Anime Review: Cells at Work

By Drew Hurley 29.02.2020

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Cells! at Work (UK Rating: PG)


The human body is a phenomenal machine. Filled with over 37 billion cells, and this anime is giving a glimpse inside that body at the day to day life of the cells within, reimagining the body as a busy megacity, with each cell a person performing its job. Quite literally, as the series focuses mainly on a duo of a red blood cell and white blood cell, as they deal with many threats to their home - keeping the body running, repairing any damage, and repelling the attacks of germs, and viruses alike. This anthropomorphic world gives a fascinating and entertaining glimpse into the inner world of the human body. The full collection comes courtesy of MVM and is available from January 20th.

While there may be around 25 trillion red blood cells and 7,000 white blood cells in the human body, just two take the centre stage in this series. Specifically, AE3803, a brand new red blood cell just learning the ropes, and U-11406, a veteran white blood cell. The duo embarks on a series of adventures that will be familiar to any of the viewers. Facing off against monstrosities and disasters like food poisoning, influenza, abrasions, cedar pollen, whilst also dealing with some dangers that hopefully few in the audience will ever have to experience. Lince Hemorrhages and the dreaded Cancer.

The anthropomorphising of both the defenders and attackers of the human body is wonderful. The red blood cells reimagined as delivery men and women, running essential nutrients through the body. Each wearing red uniforms, and red caps that from above look like blood beneath a microscope. Then there are the white blood cells, the cells tasked with keeping the body safe. Designed to look like special forces, all in white, their flesh as pale as their uniform. They're tasked with keeping the body safe. Taking out enemy invaders like germs and viruses with their trusty combat knives. These may be the majority but there's plenty more supporting them. Dendritic cells, macrophage, T-cells, platelets. They all work together to keep this body running. Each of these specialist cells gets some focus throughout the series.

Then there are the dangers to the body. The very first episode introduces germs, creatures that look like classic '80s anime monsters. Filled with tentacles and spikes, each with nice little touches when considering their real-life counterparts. For example, a simple little abrasion causes an unimaginable chasm that means certain death for any cells that fall into it. Through this void comes pneumoconiosis. A pathogenic germ that attacks the respiratory causing pneumonia and worse. Another episode focuses on the Influenza virus. This Metroid looking little spore binds with innocent cells nearby. Turning those friendly cells into classic Zombie designs. This episode gives a chance to showcase T-Cells (black-clad, muscular, specialist assassins) and Macrophages (cute maids, who wield cleavers larger than they are!).

Food poisoning bacteria is imagined as a huge fury Kaiju-like creature, smashing its way into the stomach and causing nausea, forcing stomach acid to churn and bubble. But that bacteria is nothing compared to the thing that it rode in on: a parasite. Towering over the bacteria, this giant eel-like creature is too much for the regular white blood cells, and it needs a specialist to stand up to it. Eosinophils are white blood cells particularly ineffective for regular work, but hugely powerful when it comes to parasites. This characterisation works so well. A seemingly weak cell looked down on that then gets to flex her muscle.


 

Running the gambit between the annoying to the terrifying, the best episodes of this season focus on hay fever and cancer. An episode that focuses on Cedar Pollen perfectly captures the annoyance anyone who suffers from hay fever knows well. Showing how a certain type of fat cell, a Basophil, overreacts to the invasion of pollen. The stumbling, Gudetama-looking monstrosities wondering through the body, with little real threat, the Basophil releases excessive amounts of histamine, drowning the cells, causing knock-on effects, like overflowing tear ducts. The cancer episode meanwhile introduces cancer cells as fellow inhabitants of the body, cells like everyone else, who can't help their effect when they metastasise. Cells that are hunted even as children. Surprisingly heartfelt for this comedy series.

Outside of the cancer episode, the stories are not particularly deep or complex, always consisting of a new virus attacking the body, and then being pushed out by cells. These battles and the anthropomorphic designs are enough to make the series captivate the audience, but what elevates the show is its attention to detail. Cells at Work delves deep into the human condition, and the mechanics within everyone. The ever-present narrator explains the inner workings and finer detail to the story in an absolutely fascinating manner. Budding students of the wonders of the human body will find a fanciful, but informative experience therein, like how the stomach suddenly halts nutrient production to reroute power to the sweat glands, activating them to cool the body's surface.

This complete collection contains all 13 episodes, along with a special episode that focuses on the common cold. Presenting the virus as annoying little pranksters, working through the human body with little damage, but just spreading irritation. On top of these episodes, there's both the original Japanese, and a new English dub. There are also a few bonus features. The usual, textless opening/closing and Japanese promos, but also an animated, 20-minutes-long, shorts feature that sees chibified versions of the characters in comedy skits.

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
Cells at Work manages to pull off an impressive and tricky balancing act. It manages to deliver educational content, while also being entertaining. In fact, biology has never been more entertaining. Genuinely funny, always interesting, and the sort of series it's worth watching more than once. An interesting and original creation.
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