The Winter 2021 Preview Guide
Cells at Work!!
How would you rate episode 1 of
Cells at Work!! (TV 2) ?
What is this?
Set inside the human body, Cells at Work!! chronicles the life and times of everything from the oxygen-carrying Red Blood Cells, to the bacteria-fighting White Blood Cells. And, of course, the dangerous viruses and villains lurking beneath the skin!
How was the first episode?
Yesterday, I banged my knee pretty hard on the bathroom counter as I was putting my pants on. It hurt, I yelled, and today there's a large, slightly swollen area in a hideous shade of greyish-purple where I bumped it. Why is my knee so bruised? Lucky for me, Cells at Work!! is here to explain why!
Cells at Work!! earned itself a lot of fans and even some mainstream coverage for its lively, clever edutainment approach to human biology and the life-sustaining systems that operate within us that we are rarely conscious of. I, like so many others, was taken in by its vibrant action, likable character writing, and the endlessly creative ways it conceptualizes the human body as a bustling city.
As with episodic series, some installments are better than others, and for some reason, the people in charge of making decisions decided to open on one of the slimmest, least engaging stories yet. Is it because of the platelets, the cells in charge of blood-clotting that are conceptualized as kindergarteners in blue-clad smocks? As an early childhood teacher myself, I'm as weak to them as anyone else, but there just wasn't enough here to fill an episode and really make it compelling. The other bits, with Red making small talk with one of the white blood cells, and White fighting off a random germ that has infiltrated solo, seem like filler meant to stretch the episode to its full run time rather than actual content building on its world.
It's not that the episode is bad; just kind of slight compared to the series' better episodes. It also introduces megakaryocyte, the cells responsible for platelet production, here conceptualized as an angry teacher/mother with a baby strapped to her chest. The way she hollered at the platelets made me a bit uncomfortable, since you really shouldn't yell at kids that way, but the ending twist did make me smile.
A word about the translation: for the original run, Crunchyroll did a bang-up job translating all the important text. This time, Funimation's running the game. As usual, they do a great job with the dialogue, but lacking in other areas. Cells at Work!! has a lot of onscreen text explaining what things were supposed to represent – that's the “edu-” part of “edutainment” – but Funimation leaves it untranslated. It's a lot less fun when you have no idea what that box of metal-looking thingies the platelet is holding is supposed to represent. Maybe Funimation will fix this and finally start translating onscreen text but, considering how long people have been hollering at them about this, I seriously doubt it.
Prior to this season beginning, I had wondered about the wisdom of airing both the direct sequel to Cells at Work! and its Code Black spinoff in the same season. After having seen both back-to-back, what the producers were aiming for is quite clear: one is meant to be a stark contrast to the other. Whereas Code Black represents the dark side of the inner workings of the body, where things going wrong is the natural state, the direct sequel represents the more homeostatic side of things, where the body is healthy by default and the various crises are just blips. Thus you can see the good side in one series and then watch the bad side in other. (I recommend the reverse order, though. Watching Code Black first and then this one leaves one on a more upbeat note at the end.)
The one negative to this comparison is that the original comes across as the cuter but also weaker and less compelling version, at least based on the first episode. Yes, there's the standard crisis – this time in the form of a bump on the head – but even within the crisis this is all fluffy, friendly, and pleasant; the only darker element is the also-standard bloody encounter between WBC 1146 and the vain germ, and even that comes off on the light side for as violent as it is. This is also the option among the two from this franchise which most necessitates familiarity with the first series, as a flood of familiar faces pop up again and viewers are expected to remember which characters have previously encountered and/or worked with each other. On the upside, it also has more touches of light humor and platelets who have not descended into being jaded.
One new character is introduced this time: Megakaryoctye, the large bone marrow cell responsible for producing platelets. Portraying the cell as a mother figure (complete with baby in harness!) make a certain amount of sense, with the twist being that this is a strict, nasty-seeming mother who seems to believe in motivating via tough love and bribery. I suspect that this is not the last we will see of her. Beyond that, the platelets are as adorable in action as always, though the crisis is a relatively mild one compared to some others. By contrast, Red Blood Cell AE3806 returns but, beyond an initial delivery scene, does not get a lot of attention.
With both series airing only a half-hour apart on the same day, seeing how this one compares with the spin-off over the course of the season should be interesting indeed. Right now Code Black has the advantage, but will it remain that way?
It's time for another season of the cutest little human biology lesson you'll ever have. And I do think that's on purpose – while our pals White and Red were the stars of season one, Cells at Work!!'s second season opens with an episode devoted to the platelets, the cute little cells who take care of important things like clotting when there's an open wound. Or, as it turns out, a closed wound; the trauma the unfortunate owner of the series' body goes through this time is a bump on the head. No skin is broken, but there's still bleeding just beneath it, causing swelling and bruising, and that means that the platelets have to go into action even though there's no risk of blood being lost outside the body.
Despite the episode belonging to the platelets, it's still largely framed by our two main characters from season one, hapless AE-3803 (Red) and ultra-competent U-1146 (White). In fact, it's because of their interactions that we really get the platelets' story; while on patrol, White bumps into a lost little platelet, Backward Cap (because that's her identifying feature), who reminds him very strongly of Red. Being a nice guy, he helps little Backward Cap back to the main artery, at which point the bump happens and she has to show that she's just as good a platelet as she can possibly be.
As far as science goes, even with the sixth-grade level biology Cells at Work!! trades in, this feels much lighter than the previous season. We do get some details about what's going on and why and get introduced to a new cell, Megakaryocyte, who takes the form of the world's angriest pregnant woman, but mostly the point of the episode seems to be to reintroduce us to White and, to a lesser degree, Red. (And to reinforce that the platelets are adorable.) There's nothing wrong with that, but it isn't quite as exciting as it could be, although the translation this time has definitely gone up a notch or two, with White exclaiming at one point, “What the cell is going on?!” The narrator is also less present, which is a good thing, although that may be due more to the fact that this is more about reintroducing characters than biology. Still, this is fun and entertaining, especially when it comes to White having proud daddy moments about Backward Cap, so if you enjoyed season one, you'll probably like this, too.
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