in blood. You literally can’t get any bloodier than that.

Each episode sees the characters doing their tasks, which are normally disturbed when a foreign invader attempts to attack and cause harm to the body. Thus the episodes normally revolve around a different illness. For example, episodes so far have seen how the body deals with food poisoning, scrape wounds and influenza.

Thus, the series also follows the other cells in the body and looks at how they work. Other characters to have featured so far include the loud and brash Killer T Cell; Marcophage, a maid-like white blood cell who is always smiling, even when slaughtering enemy bacteria; Mast Cell, who controls histamines and gets very annoyed when the others call her by her nickname of “Fat Cell”; and the Platelets, who help build the body after injury, and due to their small size are depicted as small, adorable children.

Some people might remember in their youth series educational animation series, including some about the human body. However, while those animation series will have always normally have been designed for kids, it is hard to imaging Cells at Work! being allowed to be broadcast to youngsters in this country. When White Blood Cell and other similar characters slaughter their way to defeat their invaders, there is a lot of blood being spilt so you can’t imagine that being show to children.

However, it does serve its purpose and is does teach you many things about how the human body works. Simply learning about the characters themselves helps you to learn how our bodies defend themselves. Before coming across this series, I had never heard of things like the macrophage cell, but now I know what they do, and depicting them in human form helps you to keep certain aspects of their behaviour in mind. The series also deals with very serious subjects, in the most recent episode that aired yesterday, we learn of a cell who has a shady identity. The title of the next episode gives reveal just how dangerous he is, because the episode is called: “Cancer Cell”.

The original manga has also been successful enough to spawn three separate spin-offs. These are Bacteria at Work, focusing on both the good and bad bacteria that live in the intestines; Cells that Don’t Work, about immature red blood cells that don’t want to do any work; and Cells at Work! BLACK, which deals with cells that live in a “black” environment – by which I don’t mean a black person’s body, but the body of someone with a gloomy, unhealthy lifestyle (smoker, heavy drinker, inactive etc.).

Given that there are so many variations on the series, it looks like this anime has plenty of life in it yet.

Cells at Work! is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

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