Cells at Work! Code Black
Episodes 1-2

by Lynzee Loveridge,

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Cells at Work! Code Black ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Cells at Work! Code Black ?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions in these reviews are observations made by the reviewer(s) and should in no way be construed as medical advice! If you have a question, please contact your general practitioner for information!

I wrote most of my preamble about these series over at the first review for Cells at Work!, so I'll just quickly reiterate that I'm dragging my husband Matt (RN) along for the ride for these two series. After each episode I'll add some of Matt's comments on how accurately things were visually translated into the show.

With that out of the way, we can now talk about the "edgy" Cells at Work iteration, CODE BLACK. The rules are the same as its more wholesome counterpart, but this body is different and the working conditions are more akin to a "Black Company". It's a term used in Japan to denote a workplace that has an abusive environment that includes any or all of the following: long work hours, emotionally abusive management, and low pay. The series hammers that home in its opener where newbie red blood cells watch a wildly out of date video about working in the human body only to be bombarded by death and destruction.

Many of the key character genders are swapped. In this version the red blood cells are are men while the white blood cells are bodacious ladies. Platelets are no longer cutesy kinders and are instead replaced with snippy brats. Everyone looks like they're experiencing some level of shellshock and it's all thanks to the body's owner. This is a body subjected to excessive vices, such as poor eating habits, smoking, and alcohol consumption. I had some reservations with this premise going in because it'd be very easy for it to swing into abelism and/or nihilism. On the other hand, it could just easily commentate on how Japan's notorious working habits are physically damaging. Not that it's NEW information by any means, but take episode one for example, which focuses heavily on smoking.

Anti-smoking ads were extremely common while I was growing up. Some were even produced by tobacco companies themselves, but studies subsequently found the ads did little more than recoup Phillip Morris' corporate image among teens. While those ads may not have been effective, about 15.1% of U.S. citizens smoke compared to Japan's 17.8%, but if we split it by gender it's 16.7% of U.S. males and 29.0% Japanese men. I don't know if the first episode of Code Black will get anyone to drop the habit but it sure doesn't pull any punches.

Our Red Blood Cell this time is more adept at his job than his original counterpart but he's immediately not okay with his job expectations. We quickly learn that the organs are prioritized, leaving other areas of the body oxygen-deprived. Shady LDL dudes are dumping cholesterol all over the place. In the first 12 minutes, Red Blood Cell is staring his own mortality in the face. His jovial-looking sempai reveals that his positive attitude is a farce; a coping mechanism he's developed by killing off his ability to feel anything.

Then the smoking starts. RBC watches in horror as his fellow red blood cells attempt to continue their mission to deliver oxygen only to be smothered in carbon monoxide and deteriorate into zombies or be crushed by constricting capillaries. It's going to be weird to say, but this is an exceptionally well-edited and fantastically-scored horror episode. WBC researches the carbon monoxide outbreak and explains the cause with all the seriousness of a detective uncovering the motivations behind a murder. It manages to be harrowing without falling into preachy territory.

Episode two, while less horror-focused, still successfully introduces new concepts centering on how the body processes alcohol and RBC's anger at the state of his life. After dealing with canker sores in the mouth (essentially, ulcers), a group of red blood cells are doused in alcohol. They decide to head to the liver where toxins are filtered out of the blood.

I can't recall if the liver ever made an appearance in the original Cells at Work, but reimagining it as Kabuki-cho is an inspired choice. The organ is shown to operate like a hostess club where Hepatocytes 'refresh' them by first having the cells drink ADH to cause acetaldehyde to build up and then removing it with ALDH. Ironically, both of these purification processes are represented by cells drinking what would normally be alcoholic beverages. During this whole sequence I was incredibly distracted by how much the Hepatocyte looked like Lacus Clyne or Sheryl Nome.

The episode circles back on mortality again when the old-timer red blood cell passes away peacefully in the liver and thus is...consumed by a specialized Macrophage, the Kupffer Cell. RBC has to once again return to his awful job with new food for thought on what it means to find one's purpose and endure these abusive conditions. Thinking on it more, I have some reservations about exactly where this show is going to go. It's not like RBC can personally better his conditions, that's 100% on the body's owner. He also doesn't really have a choice to "not work" despite the abuse he and the rest of the cells are experiencing. I would hate for that to be extrapolated to suit real working conditions. I'll have to wait and see.

Observations from Matt (RN): When it comes to red blood cells and carbon monoxide, blood cells bind to CO much better than oxygen. Basically it just makes it so that much less oxygen actually gets delivered, and unlike oxygen, the blood cell never unbinds from CO. Those RBC cells basically become useless to the body. Another example is in the scene where the older lady cell complains about her oxygen quota and RBC responds that they are prioritizing organs. That's because once you start getting lower oxygen levels in the body, it will start to prioritize the core over the extremities.

A smoker will typically have a higher number of RBC than a non-smoker to make up for the oxygen deficit due to RBCs bonding with CO.


Cells at Work! Code Black is currently streaming on Funimation.

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