The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide
Cells at Work!
How would you rate episode 1 of
Cells at Work! ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
I'm a little confused by Cells at Work! On the one hand, in aesthetic and narrative terms, this was a very competently constructed premiere. On the other hand, I'm still not sure I could tell you what audience Cells at Work! is for, or even necessarily which of its qualities appeal to that audience in the first place. Cells at Work! had a pretty well-executed first episode, but I'm not personally all that compelled to watch more, and am still not sure I understand its actual appeal.
The show's premise is that we're taking a deep dive into a specific human's body, where all their cells and bodily functions are anthropomorphized and represented through little human characters and giant warehouse structures. This visual illustration of all the body's functions was definitely one of this episode's stronger qualities, but I kinda felt like the joke had run its course by the end, and in spite of the characterization feeling pretty kid-friendly, I couldn't imagine children actually learning anything from this production. The show's depiction of our internal workings is creative, but too fanciful to really map to any actual biological knowledge.
Depicting the body interior as a giant factory was only one of this episode's big tricks, though. This episode also introduces us to one specific red blood cell who's new on the job, and her evolving friendship with a white blood cell, as well as their collective fights against an invasive bacteria, form the bulk of this episode's content. In terms of that fight, this episode consistently demonstrated some wonderfully fluid animation, and built naturally to a fairly climactic resolution. That was all well and good, but the fact that all these conflicts centered on characters who were less “characters” than “gimmicky humanizations of impersonal bodily functions” meant it was very difficult to invest in the “relationship” between our two leads, or feel like either of them were ever in truly meaningful peril.
On the whole, Cells at Work!'s premiere is lifted by a variety of noteworthy formal qualities, but its fundamentally arbitrary premise made it almost impossible for me to actually care about its characters, and this episode at least failed to convince me it could rise above that gimmick. Its art design and animation are pretty sharp and this episode tells a fine enough story, though, so if this particular faux-educational experience sounds like a fun time, absolutely give it a shot.
I'm sure this Osmosis Jones comparison will be made many times, but I'm struck by how few properties have played with the idea of the human body as a thriving metropolis, with citizens of all sorts filling in for all of the body's little doodads and whatsits (that's the Official Scientific Terminology™). I don't know if anyone would call Osmosis Jones a great movie, but it did feel unique, and now comes Cells at Work! to fill this niche once more, only this time replacing all of the dated early-2000s smarm and Bill Murray gags for a lot of charisma and a healthy dose of education.
In this first episode, Cells at Work! gives us the story of a hapless Red Blood Cell who just wants to get some CO2 to the lungs but gets caught in the middle of a White Blood Cell's heroic battle against a roving band of Pneumococcus, which cause pneumonia. The Red Blood Cell is also a complete ditz who can't find her way around the body to save her life, and her misadventures lead to further shenanigans involving the White Blood Cell and his tireless crusade against bacterium. It's cute stuff, especially since RBC is such an affable goof, and the design of the Evil Germs makes them truly a little menacing, which gives some weight to the deadpan WBC's battle. The show is also well animated, which helps give the unique setting a bit more life and humor.
It also takes a lot of time to explain the direct connections between the different parts of the body and what work the cells do there, which is interesting on a purely educational level even if it doesn't always make for the funniest jokes. The bit about the platelets being cute little kids was a good gag, but most of the show's best jokes stem more from RBC and WBC's varying reactions to the chaos around them, with the informative stuff acting more as a nice extra than anything else.
If I have any reservations about Cells at Work!, in fact, it is that I wonder how well the show will be able to sustain its premise and humor over the course of the season. I feel like I'm saying this a lot these days, but I suspect if this won't end up being a story that would work better in short format; only time will tell I suppose. Until then, Cells at Work!'s premiere is solid enough to warrant keeping up with it for a while longer to see how it progresses over the summer.
I was hoping that Cells at Work! would be a fun little oddity, and this first episode suggests that it'll be exactly that. With a blend of clever character designs and trivia-heavy humor serving a partially educational purpose, this is a delightfully bizarre premiere. The execution is a bit hit-or-miss at the moment, but the series just seems so darn happy to be here that I can't help but like it. If you're looking for this season's “something completely different” show, look no further.
The trailers and promotional art hinted at some of the character and background designs in Cells at Work!, and that creative look definitely carries over into this episode. The show's world is full of personality, from the appearances and personalities of the different cells to the details of each location within the body. Someone clearly put a lot of thought into all of this, and the result is appealingly colorful. Much of the humor also seems to be steeped in biological trivia, from White Blood Cell's goofy detector hat to the variety of obstacles that Red Blood Cell encounters during her delivery run. There are definitely some educational elements at work here, but I'd argue that the ideal viewer for this series is someone who already has enough background knowledge to pick up on all the little jokes. If you're into biology, this might the first series tailor-made for you since Moyashimon.
Once the initial delights of the art style wear off, there's a competent but unexceptional story to be found in this episode. Red and White make for a decent pair of main characters, even if Red does spend most of her screen time freaking out over one thing or another. I actually found White to be the more entertaining of the two, with his slightly understated style of humor creating a fun contrast with his murder-all-germs instinct. The bacterium pursuit serves as a plausible excuse for the characters to take the audience on a wide-ranging tour of the body, but it also makes me wonder just what kind of story Cells at Work! wants to tell in the long run. Its seems to be uncertain of whether it wants to develop a relationship between Red and White or just use them as recurring characters in a more episodic, educational format. I'd be fine with either direction, but the show would do well to narrow its focus down to one main priority.
Cells at Work! is probably not going to be everyone's cup of tea. It specializes in a very particular area of interest, and this episode tries to wedge a little too much information into its running time. Still, there's something undeniably charming about its exuberant presentation, and cramming a little educational content into the script isn't a bad thing as long as it doesn't overwhelm the narrative. Heck, if I can ace a college economics final after watching Spice and Wolf, then Cells at Work! should do wonders for any anime fans taking summer biology courses.
I'm from the generation that was raised on Schoolhouse Rock airing between cartoons on Saturday morning TV, and I could not help but think about that institution a lot while watching the first episode of this new series. In fact, if you had to ask what Schoolhouse Rock might look like if done in an anime form targeted at an older audience, this would be the answer.
Of course, Cells at Work! doesn't have the catchy song, but that's beside the point. This is a fantastic reimagining of the inner workings of the human body into a multilevel city complex, complete with lungs being represented as the heart of the ventilation system, sneezes being depicted as rockets being fired off, and so forth. Red blood cells wear red messenger uniforms, while white blood cells wear white uniforms against pale skin and are unrelentingly savage in the performance of their duty: eliminating invaders. Dendrites are depicted as manning information booths, while T cells are the elite response force. In the absolute most adorable move imaginable, platelets (the tiny no-nucleus cells responsible for blood clotting) are depicted as a construction team composed of kindergarteners. Meanwhile, some germs are depicted merely as bloblike creatures but the really dangerous ones are nasty-looking alien creatures somewhat reminiscent of a Dragon Ball franchise villain.
The conceptual creativity is the episode's main strength but far from the only factor in its favor. AE3803 and 1146 are instantly-likable contrasts; she's a more hyper but enthusiastic newbie, while he's the seemingly-emotionless guy who's capable of transitioning easily between a stunning display of violence and a very dry wit. They should be fun to watch throughout the season, and I'm sure that I'm not the only one who wouldn't mind seeing some romance develop there. The rogue Pneumococcus is also satisfyingly nasty as the Villain of the Week. The episode finds a fine balance between providing bursts of bloody violence, delivering light humor, and being educational; if the series can maintain that going forward, then this title has tremendous promise.
The visual effort by David Production shines most in its setting designs, but the character designs also do an excellent job of making the two leads just enough distinctive from others of their type to stand out. The Pneumocci also look very sharp and menacing. The animation effort isn't the strongest in places, but that's the only real negative. Director Kenichi Suzuki is much better-known for helming brassy action pieces like the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure franchise and Drifters, but he shows with this work that he's quite capable with lighter-hearted fare too.
I would have loved to have been able to watch this show in biology class back in school. (Or read the manga, but we're talking about anime here.) Cells at Work! is very definitely an educational family-friendly show aimed at roughly the same age group as GeGeGe no Kitarō but with a very different goal: to teach basic human biology from the inside out. It stars anthropomorphized cells living in a world that looks like a city but is actually the human body, creating an easy way for viewers to grasp the basic concepts of how the body works by making it so that the body is actually working – as in each cell's job is framed as delivery, security, construction, etc. It's a neat way to present it.
The episode itself is therefore plenty of fun. Our heroine is Red Blood Cell, who has just entered the workforce and is still trying to find her way around. She's taken under the proverbial wing of White Blood Cell (technically a neutrophil in charge of protecting the body from bacteria and germs), and together they manage to deal with Pneumococcus, an alien-like monster that, if left unchecked, can cause a variety of horrible diseases including pneumonia. Mostly this does mean that Red Blood Cell is in a damsel-in-distress position, because Pneumococcus consumes the nutrient-bearing red blood cells and so White Blood Cell is able to basically save her and use her as bait. But since it culminates in one of my favorite scenes from the manga, visualizing sneezing as shooting a torpedo out your nose, I can forgive the random gendering of cells.
What's unfortunate is the Red Blood Cell spends what feels like most of the episode screaming or shrieking, which is significantly more annoying in a medium with sound. She's well within her rights, and oftentimes the situation is more funny than not, such as when she and White Blood Cell are trapped in a bacteria capsule and he's dragging her and her dolly loaded with CO2 around, but it does begin to grate after a while. The character designs translated quite well, especially Pneumococcus with all of his waving tentacles, but there's definitely something weird about White Blood Cell's ass that I can't quite figure out. The platelets are suitably adorable, however, and the beefy Killer T Cells are pitch perfect from their brawny builds to their synchronized laughing.
Since it's a family show, Cells at Work! won't be for everyone. But if you're up for a little sixth grade biology framed in a fun way, this episode is entertaining and may even help you remember some old lessons.
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